For the first time in multiple decades, the Canadian Finals Rodeo arena had a new finger on the trigger of a long-lensed camera. The name “Mike Copeman” has been synonymous with the rodeo photography profession for years, but this year it was Billie-Jean Duff – now close friend to Copeman – that entered the arena.
“I didn’t know who he was when I attended my first CFR as a spectator in 2004, but I knew watching him work from the second balcony of Northland’s Coliseum that down there in the dirt was where I wanted to be,” said Duff. “Over the years, I learned my equipment, and worked my way up through the high school rodeo and amateur ranks before applying for my CPRA card in 2011 – It’s just all snowballed from there.”
An idol to all aspiring rodeo photographers, Duff has spent many years shooting next to, and discussing equipment with the legend who was unable to shoot CFR45 due to health issues.
“We’ve shared many arenas over the years, talked shop about our equipment endlessly, and he’s been an instrumental resource in my pursuit of my PRCA membership.”
It’s a dream come true for rodeo photographers to be selected to work big events like the CFR, and to commemorate her first trip there, we asked Duff to select her favorite photos from the finals:
2018 has been a strong year for Duff – she was selected as the official photographer of the Calgary Stampede, the background photographer for the RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Kissimmee, Florida and had photos featured in the PRCA’s Pro Rodeo Sports News. While she says the CFR selection was bitter-sweet, she was excited for the opportunity and had similar advice for herself as many contestants entering the arena for the first time.
“The days leading up the event were filled with packing and preparation for some of the unknowns of heading into a new venue, with new tasks at hand, and getting my mind thinking differently than if I was shooting an event for my own purposes,” said Duff. “I’ve been shooting rodeo long enough, at the end of the day it really is just like any other rodeo.”
The Canadian Finals Rodeo isn’t the only event this year that she’ll have to remind herself is “just like any other rodeo”. Shortly after the conclusion of CFR45, Duff announced she was also selected as the official background photographer of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
“To be selected as a Canadian is a pretty proud moment,” said Duff. “There are 6 contestants and 2 contract personnel headed to Vegas this year, and I’m one of them!”
Duff is also proud to say she is one of less than a handful of Canadian photographers to have ever been selected to work the WNFR in an industry she says is extremely competitive within the sport.