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Clay Guardipee is one of only four photographers selected to shoot the action at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, which gets underway this week.

Not every student that graduates from high school knows what their next step in life is going to be. Sometimes, the best thing to do then is get a job and see if your passion surfaces. That is exactly what Clay Guardipee did.

Clay, a 2010 Cut Bank High School graduate and the son of Donny and Debbie Guardipee, was not sure what he wanted to do after high school. “I had some odd jobs and just didn’t know what I wanted to take in college. So I figured I would work and save up money for when I was ready to go to college.”

He made a move to Billings and it was there that he decided maybe college was not for him, but a career in photography was.

“I was working in Billings when I decided to take on photography full-time. I just didn’t have any passion for where I was working, and it was getting harder and harder to do it. Having a passion for something you love to do can go a long ways. So I quit my job and went for it to start my own company.”

RodeoReady is the name of Clay’s photography company and that move to follow his passion, has worked out really well for this young man. So well, he is one of four photographers selected to take pictures at the National Finals Rodeo (NFR) in Las Vegas this month. The NFR is the premier rodeo event in the country and gets underway this week.

How does a photographer earn the privilege to shoot the action at the NFR?

First, every photographer interested in taking pictures at the NFR event, has to apply to get their Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) card. 

Clay obtained his PRCA card, but that was not the end of the process. “To even try for the NFR you have to photograph for the first year with a permit. Then the second year, you have to go to so many rodeos and so many performances, as well as get published in the Pro Rodeo Sports News throughout the year,” he explained. 

And even with all of that completed, Clay did not know if he would be selected as one of the elite four given the right to photograph the NFR. “They only pick four photographers. It is definitely a lot of hard work,” he added.

The good news when all was said and done, Clay was one of the four picked for the photography job at NFR. “Being selected means all kinds of things to me. It’s a huge honor for sure being the biggest rodeo of the year. Being a first-year card holder, applying for the first time to hopefully be chosen for the NFR and getting the phone call was an absolute shock for me. There is a lot of talent out there and I am lucky to photograph amongst some of the best. All my hard work is paying off,” he said.

Clay must be in Las Vegas from Dec. 2 throught Dec.15. “The NFR starts on the 5th and goes 10 rounds. I will be photographing some events during the day and then the rodeo each night. I am a behind the scenes photographer, so I will be doing my best to show what is happening behind the chutes as well as the action in the arena,” he said. 

This wonderful turn of events is a dream come true for Clay. “I have always liked photography, but I didn’t ever think I would be doing for a living.” 

Rodeo is definitely one of the things Clay loves to photograph, however, he is not one to particpate in rodeos. “My dad and brother are involved in team roping mainly and I have other family that are in tie down, barrel racing and other events as well.” No doubt many or all of them have shown up in a photograph or two taken by Clay. 

The NFR will occupy a lot of Clay’s time in early December, but that event and other rodeo events are not the only place he can be found taking pictures. “While I mostly specialize in rodeo photography, I also keep busy with weddings, families and seniors. I plan to keep growing and learning as much as possible. I have been fortunate enough to travel to some awesome places with some great people and it’s been a fun experience.”

For Clay, being a photographer is more than just “clicking the shutter button,” he said. “I am always learning every time I go out and photograph something.”

You can keep up with his work and travels by following him on FaceBook at RodeoReadyShop, Instagram at rodeo_ready and his website at www.rodeoreadyshop.com.

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