Rockwell: Circle K Rodeo Practice

On Thursday evening I went to the Circle K Arena in Rockwell, North Carolina, to check out one of their weekly rodeo practices.  Training sessions began the first week of September and are held every Thursday evening, with the arena’s first rodeo competition happening October 2nd.

With only one hand holding onto a rope fastened to a bull, riders try to stay atop for at least eight seconds as the bull violently bucks and spins.  Most of the riders I interviewed had received injuries in the past from riding.  The worst I heard was of a bull stepping on and crushing a man’s legs, an injury which required a month of recovery and physical therapy.  While the riders at the practice were wearing protective vests and helmets with face-guards, there were few enforced safety measures in place twenty years ago.  I can only imagine the increased frequency and severity of injuries back then.  There is a reason why bull riding is known as “the most dangerous eight seconds in sports.”

With the considerable risk of personal injury and death lurking behind each ride, what motivated riders to put their health on the line again and again?  The adrenaline rush was the response I heard most often.

To capture the photographs I used a Canon 50D with a 70-200 mm and 17-55 mm lens (both f/2.8), aided by a monopod and occasional flash (Speedlite 580EX II).  The low-lighting conditions really tested the capability of the camera to shoot clean pictures in the high ISO range.  I found that I needed to shoot the action at 1/180th of a second or faster to capture the bulls and riders with acceptable sharpness.  These inevitably forced me to shoot the images underexposed and fix them in post-processing.  I decided that the pictures would look cleaner presented in black & white.

Rodeo clowns (the three men surrounding the bull) play an important role distracting the bull from attacking dismounted riders and directing it out of the arena.

A 15-year old bull rider reveals an old wound inflicted by a bull’s horn.

The aggressiveness of the bulls used varies.  The bull here came to a complete stop after a few seconds of bucking.

Here is the three-picture layout I created from the event for class:

I will be returning to the next practice session as well as the upcoming championship to not only record more images but shoot some video and collect audio.  Expect a slideshow in the future.

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One Comment on “Rockwell: Circle K Rodeo Practice”


  1. Sean, My favorite that you posted is the last one, nice depth, foreground, midground, background! The black and white is definitely nice. What kind of post processing did you do? Thanks for sharing.


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