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As the song goes, “… Every pictures tells a story, don’t it …” and that’s certainly been the case through the eyes of elite rodeo photographer Billie Jean Duff.

The Canadian from a small town near South Calgary has a way of narrowing a slice of life to a single frame, capturing the moment for all time.

As the story goes, she was working the Ellensburg Rodeo for the first time in 2018. Since she didn’t have an arena pass that year, she shot from the deck seating at the Gold Buckle Club and caught the pick-up guys as they moved in to collect a bareback rider.

That silhouetted black and white image is the poster for this year’s Ellensburg Rodeo, featuring the work of Duff, who is the official photographer for the Calgary Stampede, the Canadian Finals Rodeo and the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. She is one of the finest in her craft on North America’s rodeo circuit.

“I had posted (the image) on Facebook. (The board of directors) contacted me and said my photo has been put up for consideration for the poster,” Duff said in a telephone interview from Calgary. “It turned out that’s what they decided on.”

She earned her photographer membership with the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association in 2011, then picked up her Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association credentials. She’s been working arenas across North American for the past 10 years.

“Rodeo is romantic. I love it,” said Duff, who didn’t start shooting until she was 30 years old when she picked up a friend’s Canon Rebel. “It’s a natural process. I grew up in a small town, around horses. I rodeo myself, so when I picked up a camera it was a good fit.”

She describes herself as an introvert that felt like she didn’t quite fit in. In her search for an identity, she found what she was looking for — capturing rodeo through the lens. Once she understood the mechanics of the exposure triangle, she was hooked.

“I got pretty good at it and that helps,” she said with a laugh. “The action photography has its own challenges with venue lighting. Some of the venues are small indoor arenas and you have to adjust.

“With the (informal portraits), I want to find that moment where it’s real instead of them being aware that I’m there. I’m always looking for something different. There’s a lot of photographers competing for the shot, so I’m always looking to find something that doesn’t look like every other shot out there. Something that describes the moment.”

Duff did just that with the black and white image of thunder hooves with cowboys and horses captured in silhouette in the Ellensburg Rodeo Arena.

Her work has been published by several of the industry’s leading publications, including Pro Rodeo Sporting News, WPRA News, Barrel Horse News, Western Horse Review and Canadian Cowboy Country.

After a year where the Labor Day Weekend event was canceled for the fourth time in the nearly 100-year history, the Ellensburg Rodeo is back, starting on Sept. 3.

Rodney Harwood: award-winning journalist and columnist. Lover of golf and the written word. I can be reached at rharwood@kvnews.com

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