Life of PBR snapper
PBR snapper explains how she secured her spot ring side shooting the best in bull riding
IT WAS a stirring sense of adventure that drew Elise Derwin away from her inner-city Sydney home to a remote Top End buffalo hunting camp.
Although the shift was a culture shock for the then-vegetarian, she almost instantly fell in love with the Northern Territory, its landscapes and its people.
It was the perfect spot for storytellers, which Elise is, so she later forged a career as a press photographer.
And just over a year ago, it was that same sense of adventure that took her away from her permanent job at the NT News to making the “plunge” to become a freelancer at Lismore in Northern NSW.
She hasn’t looked back and has since secured a contract as PBR’s ring-side photographer.
If you have been to a PBR you might have caught a glimpse of Elise in action.
It’s her job to float behind the shoots and around the arena to capture the thrills, triumphs and moments of bull-riding glory.
Her big city days are behind her, and this week Elise caught up with the Rural Weekly to talk about buffaloes, bull riding and building a business from photography.
Looking back, Elise said it wasn’t a hard decision to move away from Sydney.
“I wanted to go somewhere warm,” she joked.
“So what better way to do that then move to the other end of the country?”
Elise moved north with a plan to drive from Broome to Cairns, and on the way a friend told her a buffalo-hunting camp was in need of a cook.
Her goal of a seeking a warmer climate was achieved ten-fold.
“This was during the build up season, the rains hadn’t come yet, and it was heat I had never felt before,” she said.
“And it was really isolated, I had gone from the middle of Sydney one day, then the next day I was in complete isolation.
“So it was 12 hours by car to get there from the nearest town.
“I was vegetarian at the time so working in a buffalo hunting camp was pretty confronting.
“I had to remain pretty open-minded, I had to accept it all for what it was – it was a completely different world.”
While a challenge, Elise said her stint in East Arnhem was exactly what she needed.
“It felt like home,” she said.
❝Bulls can bash up against the side of the fence though, so you can’t ever be too comfortable, you have to be ready to sprint.
— Elise Derwin
“I ended up loving it and ending up eating lots of game meat, lots of barramundi, kangaroo and buffalo.”
Elise always had her camera on her, and said her time in the north fuelled her passion for photography.
“Being up there ignited something in me to find a way to make a living from it,” she said.
“I think moving from Sydney to the Northern Territory just catapulted me into wanting to make a change in that respect.”
Elise moved to Darwin and secured a job as a photographer for the NT News, later working her way up to becoming the newspaper’s photo editor.
However, last year she made another bold choice and stepped away from the security of a full-time job.
“I took the plunge and left everything,” she said.
“I left my whole network in Darwin and my job, I moved to a new place and crossed my fingers.”
Shooting the bull ride in Darwin was always a fun job, so Elise jumped at the chance when PBR general manager Glen Young asked her to come on board with them.
Elise described her role as fast paced and job where you are “constantly looking over your shoulder”.
“You have to check there are no bulls coming,” she said.
“I have been doing it for 12 months for them and I am finding every time I go to an event I find something new.
“I never feel like it’s run of the mill.”
Elise’s work has shed a different light on bull riding, her pictures highlight the camaraderie between the competitors and often put a bigger focus on the bull’s athleticism.
She has learnt a lot about the sport, and now has favourite bulls to shoot.
“There is one called Bee Sting and he always jumps so
high, and he always hits the rail,” she said.
“You can get some good shots with him.
“And Sweet Pro’s Hillbilly Deluxe, that’s a good one too.
“They are my two favourites and I always rush to get them. But I mean at the level of PBR they are all pretty good.”
As for the riders, Elise said most of the time they were “pretty shy” subjects.
“They tend to be quite reserved. But I don’t want them to be engaging with me either, because I am documenting what they are doing.”
Elise said when working behind the shoots she aims to be swift, but not too fast that she is disturbing riders or bulls.
“It’s important to be aware the riders are getting into their head space,” she said.
“They are about to be doing something that’s pretty dangerous.”
Elise has found the perfect spot to capture that iconic bull-riding image, about halfway down from the shoots around the arena.
“Bulls can bash up against the side of the fence though, so you can’t ever be too comfortable, you have to be ready to sprint,” she said.
The key to sports photography, she said, was learning to anticipate what would happen next so you are ready for the shot.
“I can normally predict this now by watching how the bulls move,” she said.
There is a risk of arena photos starting to look the same, so Elise makes it her goal to hunt for new frames.
“You are always looking in your peripherals too just to make sure there is nothing you are missing,” she said.
“While the bull ride is happening there could be 10 other things happening, whether it’s in the crowd, or with the bull riders – there is a lot to be told with their story.”
Elise will be working at the PBR right up until the grand finals in Townsville on November 23-24.
She was excited to mention that she will be about eight months pregnant at that time.
“So I will be big then... I probably won’t fit behind the shoots,” she laughed.
Now living in Lismore with her partner, Elise was keen to see how her career would progress.
There is no nine-to-five as a photographer, but that’s why she enjoys it.
“There is no Monday to Friday with photography, you just work when there is work. And that’s good,” she said.
“And I am always travelling which I love, it’s one of my favourite things about my work.
“With the PBR I know when the dates are and when I will be away.
“It can be challenging when you are in a relationship and you are away all the time.
“But I might be away a lot for one month, then the next month not so much.”
TOP SHOT: Ethan Watts on Bee Sting at theNewcastle Invitational.
Beau Wills hung up on Light Em Up at the Shepparton Invitational.
Elise highlights the behind the scenes of bull riding.
Photographer Elise Derwin.
IN A SNAP: Riders Toby and Oscar Leake stand proud.
Rider Fraser Babbington introduced at the Professional Bull Riders Newcastle Invitational.
Protection athletes swoop on Jay Borghero and Hells Bells.
A rider gets a helping hand from competitors.
Tully rider Michael Smith on Jumping Jack at the Professional Bull Riding Tamworth Invitational.
Cezar Quaresma. getting ride ready.
Brock Radford in the spotlight.