Tried Something New – Reined Cow Horse Competition (Part 2)

In the first post, I mentioned the friendly family atmosphere.  In this post, I’ll mention some of the other photography challenges I observed.

Photographing this competition is not as easy as it seems to get good, compelling photos.  It had a lot of challenges.

Dark Arena

The arena was dark (for a camera at high speed) with a bright background.  Flash was needed and had to be relatively close to be affective.  Too close and the telephoto cuts off the horse’s legs.

Challenge #1: The competition arena was under a large shed – pretty dark with contrasting bright sunlight blasting in the sides across the arena from the viewing stands.  Without flash you get silhouettes of horse and rider.  Question: do I dare use flash?  After all, these are animals with riders at risk on their back.  Last thing I wanted was a freaked-out horse crushing a rider or an angry rider mad over a flash affecting the horse’s performance.  Answer: Seems to be OK to use flash.  Saw a professional photographer by the business name of Big Daddy Photography who was shooting away with (counted them) 7 Alien Bees strobes on tall light stands. 6 were 1600 watt-second monsters and when they all fired they nuked the arena.

White Lightning

This puppy will put out a great burst of light. Big Daddy had 7 of them!

You could see and hear them an eighth mile away.  Big Daddy said flash “should not be a concern.  If they want to compete, the competitions that are bigger than this one have hundreds of flashes going off all the time.  If it affects them, they are not ready”.  OK, mount flash and make better photos and hope the horse and rider are not new to it.

Challenge #2: Would like to have shutter speed 1/1000 or faster to freeze motion.  In those dark conditions it meant high ISO settings and associated noise – even with flash.  In my gallery you will see a handful of images from the competition.  But I knew my results would not be to my liking so I spent most of my time in the practice/warm up arenas under bright morning sun using fill flash.  Next time I won’t be afraid to bring my Einstein strobes (related to Alien Bees but only 650 watt-seconds) and see if I can get competition images.

Chopped Off Feet

I tossed a lot of photos like this because I kept chopping off the hoofs or tail.

Challenge #3: I kept cutting off the horses feet or tails.  I always tried to make the rider be in focus with a shallow depth of field to reduce background distractions so I kept my focus point on the rider.  Zooming in I kept getting feet or tail out of the frame.  Maybe that dream camera (Nikon D800 with 36 MP images) would have allowed me to shoot wider and still crop for quality close ups. (Sweetheart – hint, hint).

Challenge #4: Everyone wears a cowboy hat.  In bright outdoor sun it casts strong shadows across the faces.  Candid shots are not so candid when I have to get close and low with the fill flash to light under the brim.  Needless to say – most faces are in partial shadow.

Smart Phone

Hat, spurs, chaps, boots and Smart Phone – basic necessities.

This morning’s experience was a good one and I want to do it again when I have more time.  To those who shoot rodeos or other horse competitions and do it well, my hat is off to you!

Photos I took from this day’s events can be found here:


About Ron Ludekens

God created a marvelous world full of wonderful sights and people. He is the Creator and it is His Palette of beauty that Ron Ludekens tries to capture as photographic images. Images of nature or images of people and their lives - both reflect the handiwork of the Creator. Ron is a photographer living in Visalia, California - part of the great Central Valley. He is immediately surrounded by agriculture and all the hard working people that feed our world. A short distance away are the grand Sierra Nevada mountains, impressive National Parks and, wider still, the vast diversity that California has to offer. Ron is one of the family owners of the L.E. Cooke Co Wholesale Nursery - a leader in the horticulture industry of North America. Even on the job, his camera is always near by. His photos for the nursery trade have been published in print and around the websites of nurseries across America. Ron is also a leader in his church and its missions. Ron's photography has been a resource the church uses in its communications and message. Plus photos of all the fun things we do are shared among members and friends. Ron also loves capturing precious moments in lives of people. Weddings, senior portraits, graduations, family gatherings, maternity and special events. Ron will not shoot more than four weddings a year to provide the attention to detail and followup that is required for such an important milestone event in the lives of the couple. Ron can be reached at 559-732-7165 or cell 559-967-5370.
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2 Responses to Tried Something New – Reined Cow Horse Competition (Part 2)

  1. nikontim2012 says:

    Hey Ron, I didn’t know you liked Equestrian Photography, I love it when I get the chance to go and shoot. Yep there are those who feel they have to Nuke each venue, I say cool, each to their own. You have some wonderful shots. I am wanting to do some portraits of Rider/horse at some point, I am figuring a 2 light setup will do. anyway was watching my blog and decided to cruise over and see what was up on yours. Wishing you well will chat at the next meetup.

    • Ron Ludekens says:

      I did not know I liked it either until I tried this venue. Now I am all excited about doing some more – especially some art-type prints that I have in the back of my mind.

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