Best of the Tetons

8 Second Bull Ride

Eight Seconds of Fury

Brahma Bull Riding: “The most dangerous 8 seconds in sports”

The American Flag

If you have them, jump into your Wranglers, put on your Tony Lamas, snap up your long-sleeved shirt, lock in your silver belt buckle and top everything off with your best Stetson. Then head to the Fairgrounds for a night of fast and unpredictable action. The Jackson Hole Rodeo has been thrilling tourists each Wednesday and Saturday for decades. If you can can’t make to either of those nights, Friday night rodeos have been added to the lineup.

Little Bull Rider

Each week, little tikes are initiated to the cowboy tradition and develop the skills for a lifetime of rodeo action. Bear Emlyn isn’t in Kindergarten yet, but he’s already on a bull! The Rodeo way of life starts early for some!

Sequence 1

Each cowboy that gets on the back of a one ton Brahma Bull knows they are taking an eight second ride that can possibly kill them—or cripple them or life. No two rides are the same, but they are all potentially dangerous. These athletes “cowboy up” and put it all on the line, while us spectators do just that from the safety of the bleachers.

Sequence 2

To “earn the points”, a bull rider must hang on for a full eight seconds without touching the bull or the hardware with his free hand. If they hang on for the full eight seconds, judges give them style points based on a 100 point system. The action of the bull can augment the score, with a good ride in the high 70’s.

Sequence 3

When things start going bad, they can go really bad in a split second. Landon Smith’s ride looked great for the first few seconds, but as the bull spun to its left, Land began to lean to the right and it was all downhill from there.

Sequence 4

Judges, rodeo clowns and other rodeo officials scamper up a fence as a raging bull approaches. By this time, I am sure Landon knew his ride would never reach 8 seconds.

Sequence 5

“Survival mode” kicks in.

Sequence 6

In real time, this sequence happened over a period of only a few seconds. I’m sure it felt like slow motion to Landon.

Sequence 7

This is a place where no cowboy ever wants to be.

Sequence 8

The job of the rodeo clowns is to distract the bull once the cowboy becomes defenseless, but they have no control of where the back legs of a bucking Brahma bull will land. I this shot, the back legs of the bull are pushing the Landon to the ground.

Sequence 9

The grimace on Landon’s face tells of the pain he must have been feeling at that split second. All of the bull riders wear a protective vest and many wear helmets during their bull ride. Luckily, the bull’s hooves landed on the ground and not in the middle Landon’s back, but it appears there was plenty of weight pressing down on his lower back and buttocks. Interestingly, he’s still hanging on!

Sequence 10

Chaos—captured a 12 frames per second!

Sequence 11

1/12th second later.

Sequence 12

Still not out of danger!

Sequence 13

Any doctor or E.M.T. would tell someone that just experienced a back injury event to “stay still”. In that moment, a bull rider’s instinct would be to attempt to protect himself from additional danger. After he saw the danger was gone, he collapsed to the ground.


An E.M.T team is always on hand at a rodeo. They were quick to respond to this event. The arena was quiet for around 10 minutes.

Walk Off

Cowboys are tough. Landon walked off on his own power as the arena cheered and the announcer wished him well.

Jerry Jeff Walker – Ro Deo Deo Cowboy

You might enjoy Jerry Jeff’s 1977 song about bull riding! Click the link above, or read the lyrics here!

Saddle Bronc

If you were to do an Internet search for “The most dangerous 8 seconds in sports”, you’ll find a page or so of references to Brahma bull riding. Even if you could come up with a few other dangerous sports, like cliff diving, the photos on this page should convince you to put bull riding right up there with anything else you might consider. It’s bad enough to think the bull is doing it’s best to buck the rider off his back, but knowing the same bull is plenty willing to turn and gore the helpless cowboy puts this sport in a category all by itself.

A Photographer at the Rodeo

I mentioned earlier that the JH Rodeo is held during the summer months on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. I like to go early in the summer while the days are longest and light is best for photographing the first round of the bull riding. The Fairgrounds Arena has new lights, but they are not strong enough for most photographer’s needs once the sun goes down. I have three camera bodies, but I immediately grab my Nikon D5. It can shoot at 12 frames per second, and it can handle high ISO speeds much better than my other two cameras.

On the positive side, rodeo photos (and western photos in general) can handle more “grain” than some other genres of photography. It’s almost expected!

You can get all of the dates and prices for entry into the JH Rodeo at their site:  Jackson Hole Rodeo — Where the West is still Wild! I never hesitate to ask for my “senior discount”! More importantly, you probably don’t want to pay for the better seats under the canopy and at midfield. General admission tickets will allow you to move around based on the event. Unlike the NFR rodeos in the huge arenas, this is a small, intimate rodeo. You’ll be close to the action anywhere you stand or sit.

Camera Settings: For freezing action, I like to keep my shutter speeds at 1/1000th to 1/1250th second. I’d love to keep my aperture at F/8, and I’d love to keep my ISO speed at ISO 400 or less. At the evening and night rodeo, that’s probably not going to happen! There will be compromises! For example, the Brahma bull ride shots on this page were captured at 1/800th of a second, wide open at F/5.6, and the Auto ISO varied between ISO 5000 and ISO 6400. By the time, the cowboy was walking off the arena, the Auto ISO had jumped to ISO 11,400. I photographed these images with a Tamron 150-600mm G2 Lens, using a tripod with VC OFF.

American Flag Blur: For this photo, I was set up on a leveled tripod at 1/13th Second, at F/11 and Auto ISO at 125. Nikon D5 and Tamron 150-600mm G2 Lens, using a tripod with VC OFF.

Bronc Rider Blur: For this photo, I was set up on a leveled tripod at 1/20th Second, at F/6.3and Auto ISO at 560. Nikon D5 and Tamron 150-600mm G2 Lens, using a tripod with VC OFF.

Other Posts of Interest

Another Day at the Office! An unexpected broncing horse ride.

Rodeo – Saturday Night Action, Jackson Hole Style!

Wild West in Jackson Hole: Cowboys, Wranglers and Horses

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Comments (6)

  1. Marcy Starnes

    the rodeo is such a target rich environment – I have recently been shooting several – really enjoying the challenge – I have been masking out some of the busy back grounds and getting some nice results with Topaz , texture and Impressions – something you do so well

  2. Dave Ryan

    Great images Mike! The action shots are really nice but the motion blur is stellar.

  3. Hi Dave,….Thanks! I have been switching to motion blur when the cowboy is wearing a helmet and then back to fast shutter speeds when they are wearing a hat. At some point, the ambient light from the sun disappears and I have to rely on the arena lights. Instead of relying on high ISO or only tolerable shutter speeds, doing a lot of motion blurs start making more sense. Our small rodeo operators are currently fine with people bringing in tripods, which helps with the long exposures. Of course, you already know all of that! MJ

  4. Marcy, I like the post processing side as much as the actual captures! …but I am way behind on all of it!

  5. Lowell Schechter

    Mike, these are amazing captures at the rodeo, that can almost make you stop taking photos seeing the cowboy in a situation where things really could have gone wrong. But there are many people who are there that know how to handle things when this situation occurs . I liked the blurred images also. You also had the right camera to capture these images , where it can handle light low.

  6. Lowell, I wouldn’t have posted these images if they had taken Landon off on a stretcher. He’s probably sore after the event, but at least he walked off.

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