This article will be featured in an upcoming issue of The Chi Journal, but we wanted to share with all of you as well.
If you’re building your first picture pen, or want to improve from year’s past … here is a great how-to for setting up your picture pen and surviving picture/video day!
Getting the Shot
A good photo is all about angles and lighting. A half step to the left or half step to the right on the photographers’ end can change a picture (and ultimately the sale price), dramatically. Behind the camera, the photographer has to see the cattle and gauge the animal’s positive qualities and enhance them. By doing so, a photographer will read the cattle and see how the animal positions themselves, shifts their weight and relaxes enough to take a great photo.
At Focus Marketing Group (FMG), we pride ourselves on capturing genuine, quality images of each calf that enters the picture pen. But, the photos are completely dependent on the picture pen, as well as the help inside the picture pen and back in the barn.
The Picture Pen
A good pen set-up will make or break your photos. The animals need to be able to move around the picture pen with ease and not feel confined or crowded. At FMG, we like a bigger picture pen, preferably at least 100 foot x 100 foot, or even a little larger. Yes, it’s a lot of walking for the photographer and pen help, but it makes the cattle work so much better.
The cattle need to get out and walk into the pose, and a small pen limits the opportunity. When cattle are confined and scared they tend to side step, run or take “baby steps.” When that happens, they won’t stop right in that instance and lift their head up for THE SHOT – the “killer photo.”
Picture pen at Decades of Excellence, Tennessee.
It’s also a good idea to have a “dummy calf” in the corner of the pen. This is a calf that is very, very broke, will remain calm all day long and will lead easily. When the calf being pictured sees the other calf, they will often slow down and take a better photo because they are not scared of being in a new place all alone. Occasionally the cattle may also need some incentive to walk from corner to corner for a video, so following another calf that walks without issue is great encouragement.
You should also keep the background of the pen in mind when setting up. You want it to be clear from any distractions (like your junk pile) or anything else you would not want to be seen in your photos. Also, be cognizant of your fencing choice. Barbed wire or high tensile fencing looks best in photos, but perhaps not best for high-strung cattle. Panels, woven wire and pipe fence are other fencing options for consideration.
Angles and Posing
Profile shots are the most common picture poses, where you view the animal from the side and their back leg away from the camera is forward, the animal’s head is up and ears are forward.
Profile photo taken at Pembrook Cattle Company, Oklahoma.
Everyone LOVES a great three-quarter shot, but they are tough to get. First off the animal has to be the “right kind” for it to even work, and you have to make sure the calf’s stance is right on, their weight is shifted correctly and you are taking it from the right angle with the appropriate lighting.
Three – quarter photo taken at Pembrook Cattle Company, Oklahoma.
In order to get the shot, make sure your pen help knows how you want the animal worked and what angle it needs to be stopped, preferably running uphill slightly and lighting right on the calf. To get the correct lighting, make sure the sun is always behind you, and shadows are directly behind the animal from where you are standing.
If you are picturing a haltered animal, this is a lot easier to get them set up right. But, if the calf is fighting the halter they will not picture well. At FMG, we almost always prefer to picture the cattle loose.
Try to picture your cattle early in the morning or later in the afternoon when the sun is not directly above you. In the summer months, we usually won’t shoot from 11am – 2pm because the sun is brutal, the cattle (and help) are miserable and the shadows aren’t right on the cattle.
On a bright sunny day, you can really capture the details of each calf. On an overcast day some of the muscling, definition and lines will be lost. For that reason, colored cattle will always be easier to picture than black cattle, especially on a cloudy day.
Also be aware that the lighting during a spring or summer photo shoot will be way different than a fall or winter photo shoot in the same pen.
Picture Pen Help
Your picture pen help is key in getting THE SHOT. Someone who knows how to make a “fool” of themselves is always best, however those helpers need to also understand how cattle think, react to situations and take direction well.
The help will have to work in the pen and be able to read the cattle to move them where they need to be – at the right angle and in the right lighting. That could mean knowing when to walk toward the animal’s hip or shoulder to turn them correctly, using a different, soothing noise to keep the cattle calm or getting the calf’s head up and ears forward.
For getting ears and keep the cattle’s attention, you can have all the gadgets in the world, but no matter what, people themselves are the best (given they know what they are doing!).
Remember pen help, that not every animal is the same, so you may have to switch your tactics from calf to calf. Show cattle are still animals and can turn mean in an instant, so it’s best to always be aware of your surroundings and have an escape plan if something goes awry. Safety first, no picture or video is worth an animal, photographer or pen help getting hurt.
Picture day is stressful for everyone involved. As the photographer, we are constantly evaluating the cattle in the picture pen, looking for their strengths and weaknesses and always keeping the sun’s rotation throughout the day in our mind. We will move with the sun and adjust for each calf. Another helpful hint, listen to the photographer and trust their instincts.
By: Focus Marketing Group, Inc.