A picture is worth a thousand words… but bad pictures of your cattle can cost you plenty! Many potential customers cannot visit your ranch to view your cattle in person, but when they see your cattle in your photo album, a sale catalog, or in an advertisement in your breed publication, CATTLE TODAY or on the Internet, you want their first impression to be a good one.
A medium priced digital camera is perfect for livestock pictures. Make sure it has a zoom lens so you can get a close-up without having to get too close and a built-in flash to help with the shadows. There are many models available for under $400. The digital cameras have several advantages over film types. You can tell if you get a good picture instantly without waiting for the pictures to get back from the developer. You can take several extra shots of the same animal and then just delete the not so good pictures. The auto-focus and auto-exposure controls make the camera easy to use. With the photo editing software usually included with the camera you can crop and adjust the brightness and contrast to improve your picture even more. You can email the photo to the person doing your ad or web site and they have it the same day it was taken.
Tips from a professional livestock photographer:
Don't carry a sack of feed or hay with you to take your pictures. What you'll get for the next hour are cattle with their heads down eating. Instead, just ease into the pasture and wait until the cattle get used to you. Move slowly so you don't spook them.
Take you photos early or late in the day, never in the middle of the day. It just doesn't work. Hazy or cloudy days work better than bright clear days. Keep the sun behind you. Stand where your shadow does not fall into the picture. Use your flash to help eliminate shadows.
Get another person to help you. The best pictures have the ears forward with the head up looking at a 45° angle. The best way to accomplish this is to have the other person stand in front of the animal and do something to get their attention, wave their arms, whistle or do whatever necessary get the cow to look at him.
Fill as much of the frame as possible with the animal. Have room to back up if necessary. Do not cut off any of the head or feet; get the whole animal in the photo.
Have the cow going uphill. Cattle photograph much better when their front legs are higher than their back legs. Professional photographers even build a mound for the front legs to stand on. Standing on level ground is not good but going downhill is terrible. Cattle generally photograph best if you aim directly at their side, standing neither in front nor behind them. Get them to stand with their back leg that is closest to you back so you can see their udder or testicles. It is best for the camera to be lower than the center of the cow. Get down on the ground if necessary. Never take a picture with the camera higher than the cow. It makes them look small.
The background of your picture is important! Make sure you don't get a shot with your pickup, hayracks, junk piles or other cows in the picture. Don't have a fence post or telephone post sticking up out of the back of the animal. A cow standing in a green pasture with some spring flowers blooming makes a great picture. Try not to have them standing next to a fence. The best way to avoid fences is to string a thin single strand of electric fence wire. If the cattle are used to electric fencing it doesn't even need to be hot.
As a rule of thumb try to get a dark colored background for light colored cattle and a lighter colored background for dark cattle. It is much harder to get a good picture of a dark cow.
If it's fly season, spray your cattle for flies a couple of days ahead of the shoot. Cattle covered with flies do not make a pretty picture. Try to take your pictures in the spring or early summer after they have shed their winter hair and are in good condition. A good time is after a rain has cleaned them up.
So let's start shooting!