Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Taking Good Pictures of Sheep

This is Wolf Moon Black Baart, one of our Classic Cheviot wethers

Because so many people ask me how we take such 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 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.

The Goblin King is racing to me to have his chest
and chin scratched--he's a very gentle ram

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.

Shebaa baahs
 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.

Ronnie is a "whoops!" lamb by our Scottish Blackface ram and out of a Classic Cheviot ewe

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

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.

Othello is Ronnie's Scottish Blackface daddy

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. That distorts your subject’s body and gives him short legs.

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; this is especially important when photographing sheep.

In this photo our 5 year old wether, Wolf Moon Baarney, is in glorious, full fleece

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

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.

Wolf Moon Gunnar Woolenbrau was hours old in this picture

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!

The beautiful Wolf Moon Wren is always photogenic


  1. Thanks Sue, this is something I really want to do and haven't gotten the right tricks yet. You gave me some good ideas!

    Dori Ann