The Art of Photographing Rodeos
Posted by Mark Toal on 20th Jul 2022
I fell in love with rodeos when I attended my first one on a small ranch in 1992. There weren’t many bleachers or seating for spectators, so I was able to wander anywhere and photograph the action and participants. Ranch rodeos have decreased over the years in favor of larger rodeos with assigned seating and restrictions on where you can take photos, not to mention the crowds and expense.
A few years ago, I heard about the Slack event at rodeos. Slack takes place in the morning or afternoon before the main event that evening. Slack is for the cowboys that didn’t make the main event. Most slack events that I have attended are free and allow you to wander anywhere around the arena. There are also very few people in the stands making for the perfect opportunity to get some awesome rodeo shots.
Although conditions are much more ideal than the main event, you'll still need a long telephoto lens. I shoot with Panasonic Lumix G Series four thirds sensor cameras and use the Lumix 100-300mm or Panasonic Leica 100-400mm lenses at Slack.
I also bring a wide-angle Panasonic Leica 9mm or 8-18mm lens for any close or detail shots. Because of the smaller sensor in these cameras, the 100-400mm lens is the equivalent to 200-800mm in a full frame camera with a much smaller size and lighter weight.
The photos you see here were taken with the Lumix GH6 and 100-400mm lens and the new Leica 9mm lens at the St. Paul Rodeo in St. Paul, Oregon. The images were shot in Shutter Priority at 1/2000 second shutter speed and continuous auto focus to track and stop the rider’s action. I use Auto ISO let the camera determine what ISO it needs to keep the shutter speed at 1/2000.
Mark Toal is a photographer living in West Linn, Oregon. You can see more of his photography on Instagram and Facebook.