Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Taking Good Pictures of Goats

Baby Curzon, only hours old

Because so many people ask me how we take good photos of our animals, I'm going to post this to both Goat Tips & Tricks and Sheep Tips & Tricks, except with different pictures to each blog.

Really, taking good pictures is easy and you don't need a top-of-the-line camera to do it well. We took publication-quality 35mm transparencies (slides) with a bargain basement Pentax K-1000 manual camera and two interchangeable lenses for over 15 years. When the K-1000 gave up the ghost, we switched to a Pentax ME Super and we'd still be using it if we hadn't discovered digital photography. Now I'm a convert and we use a Canon EOS Rebel XTi  with two lenses, a 75-300mm zoom and an 18-55mm zoom. Unlike the K-1000, it wasn't cheap, even purchased at BestBuy, but we've used it for four years on a nearly daily basis to shoot many thousands of pictures, so it's more than paid its way. I prefer the Canon to my 35mm camera because I can shoot loads of pictures at virtually no cost.

Uzzi as the Oak King graced our Christmas cards one year

I want to stress that you don't need an expensive camera with all the bells and whistles to take good photos. Photography became my hobby early-on and my first camera was a Brownie Hawkeye (you can't get much simpler than that). I used it to take a picture that won a Grand Championship ribbon at the Indiana State Fair. I later won awards in horse photography contests with pictures taken with Instamatic cameras. I don't know an f-stop from an orangutan and you don't need to in order to take great pictures. You just have to follow a few simple rules and learn to use the camera you've got.

Emony says, "Where's supper?"

However, if you can afford it, buy a camera with interchangeable lenses so you can use a zoom lens to shoot animal pictures. That way you can stay farther from your subject and the zoom helps keep its parts in proportion. An 80-200mm zoom is perfect for livestock photography.

Choose the highest resolution setting on your camera. You’ll hate it if you shoot the perfect picture in poor-quality low-resolution.

Plan your shoot. Find a nice backdrop or at least remove junk from the background you have.

K'ehlyr munches oak leaves in an autumn setting

Shoot at the right time of day. Morning and evening lighting is perfect; shooting when the sun is overhead casts deep shadows. Stand with the sun at your back or slightly over one shoulder. Watch to make sure your shadow doesn’t spoil the image.

Get down on your subject’s level. Level with the center of its body is perfect. Kneel, sit, or lie on your tummy but never shoot from above unless you're trying for special effects. That distorts your subject’s body and gives him short legs.

Esme poses with a garland of old-fashioned roses

Ask someone to help you grab your subject’s interest at just the right time. Have your helper toodle a kazoo, wave a plastic bag, squeak a squeaky toy, or roll on the ground. Keep in mind you want an alert expression, not panic. Experiment until you find the right ploy.

Fill the frame but don’t cut off ears, feet, or tails. Or, learn to use photo editing software to crop your favorite shots.

Milo says it's easy to take alert-looking pictures of us wethers and bucks--just wait until we have to pee

If you’re working alone, be patient. Sit with your camera ready and wait for the perfect picture to happen.

Stay alert while sitting, especially with your camera at your face. I've been ambushed by nasty roosters, flattened by a flying goat (propelled my direction by another goat), and used as a jungle gym by bottle lambs and kids.

Kerla, like many of our bottle babies is house-trained; here he lounges on the couch

Shoot a lot of pictures. I delete at least 15 images for every one I save.  

And when you move position, watch where you park your butt, especially if sitting in animal poop offends you. Or, you could sit on a thistle. I've done it and it hurts!

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