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Photographing cattle


An effective way to show a young bull's docility is to have him photographed with people, in this case, the bull's owners.
An effective way to show a young bull's docility is to have him photographed with people, in this case, the bull's owners.

Many cattle breeders hire the services of a professional photographer when they wish to publicize their animals. This is the simplest and possibly the best way to obtain top-quality photographs of quality animals, but it also the most expensive.

A good photograph by a professional who is experienced in cattle photography can be a great tool in advertising what you have to offer. The professional livestock photographer will coach you on the preparation of the animal and how to pose it for for its best presentation.


But, if you are reasonably proficient in photography and have a good camera, you, too, can take your own cattle publicity photographs. You simply have to observe the same fundamentals of preparation, posing and photographic technique that are used by the pros. Of course, you need a good animal to begin with.

It may sound simple, but, as with all things in life that are done well, there's more to it than meets the eye.

Showing a good-looking cow with her offspring, who appears healthy and robust, can make an effective sales photograph.
Showing a good-looking cow with her offspring, who appears healthy and robust, can make an effective sales photograph.

This old Polaroid image, which dates back to 1977, shows a healthy-looking Simmental yearling bull. Unfortunately, the image does not look sharp and the background is too cluttered.
This old Polaroid image, which dates back to 1977, shows a healthy-looking Simmental yearling bull. Unfortunately, the image does not look sharp and the background is too cluttered.

The key points are:

(1) Preparation: Making sure the animal looks its best. The camera will pick up any flaws in grooming and they will stand out like a sore thumb. Your animal must be healthy, vigorous-looking and "handsome," and must look characteristic of the breed. This means a lot of work on your part before taking the picture. If you will be photographing the animal in a field, make sure the grass is short enough to see its legs full-length, and that there are no bushes, even tiny ones, in front. Check for unwanted debris on the ground, and remove anything that is unsightly.

(2) Posing: The animal must be positioned for photography in such a way that its best characteristics are shown, and that it looks alert, well-proportioned, and ideally flawless.


There is more to posing livestock than meets the eye. Check out pictures in agricultural magazines and breeding advertisements for similarities in the best-posed animal pictures, and attempt to copy them. You will find they were photographed from about the animal's shoulder height or slightly lower while the animal was positioned sideways or almost sideways to the camera. You will also note that the animals look calm and "dignified," with no wide-eyed appearance at all, but rather as if they were pleased or keen to be posing. They look alert and intelligent.

If you have the animal posed with people near it, all the better. It suggests domesticity, docility, ease-of-handling and gives a sense of scale.

You do not want the animal to be looking at the camera. If its rear legs are positioned so that one is in front of the other, that is fine, but you generally want its front legs to be even, so that it appears content to remain where it is.

A fine example of the world's largest breed of cattle, the Chianina, this huge bull was photographed in Radi, near Siena, Italy, where the breed originates. Unfortunately, the bull was not properly groomed before being photographed.
A fine example of the world's largest breed of cattle, the Chianina, this huge bull was photographed in Radi, near Siena, Italy, where the breed originates. Unfortunately, the bull was not properly groomed before being photographed.

A quick snapshot of an animal in a field is no substitute for a professional-looking livestock portrait.
A quick snapshot of an animal in a field is no substitute for a professional-looking livestock portrait.

The head should be up and attentive-looking, and the mouth closed. The animal should not look sleepy. The less leather and hardware on the animal, the better. A simple bridle is good, but if a nose ring is warranted, then include it in the picture.

Honesty is essential. The pose should not be designed to conceal a flaw that would be obvious when simply observing the animal.

(3) Photographic technique: You must consider the photography of cattle to be as serious and demanding as people portraiture if you expect to have quality results. This is not "snapshot" time.

You must have good equipment. Your camera and lens should produce predictably-good results - sharp images that will make good prints. Shoot at the level of the animal - not from above. Use a portrait lens so that the animal's proportions appear normal, not exaggerated as they would with a wide-angle lens. Many of the techniques that apply to people portraiture should be applied to cattle photography for guaranteed success. Fill flash can be very effective when the animal is backlit by the sun.