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Livestock

Photographing horses, cattle, sheep & other livestock


Many people form such strong attachments to their horses that they consider them to be pets.
Many people form such strong attachments to their horses that they consider them to be pets.

HORSES - ARE THEY LIVESTOCK OR PETS?

We had a hard time categorizing horses in our Livestock photography section, since so many people are so strongly attached to their horses, and feel as emotionally involved with them as they would with a cat or dog, perhaps more so, that they feel they really belong in our Pet photography section.

They argue that a "pet" is defined as any domesticated, tamed animal that is kept as a favorite and cared for affectionately, or an animal that is personally cared for and affectionately indulged, and say their horses fall within that definition.


The differentiating word, however, is "domesticated," which the dictionary defines as "accustomed to household life or affairs," something that few, if any, horses qualify under. Horses do not do well in living rooms and kitchens, for example. Therefore we have classified them as "livestock" with apologies to all horse owners who consider them to be true pets.

OTHER LIVESTOCK

Many people develop strong attachments to other animals that qualify as livestock - a favorite goat, a particularly-friendly bull, even a chicken that thinks she's part of the household. Such animals cross the gray threshhold between pet and farm animal. For general categorization purposes, however, we treat them all under the "Livestock" heading when we talk about taking their pictures.

An effective livestock photo should show a good side view of the animal, so its markings, profile and general condition can be seen. The animal should be groomed and spotless. This picture, although perhaps appealing, does not meet the criteria.
An effective livestock photo should show a good side view of the animal, so its markings, profile and general condition can be seen. The animal should be groomed and spotless. This picture, although perhaps appealing, does not meet the criteria.

Be sure that time is taken to carefully groom an animal before taking its picture.  The camera will pick up any detail that is overlooked.
Be sure that time is taken to carefully groom an animal before taking its picture. The camera will pick up any detail that is overlooked.

REALITY IS UPPERMOST

When photographing livestock, particularly if the photograph is for a sales catalog or an auction brochure, it is important to show the animal as it is, with no artificial embellishment of any kind. Prospective purchasers have a right to see exactly what they are bidding on.

This doesn't mean that an animal shouldn't be shown at its natural best. Make sure it is groomed - clean and shiny. Choose an appropriate background - not one that clutters the picture and distracts the viewer's attention. An open field as a backdrop is better than a dingy barn. Make sure that shooting conditions are ideal - lots of sunshine or a brightly-overcast day. The animal must be properly positioned and posed - generally showing a full side view, or a 3/4 view, or both - looking awake, alert and alive. The head should be high. The stance should be solid and the overall appearance should be healthy.


TECHNIQUE

Fill flash (or using a reflector) when the animal is backlit is often beneficial when photographing livestock, since these techniques can enhance an animal's appearance, revealing shadow detail and showing an animal's entire presentation.

A portrait lens will ensure proper porportioning, although a normal lens will also produce a satisfactory image. A wide-angle lens, however, should generally be avoided in order to prevent any distortion.

If you are shooting using film, color film is generally best. A color picture can usually be rendered satisfactorily in black and white, if necessary for a catalog or sales poster, but a B&W picture is difficult and impractical to color properly. If you are shooting digitally, then take your pictures in color. You can always remove the color using image-editing software.

A medium-telephoto lens (80 mm to 120 mm for a 35 mm camera) is ideal for livestock photography.
A medium-telephoto lens (80 mm to 120 mm for a 35 mm camera) is ideal for livestock photography.

The rodeo provides the opportunity to photograph livestock in high action - completely different from animal portraiture.
The rodeo provides the opportunity to photograph livestock in high action - completely different from animal portraiture.

THE RODEO

Not all pictures of livestock are meant to be animal "portraits." The rodeo provides an example of a different type of livestock photography, where a fast shutter speed and a telephoto lens are essential tools for the photographer.

If you are in rodeo country, a good way to ensure you can get close enough to the action to capture thrilling pictures is to discover where the smaller rodeos take place. Unlike the really big events, like the Calgary Stampede, which is attended by thousands for every performance, small town rodeo events may only have a few hundred people in the audience. You can usually take pictures at ringside, at the same level as the action, and are much more free to move around for the best shooting angles. For more tips on shooting rodeos, visit our section entitled Rodeo photography tips and advice.


You don't have to be an expert to see the errors here. Some helpful tips to avoid them: Don't include wire fences in the composition. Select a plain background. Don't use a wide-angle lens. Pose the subject. Use an attractive camera angle. Fill the frame.
You don't have to be an expert to see the errors here. Some helpful tips to avoid them: Don't include wire fences in the composition. Select a plain background. Don't use a wide-angle lens. Pose the subject. Use an attractive camera angle. Fill the frame.
Further information...

Photographing horses

Photographing cattle
Related topics...

Rodeo photography tips and advice