Photo Tips: Capturing Western Action

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Barrel Racing
From the high speed spins and slides of a reiner, to the unpredictability of team penning and the fast turns of a barrel racer, western equine sports have plenty of action. Catching that action in a photo is fun and challenging for all levels of photographers.

My favorite is to capture a picture that will tell as much of a story as I can in a single image. The first thing I do is scout the light and the background to find my most pleasing angle, then I look for the colors of horses that will photograph best under the light and background conditions. Mid to light colors such as chestnut, palominos, pintos, and buckskins are some of my favorites.

For barrel racing, I usually sit on the ground focused on a point where the horse will come at me after turning the barrel. For sliding stops I try to set up a ¾ view in a vertical orientation and capture the slide from start to finish, the more dirt flying the better I like it.

The more difficult western action shots are the ones that involve multiple riders or cattle such as team penning and cutting. These pictures can be great when done right because the more interactions you have in the scene between riders and cattle the more interesting story you can tell. If you use a wide angle lens to capture the scene it will be easier to get everything in focus. Using a zoomed lens can isolate your subject but it is more difficult to get the moment when they are grouped together. If you are using a camera with an eyepiece it helps to shoot keeping both eyes open so you can monitor all the action in case a better photo moment is forming outside your viewfinder.

Western action requires fast shutter speeds like 1/1000 or as high as 1/1600 to stop the action of a spin or you can try shooting slower speeds like 1/500 to allow the legs to blur Try different things with your camera for creative effects.

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