By Forest McMullin
Rodeos challenge photographers in many different ways. I found using two Sigma lenses, the APO 70-200mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM and the 24-35mm F2 DG HSM | Art, provided me with the performance and quality I needed to make outstanding images.
I’ve been photographing African American rodeos since the summer of 2014. I started this project like I start many of my projects- by shooting portraits. You can read about them here. Over the next two years, however, I realized that the subject of black cowboys was so expansive that I needed to bring more visual variety into the mix. For the last year I’ve been shooting action, behind-the-scenes, and motion studies, as well as portraits.
The environment at rodeos is rapidly moving and shifting and requires fast reflexes and even faster equipment. The opportunities are erratic and constantly changing. The light is relatively dim and the need for fast shutter speeds is obvious. There are times when one can work as a fairly traditional photo-journalist.
And others when having the skills of a sports photographer come in handy:
There were times when the action was unfolding directly in front of me like these:
There were times when the action was at the far end of an arena, like these:
There were situations when I wanted to be fairly close-up:
And some situations where I needed to include more information:
The only possibility for covering all these different situations was with zooms. The 24-35mm F2 and 70-200mm F2.8 were perfect for this tough job. I first started shooting these rodeos with a Nikon D600 and I found that my “hit rate”, that is, how many of my shots were in sharp focus, was running about 60-75%. I thought this was pretty good performance for these lenses considering how difficult the environment was. For the last few rodeos, I’ve been shooting with the latest Nikon D500. Suddenly my hit rate was 95% or better! I realized my four year old D600 just wasn’t up to the task. With the right camera, these Sigma lenses are truly remarkable. They have fast and sure auto-focus and impressive sharpness and maximum apertures.
I don’t really know how I could have successfully photographed these rodeos with these Sigma lenses. They have the flexibility and performance that gave me great results.