Stetson’s first bucking horse was his brother. “We had a TV stand with swinging doors,” he explained. “Rusty would get in there, we’d open the […]
On The Trail with Sherry Smith
Written by: Lindsey Fancher< Back to Articles
It’s not about the money, it’s about the memory for the girls
“Make every day count, you aren’t promised tomorrow. Be the best and the most you can be in that day,”
From behind the sewing machine to behind the camera, Sherry Smith has forged her way to become the queen photographer for all professional rodeo. Starting with Miss Rodeo USA twelve years ago, she became the official pageant photographer for Miss Rodeo America in 2016. She is the photographer for five state competitions as well as the judge for several pageants.
Before the boots, buckles, and curls, Sherry sparked her passion for photography during community college where she was studying to be an art major. She picked up a job with a professional photographer, working on touch-up with film, before digital was ever on the radar.
Married in 1989, Sherry devoted her time to her husband, Keith, and her growing family. She kept her passion for photography going with her children, photographing her son, Ike, through football, and her daughters (Bethani and Faith), through horses and rodeo.
Designs By Sherry
When Bethani decided to compete in the rodeo queen world, Sherry started sewing. “We couldn’t afford the clothes on a one-income family,” she said. She used her creativity and artistic ability to hand-design and sew her daughters’ wardrobe. “It was an entirely new medium. I couldn’t sew, I was the art nut.” she explains. She could draw how it would look, but then had to get that drawing into a piece of clothing. “I don’t do anything simple, so my first creation was a dress combination of leather and lace before anyone did that,” said Sherry, “Making it all hold and stay in place was the hard part–and there was nobody to call and ask.”
With a graduation-gift sewing machine, and sheer determination, Sherry created jaw dropping designs for not only her daughter, but everyone else too. Designs by Sherry lasted for 14 years. One year in the prime of her business, she created more than 23 leather dresses, not counting the arena shirts, painting and stoning boots, chaps, hats, and bags. She even became and continues to be the special event clothing designer for World Champion and Hall of Fame Inductee, Martha Josey, who continues to give Sherry new ideas. When grandbabies started to arrive, Sherry wanted to spend less time in the sewing room and more time behind the camera.
Sherry Smith Photography
The goal with Sherry Smith Photography was to capture fleeting moments for pageant contestants as she had done for her own kids. “These girls should be able to afford these memories and have them last a lifetime. They have invested so much into wardrobe and themselves.” When she met Tom House, a Miss Rodeo America hall-of-famer for his photography and videography, at the Miss Rodeo USA pageant, Sherry’s notoriety as a photographer took off. Tom brought Sherry on board for the Miss Rodeo Oklahoma pageant behind the camera and it became clear snapping pageant shots was where she needed to be. As if it was fated, the photographer for the 2017 Miss Rodeo America Pageant couldn’t make it, so with the recommendations of Tom House, Doug Wade, Lauren Heaton (Miss Rodeo America 2015), and Melissa Heaton, Sherry Smith Photography was contracted by the Miss Rodeo America Association to shoot the pageant for the first lady of Pro Rodeo.
Learning how to photograph pageants that have about as many moving parts as a rodeo performance was a learning curve for Sherry. The first Miss Rodeo USA she shot, Trisha Smeenk at the 2012 IPRA Finals, was the subject of the most humbling event in Sherry’s photography career. “I was told the house lights in the arena would be on for her debut, so my equipment was prepared for that lighting. When we were already out in the arena, the house lights shut off. Due to my lack of experience, I missed Trish’s first run as Miss Rodeo USA. That moment taught me so much about what I was getting into,” she recalls. Now more experienced, Sherry can get images from pageants out to media in a mere day and whole packages out in two weeks. The near all-nighters she and her team pull at pageant week are worth the shots. She also quadruple backs up her images in the rare case something goes wrong and they are lost.
The integrity Sherry puts behind her photos is what makes them so original. “Whether I was designing or shooting headshots for a pageant, there is nothing more rewarding than a seeing a girl see herself as a rodeo queen for the first time.”
In each pageant, she will take more than 2,500 images of one portion of the pageant. She sorts and puts the images in the contestant folders; divided from days to events, to contestants. There are hundreds of images for each contestant to purchase as a package. “I do this a little different than most – I want those girls to have the most they can have to create the once in a lifetime memory.” Her equipment takes up the entire back end of her vehicle. She has a portable backdrop to do initial shots. She takes them outdoors to do product shots. She knows where to put what piece of equipment where. To do the job at Miss Rodeo America, she takes Keith (her husband) and another shooter but does all the sorting herself. She also builds a recap video. She takes interns with her to pay it forward. She is hoping to book more state pageants, “We need to build the industry up and I think what we offer to promote the rodeo queen will help put a visual out there for the younger girls to want to be a part of.”
Her very own studio just opened over a year ago in Lincoln, Arkansas. Sherry made the living room work great as a studio, but was urged by Keith, to expand into her own, permanent space. Contestants fly in for official head shots or content shots. Sherry still consults on wardrobe decisions, but no longer sews commercially. She is committed to photographing pageants, weddings, special events, and portraits of all kinds. She also gives back by judging several pageants each year.
As a judge, Sherry has a unique compassion for and perspective of the contestants, “They get judged in such a short time on their ability. “What I say or how I read a situation could alter how that young lady feels about herself. I want her to take her experiences and grow from them.”
The success she has achieved is all for the young ladies, but Sherry really gives the credit where credit is due, “I give the glory to God. I want to be the person that the Lord wants me to be. I want to be where he can use me in the biggest ways.”
Editor’s Note: Her work can be seen at sherrysmithphotgraphy.photoreflect.com and through Miss Rodeo USA and Miss Rodeo America.