Jackson Hole Rodeo

Whenever possible while we are out in Jackson, we like to take those in our workshop groups that want to go to the local rodeo.  Everyone that goes always has a blast!  Seeing a local rodeo in the heart of rodeo country?  Heck Yeah!

The rodeo is a little bit tough to shoot.  It takes place outdoors at night.  They have lighting for the arena, but it doesn't work well enough for you to get a fast enough shutter speed to freeze action.  The rodeo begins at 8:00PM and sunset was right around 9:00PM ish while we were there.  So for about an hour you could manage pretty well.  Anything after that and you needed a fast lens, or a camera body capable of handling high ISOs well or both.

This is one of the many scenes you see before the rodeo begins.  Just a couple of young cowboys hanging around.  Probably talking about how they are going to do better than the rest of the competition.

This image was taken about 15 minutes prior to the start of the rodeo.  If you look at the settings below you can see at F/8 and ISO 1600 I'm at 1/500th second.  That's about as low as I'd like my shutter to capture action.  I'm going to need to drop my F stop and bump my ISO as the night progresses.

Aperture Priority, 1/500th second, F/8, ISO 1600, 300mm

The bull riding event is always a crowd favorite and luckily this year they started the rodeo with that event.  This meant the light wasn't horrible yet.  I still raised my ISO up to ensure a fast shutter speed.

Aperture Priority, 1/1250th second, F/6.3, ISO 6400, 240mm


The below image is a saddle bronc rider.  He's got a heck of a job holding on.  Notice how the horse's hind legs are at a right angle to the rest of his body.  

Aperture Priority, 1/2000th second, F/6.3, ISO 6400, 200mm

You can see in the image below that the rodeo doesn't always end well.  This cowboy took a hard hit and got to see how dirt tastes.  This image makes me glad I am a photographer and not a cowboy.  I may have fallen before out shooting, but I don't recall a face plant in the dirt. ;)

Aperture Priority, 1/800th second, F/6.3, ISO 8000, 185mm

As you can tell from the settings for each of these images I had to shoot at higher ISOs.  I ended up shooting this event with my Nikon D500 and Tamron 16-300mm Lens.  That lens will only allow me to stop down to F/6.3 so I had to bump the ISOs to compensate for that.  I was ok with that, though because I knew the D500 performed very well at high ISOs (I didn't run any noise reduction on any of these images at all) and I was also ok with that because it allowed me a very portable setup to take into the rodeo with me.

This is a rare instance where I wasn't using a tripod or monopod.  During the summer months the rodeo is packed and there is very limited space, so you would end up moving out of people's way more than shooting.  I shot my Nikon/Tamron combo handheld and it worked out perfectly for this event.   

The Rodeo with the Tamron 16-300mm

A few weeks ago I went with my family to a rodeo that came through town.  I knew I wanted to go and I knew I wanted to take photos.  I also knew that at every event like this I've been to that they've restricted the size of camera/lens combo they would allow into the event.  Another thing I learned from attending these events before was that the lighting is always horrible...always, even if it's "good" by event standards, my camera thinks it sucks.

Going in with this knowledge, I decided to take my Canon 7D with Tamron 16-300mm Lens.  I figured this combo would be compact enough not to alarm anyone from the event security and it would have the reach for sure, but would I be able to capture images with crappy light at it's F/6.3 minimum aperture?

Yes...is the short answer.  The long answer is...at many times I had to shoot at extremely high ISOs for my camera.  However, I've been to these kind of events before and had to jack the ISO up real high...then I decided to just put my camera away because I was a bit of a noise snob.  Well, I wasn't going to let that happen this time.  I wanted to make sure I came away with images, noisy or not.  And, they were noisy...

The first event was the bareback bronc riding.  I figured out real quick in order to get a shutter speed high enough to stop the action I had to bump the ISO high, real high, 6400 high.  I was also shooting at the lens' widest aperture, F/6.3.  This was giving me a shutter  1/250th second.  That's not ideal for freezing action, but i managed to turn out a few keepers.

ISO 6400, 300mm F/6.3, 1/250th second

ISO 6400, 300mm F/6.3, 1/250th second

Now, let me say these were all taken from regular general admission seats.  I sat there right next to my family with no special access.  Also, I did run these through OnOne Perfect Enhance for noise reduction, so what you see here isn't as horrible as it was out of the camera.

I realized 1/250th wasn't going to cut it for stopping any kind of action, so up the ISO had to go...welcome 12,800, which is an expanded ISO for my camera, which means the display just says "H".  I'm pretty sure that means "Howdy"...for Howdy, this is a lot of noise.

ISO 12,800, 300mm, F/6.3, 1/640th second

ISO 12,800, 300mm, F/6.3, 1/640th second

Next up was the calf roping event.  This event was on "our" side of the arena, so I didn't need all of the lens here.  I'll admit it ISO 12,800 scared me.  So I thought I'd try 6400 again.  I know 1/250th isn't ideal, but surely it will stop SOMETHING? Right?  It stopped enough for this image, I guess.  If you look closely, the calf is blurry and the horses legs are blurry, but I can live with that knowing both of those were hauling tail anyhow and you, the viewer needs to know that, too.

ISO 6400, 173mm. F/6.3, 1/250th second

ISO 6400, 173mm. F/6.3, 1/250th second

Next up, the barrel racers.  Ok, these ladies come out of the gate hauling.  This is going to HAVE to be ISO 12,800 speed.  So, back to "H".  I had several opportunities to photograph these ladies as they rounded barrels places all over the area so I didn't need all the reach this lens provided for this event either.

ISO 12,800, 185mm, F/6.3, 1/400th second

ISO 12,800, 185mm, F/6.3, 1/400th second

Lastly, the bull riding event.  Everyone's favorite.  You know it is because they make you wait until the end for it.  

ISO 12,800, 251mm, F/6.3, 1/500th second

ISO 12,800, 251mm, F/6.3, 1/500th second

While none of these are award winning shots, I simply wanted to show you that you can use this Tamron 16-300mm lens to photograph fun events like this from your regular ol', general admission seats and capture great memories.  If you have a "newer" camera that handles high ISO better than mine, you're in even better shape!  

I'd also like to point out here that the only issue I had with these images was noise, which was a limitation of my camera (Sure, I could've used a lens with a larger aperture to help with that, but it would have been a larger lens and we are back to hoping security lets us in the event with it).  The lens worked flawlessly and locked autofocus every time without issue.

If I could've smuggled a 70-200mm F/2.8 in I could have still captured most of these shots and I could've shot at around ISO 1600 instead, which would have been awesome.  This was a family night for us and it needed to remain enjoyable.  I didn't need to be grumpy all night because the man in the yellow jacket made me take my camera back to the car.