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BALL FIVE: Storms make for tough rides and photography at rodeo

As the Mobridge Tribune intern at the 74th Sitting Bull Stampede, I can say I am thankful it wasn’t my first rodeo or Stampede. Although it may have looked like it with the way I was frantically running around the rodeo grounds with a camera around my neck. I saw most of the rodeo through my lens, close up and focused on the action.

I’ve attended rodeos in the past either as a participant or an attendee in the crowd cheering for friends. I hardly ever competed for money, since most of my experience was through 4-H and small rodeos.

Despite my familiarity with rodeo, I can’t say I’ve ever been a photographer at one or that I was very good at anticipating the best spots to be as said photographer.

I found that I still get excited because of the adrenaline and nostalgia I get from simply watching the rodeo. I couldn’t help but take way too many pictures of everything all three nights of the rodeo, especially Tomas Garcilazo’s beautiful Andalusian stallions.

Going into the task of photographing Cowboy Christmas in Mobridge, I initially planned for unbearable heat, a blinding sun casting shadows on anything in the arena I wanted to get photos of, and maybe some rain in the evening.

But what we all got were plenty of clouds early in the evening and, most obviously in some of the images from the Fourth, mud. Slippery and sticky arena mud. Both conditions certainly created some unforeseen difficulties for bronc rider and photographer alike.

That’s just part of the deal when you have an outdoor arena whether it’s filled with sand or dirt. When you have a rodeo the size of the Stampede, more often or not the show will go on. Unlike my mud-loving paint mare back home that I used to barrel race on who is more than happy to run in a sloppy arena, the majority of Stampede competitors and animals likely would have preferred a dry arena.

The broncs at the Stampede had some slips in the arena mud over the Fourth, although no one was seriously hurt because of it. With rain off and on throughout the night before and the day of, there was no chance for a dry arena for the last day of the rodeo. And that meant I could avoid the mud all I wanted for most of the evening. But if I wanted to get good pictures of the bull riding, I’d have to venture into the center of the arena.

It’s a good thing I wore my boots that night. I was up to my ankles in some spots, especially on the edges of the arena which made me thankful most events head straight down the middle where it was a bit drier.

Taking bull riding pictures is notoriously the most difficult part of the night. The new arena lights helped somewhat. But the fact that it’s already dark outside and the bulls move so fast makes it almost impossible to get an image where the action is perfectly stopped and bright enough to see.

Normally images of the rodeo have shadows cast on the faces of the competitors thanks to the sunset. But the last two nights of the rodeo had clouds overhead already by 8 p.m. and took away most of the light, meaning taking pictures got difficult early in the night.

I can’t tell you for certain how many times I changed my camera settings or lens to get higher exposure or a faster shutter speed to capture all the action. The entire rodeo was definitely a challenge for my mostly basic knowledge of photography.

Even after taking pictures of a rodeo for three days, I’m still not sure I could give solid advice to take really great pictures at an outdoor rodeo.

As challenging as it was, I had a blast. Each night my feet were tired, but I left the rodeo each night pleased with myself whether I’d gotten a really great shot or not. Seeing my family and familiar faces at the rodeo or even competing was icing on the cake.

Coming into this internship, I knew it was going to require a plenty of learning, humility, hard work and would be a lot of fun. It’s lived up to all those expectations and I can say I’ve been more than happy to learn and work hard to help put out a great program and welcome edition for Mobridge’s biggest event. Even though they’ve been printed for over a week now, I still like proudly showing them and my published photos to my friends and family.

I had a fantastic time at the rodeo and had no idea how tired I’d be afterward. As a side note for you, the first night of the rode had a young lady “faint” in the arena for Gizmo McCracken’s act. To all the people out there with a fear of clowns, that lady was me and it was really fun! Plus, my family got a huge kick out of it.

Simply put, I am thankful for the experience of being a part of the Sitting Bull Stampede and Mobridge, even in a small way.