Good and bad cattle photography

A photo can say a lot about a sale animal and it can make or break the sale. In the left photo, the bull appears level across his topline and stout. In the right photo, the very same bull appears short bodied and weak behind his shoulder and before his hip. 

We’ve all heard the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and we know that is true when it comes to marketing cattle.

Getting that perfect photo can be difficult, especially when dealing with unpredictable animals, but it can pay to take the time to get a good shot.

Cate Doubet, a respected photographer, has spent the last few years traveling the nation photographing sale animals. She laments, there are several variables that play into the perfect shot, but with a little patience, the right equipment and a keen eye, Doubet said a quality sale photo can be worth its weight in gold.

First and foremost, Doubet said, it is best to photograph animals that have been clipped and fitted. A good fitter will know how to draw out the positive features of an animal. Like any haircut, however, it’s good to wait a while before you photograph.

“In and ideal world, I like to shoot sale bulls about two weeks after they have been fit and torched,” Doubet said.

The two-week lapse allows the hair enough time to grow back and cover any blemishes, if there are any. Also, if the animal has to be drugged in order to be fit, they won’t photograph at their best. Allowing a little breather between fitting and shooting increases the chances of a successful photography session.

When it comes to backgrounds, simpler is better. For example, a solid paneled fence, stacked straw bales or even plain landscape can make for a decent background. The viewer’s eye should be drawn directly to the sale animal in the photo. A cluttered background is not only visually distracting, but it can lead to copious amounts of tedious editing, which is time-consuming.

Every photographer is different, and it is important to keep in close communication with them in the days leading up to the photo shoot. Doubet photographs all of her animals with a 70-200 millimeter lens, so she personally prefers the photo pen to be of a decent size, about 70 by 100 feet or so.

“Rather too big then too small,” she said. “My gear is set up for distance, and I always feel the animals perform better when they have enough space to do their own thing.”

When it comes to actually capturing the shot, teamwork really does make the dream work. An additional two or three people can be crucial on photo day, Doubet said. One or two people can be used to move and position the cattle while another individual has the prestigious job of “ear-getter.”

Getting cattle to hold their ears in an alert position long enough to capture the perfect image can be tricky, and it generally comes down to timing. Doubet has found that cattle respond best to movement. Having a gentle, halter broke lead cow can be beneficial to positioning cattle and getting their ears.

“I feel like I capture the best look when cattle are following movement that is a little ways off and not right on top of them,” she said.

Everybody has different wishes and wants to achieve a different look with their sale cattle, but for the most part, cattle positioned so their head is up with an alert expression on their face is appealing. Off-centered hind feet can level cattle out over their hooks, making them appear longer, wider and more elegant on the profile.

The biggest key to photographing any animal is knowing when they have had enough. The best photos are often taken in the first 30 seconds to a minute with each animal, in Doubet’s experience. It’s a fine line, but drawing the process out will only exacerbate the situation.

It all boils down to having faith in your photographer. A good photographer will have an eye for livestock and will know how to position them for the best shot.

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