For many of us, trips to a farm can be few and far between. As someone who is extremely fond of long walks in the English countryside I often find myself coming across farmland that offers a wealth of photographic opportunities. So with an awful lot of topics to cover, here are some tips on how to make the most of your next agricultural trip to the farm!
Step 1. Getting Started
Going to farm to take photographs isn't necessarily a typical location choice for a photographer, but due to the nature of a farm, you can find yourself engaging with a vast array of photographic subjects - landscapes, animals, architecture, dereliction, food, and produce.
You don't need any specific equipment to get great shots, but due to the diversity of subject matter the better the camera you have, the easier it'll be. You'll be able to have greater control, and can adjust your settings depending on your subject matter.
Photo by Martin Cathrae
Step 2. No Trespassing!
There are a few things you'll need to consider before taking your trip to the farm. Firstly, which farm? There may be a local farm upon or next to a footpath that you know already which you may like to visit. This is pretty much down to you to research!
Regardless of whether you've been before or not, it's always best to ask the farmer for permission beforehand. You want to avoid trespassing and photographing on someone else's land without their consent. The majority of landowners will be happy to help you, but don't just turn up uninvited!
Your best option is to look online and in the local press for farm and agriculture school open days, in which they invite the public to come in and see the animals, particularly during lambing season. This can be a hassle free way to get up close to the animals without restriction.
Photo by Nagatta
Step 3. When to Go?
With that in mind, you'll also want to carefully consider the time of year at which you visit. The life of the farm is almost wholly dictated by the seasons, so the activity, animals and subject matter on the farm will vary greatly month to month.
Think about whether you want to encounter new born animals, for example lambing season is early spring, or whether you'd imagined taking shots of fully grown crops, which will be at their peak in mid summer.
Obviously there aren't strict dates for this activity, but I'm sure the farmer will be happy to inform you of what's going on at a specific time of year. With regard to seasons, obviously take the weather into account -a lot of the shots will be outside.
Photo by Angus Kirk
Step 4. The Animals
Working with animals is never easy, especially animals that are totally untrained. When on the farm, you have to be patient - unlike a cat or dog, these animals are unlikely to take direction from you, so you'll have to work with them and their movements and reactions.
You'll need to get a good angle, and when you've got the shot in you viewfinder you'll have to take your chance, as before you know it, the animal has turned around and it's too late!
Consider carefully what you want to focus on. If you're concentrating on the face of the animal, it works well to focus in on the eye, but when going for a fuller shot, you may want to focus in on the detailed fur or coat.
Finally, remember to keep your distance, don't be imposing upon the animals space, the easiest thing to do is to keep the right side of the fence and use your zoom!
Photo by Bgolub
Step 5. Interaction
When you do decide to visit the farm, it might be worth asking your kids, friends and family if they want to come along too. It can be a fun family day out and it will give you another element to work with in your photography - the interaction between the people and the animals.
This relationship can be highly fruitful as you should be able to capture some great reactions on the faces of your friends and family.
I would recommend going handheld for the majority of the shots as this will give you far more flexibility when it comes to getting a good angle when shooting animals and people. You may need to get low down to the level of the subject, and hand holding your camera ensures that you stay easily manoeuvrable.
If you're more of a documentary photographer, it's also worth asking the farmer or farm workers whether you can photograph them in their work surroundings in a more journalistic context.
Photo by Oxfam
Step 6. Landscape Shots
As with taking any landscape shots, there are a number of guidelines to help you give your shot more impact. Try and find a view with interest, and use the rule of thirds to distinguish what the focal point of you shot is. It could be, for example, a building, tree or river. Ensure that you have a foreground subject, even if it's just a rock, as this will add a sense of depth.
Think about the lines within the shot, whether they are horizontal or vertical, and observing where the lines meet and cross. It's also important to think about the light and consider whether this element is likely to change to improve or detract from your shot.
Be patient, especially if you're heading towards early evening when the shallow light from the sun can really bring a shot to life.
Try and have a large depth of field, something like f16 would ideal, so that the whole of your shot is in focus. If you can, take a tripod and shutter release with you for a steady shot.
Photo by Ken Mccown
Step 7. Crops and Produce
If you're looking to take landscape shots, it's well worth considering what crops will be growing at certain times of year and whether you want to incorporate them into your photography.
You can work with fairly standard field crops such as wheat and barely, but don't forget that depending on where you are in the world, there's a whole host of fruit, vegetables and even flowers farmed which can make great subject matter.
When working with the crops, be careful where you walk and drive so as not to disturb any of the plants, but do try and get right up close for detailed shots as well as capturing the larger scale shots.
It's also worth asking the farmer if he has any freshly picked produce, or heading down to a local farmers market to get some shots of the fruit and vegetables on display.
Photo by DC Central Kitchen
Step 8. Architecture
Architecture on a farm can vary from decaying derelict shacks, cute creeper-covered farm cottages, to industrial production line barns. You never really know what you're going to find, so go prepared.
The older buildings tend to have far more character and features to work with and it's great to try and highlight those to display the buildings age. With the newer industrial looking structures, it may be worth trying to capture a bolder clinical feel with strong compositional shots, especially if there aren't really any features to work with.
Photo by Cwwycoff1
Step 9. You Never Know What You'll Find
In my years of looking around farms, I never cease to be amazed at the vast variety of things that you find to photograph, so make sure you have a bit of time to explore just in case there's something of interest waiting for you around the back of an old barn.
Objects like old machinery, animal housing, wood stockpiles, tools and bails can all make for interesting shots. Be careful if you find yourself in old buildings rummaging around as some old machinery does tend to be quite dangerous and we wouldn't want you to lose a finger!
Photo by Felipe Neves
Hopefully that gives you a rough guide on how to make the most of what you find on your next visit to a farm, so now it's time to get out there and explore! Every farm is different and you never know what you're going to find.
Make the most of what is there, spend time working with the huge variety of subject matter, and then a few months later, go back again and enjoy it all at a different time of year.
Not only will you come away with some great shots, you may well have a greater appreciation of life on the farm and all the hard work that goes into creating the produce that finds its way onto your plate each day!
Photo by Pro Zac
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