Lens Guides

The Rodeo with the Sigma 120-300mm Sports

If you only had 8 seconds to shoot the perfect shot, which lens would you choose? When I had the opportunity to shoot the Attica Rodeo in Attica, NY, I immediately reached for my Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 Sport lens. I knew the action would be fast, I didn’t know what the lighting would be and there would most certainly be dirt and dust flying. The lens could handle all of it, even if the lighting was less than optimal. Fortunately, it was a beautiful late summer day, so I didn’t have any lighting curve balls thrown at me. What I wasn’t counting on being thrown at me came from a bulls rear end.

A good friend of mine, Brody Wheeler, an excellent photographer himself has been involved with the Attica Rodeo for years, along with several generations of his family. He was able to get me inside access that I may not have had otherwise.  I wanted to shoot down low with the action coming toward me to stack the subjects. The best vantage point to do this was from the bull riding shoot for the events that didn’t involve the bulls such as the calf roping, barrel racing and team penning.

© 2015 Steve Chesler | Shooting from a low angle with a wide aperture with the Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 Sport lens with the action coming toward me made for some dramatic images.
© 2015 Steve Chesler | Shooting from a low angle with a wide aperture with the Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 Sport lens with the action coming toward me made for some dramatic images.

© 2015 Steve Chesler
© 2015 Steve Chesler

The team penning event consisted of three riders on horseback trying to corral three calfs out of 15 that had the same tag number into a pen at the opposite end of the arena. The riders would dart back and forth separating the appropriate numbered calves from the pack. The calves would sprint straight toward my vantage point with a horse and rider in hot pursuit. The stacked action along with the expressions of both the rider and the animals made for great action shots.

© 2015 Steve Chesler | The Team Penning event at the Attica Rodeo was great to shoot down low to “stack” the action showing the depth with both the calves and the pursuing riders sprinting toward me.
© 2015 Steve Chesler | The Team Penning event at the Attica Rodeo was great to shoot down low to “stack” the action showing the depth with both the calves and the pursuing riders sprinting toward me.
© 2015 Steve Chesler
© 2015 Steve Chesler

I’ve seen bull riding on TV, but you get a true sense of the sport kneeling down in such tight quarters with poop covered walls all around you, and that’s without a 1,500 pound bull being in there with me.

I was shooting with a fairly wide aperture so I could throw the background out of focus. Not only did this create faster shutter speeds to stop the action, it also helped separate the subject from the busy grandstand background since the compression factor of a long lens wants to bring them together. With the dirt flying as the animals would cut left and right, the definition and sharpness of the flying dirt against the blurry background created a dynamic sense of motion.

© 2015 Steve Chesler | Compressing the subject against the out of focus background using a wide aperture with the Sigma 120-300 f2.8 Sport made the action stand out from the crowd with the flying dirt during the Barrell Racing event at the Attica Rodeo.
© 2015 Steve Chesler | Compressing the subject against the out of focus background using a wide aperture with the Sigma 120-300 f2.8 Sport made the action stand out from the crowd with the flying dirt during the Barrell Racing event at the Attica Rodeo.
© 2015 Steve Chesler
© 2015 Steve Chesler
© 2015 Steve Chesler |
© 2015 Steve Chesler |
© 2015 Steve Chesler |
© 2015 Steve Chesler |
© 2015 Steve Chesler |
© 2015 Steve Chesler |

When the bulls began filling in the shoots to my right, it was my time get out of Dodge. I shot the bull riding from the safety of the arena fence. Once the bulls started loading in to the adjacent pens, I knew it was my time to scramble to a safer location. Shooting the bulls as they launch out of the pen made for some great shots, especially since some of the riders didn’t stay much past the launch.

© 2015 Steve Chesler |
© 2015 Steve Chesler |
© 2015 Steve Chesler |
© 2015 Steve Chesler |
© 2015 Steve Chesler |
© 2015 Steve Chesler |
© 2015 Steve Chesler |
© 2015 Steve Chesler |

The opportunities for spectacular action are endless with the bull riding event, from the rider hanging on for dear life to the inevitable crash and burn sequences. Even the action after the action made for great shots when they were trying to coerce the bulls back in to their pens or when the bull was running over the poor clown in a barrel. The repetitive sequences of action make shooting rodeo events one of the easier sports to set up for, however you always have to be ready since you never know when the defining moment of the action will be.

© 2015 Steve Chesler | Shooting with the reach of the 120-300 Sport lens allowed me to stay a safe distance from the action unlike the rodeo clown who found himself in several precarious situations.
© 2015 Steve Chesler | Shooting with the reach of the 120-300 Sport lens allowed me to stay a safe distance from the action unlike the rodeo clown who found himself in several precarious situations.
© 2015 Steve Chesler
© 2015 Steve Chesler

There were several photographers photographing the event, all of which had their 70-200 2.8 lenses with them. With the shorter focal length they had to photograph from within the arena itself. Photographing with the extended reach of the Sigma 120-300mm f2.8, I was able to get great shots without putting myself in danger of getting run over by a bull having a temper tantrum, all without sacrificing any light gathering ability.

My intention was to have a second camera on hand with the Sigma 24-105mm f4 DG OS HSM on me as well to capture environmental portraits of the cowboys and cowgirls, but with so much dust flying around all the time I wasn’t comfortable taking the lens and body out of my bag since the two weren’t mounted. Introducing that much dust into my camera body would have been a disaster. The lesson was learned for next time to have it set up ahead of time. The 24-105mm is an outstanding lens in the Global Vision line up and would have been a great companion to the 120-300mm. Nevertheless, the 120-300mm f2.8 Sport lens was the right choice if I only had one lens to use.

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