Learn how to become a livestock show photographer using these helpful tips.
Become a Livestock Show Photographer
Do you like working with people and animals? Can you
operate a camera well enough to produce top quality
photographs? Do you own or can you get a serviceable 35mm
camera? Would you like to earn as much as $50 . . . $100 …
even $200 or more in a single day? Then become a part-time
Livestock Show photographer!
It’s Livestock Show time again! From early spring through
late fall hundreds of thousands of 4-H’ers, Future Farmers
of America, and other young herdsmen and herdswomen annually
exhibit their prize animals to judges and appreciative
audiences all across the United States and Canada. And at a
potential profit of $3.00 per animal, those shows can be
worth a considerable chunk of cash to you if you know how
to go about earning it!
Try your hand (and camera eye) as a Livestock Show
photographer. That’s what I do down here in east Texas, and
I’ve found my part-time business to be an ideal enterprise
to conduct from a small homestead.
Livestock Photography Equipment
A good 35mm single lens reflex camera outfitted with a
“standard” 55mm lens is the main tool you’ll need to set
yourself up in this particular little venture. That, and an
electronic flash or “strobe light”. (Stay away from flash
bulbs . . . which are a constant expense, require too much
storage space, are a never-ending hassle to handle and
dispose of, and — in general — cause more confusion than
Livestock Film and Prints
Most of the junior showmen and showwomen (and their parents)
that you’ll be working with will want color photographs of
their animals . . . and I’ve found Vericolor II by Kodak a
very satisfactory film to use. Its colors hold true and its
details — even in 11 by 14 enlargements — remain
very sharp when Vericolor II is processed by a reputable
firm. (I use Kodak for this work because I’ve learned the
hard way: Owners of championship stock expect better
photographs of their animals than most “quickie, overnight,
cut-rate” processors can deliver.)
I offer only two sizes of prints to my customers: 5 by 7 and
8 by 10. You’ll be wise to streamline your business the same
way. Take the order when you snap the picture, get the
money for it and the name and address that the print (or
prints) are to be mailed to, and move on to the next
animal. Then — as soon as the enlargements come back
from the processor — deliver or send ’em to the buyers.
In other words, follow the old KISS formula: Keep It Simple,
Stupid. Your operation will run a lot more easily and
profitably that way.
Of course, if you want to branch out from the basics, you
can. Newspapers and livestock magazines, for instance, will
often buy black-and-white prints of show winners . . . and
that “extra” money can be tempting. It does, however, mean
another camera (loaded with b and w film) to carry around and
deadlines to meet. And that can complicate your life more
than I want mine complicated. Even if you do decide to
expand your business this way, I’d advise doing so only
after your bread-and-butter color work is smoothed out and
running properly. Take just one step at a time. Remember
Livestock Photography Training
The “training” you’ll need to produce salable livestock
photos is no more complicated than the gear you’ll use to
make the shots. It mainly consists of learning how to pose
your subjects . . . and you can pick that up rather quickly
by studying a few livestock “breed” magazines.
Note — for instance — that sheep, lambs, and some
horses look better “stretched” . . . and are frequently posed
that way. Dairy cattle are generally stretched somewhat too
. . . but beef cattle and hogs — which everyone wants to
look “chunky” — never are. (An additional tip: When it
comes to posing a hog, your most valuable tools are
patience and a feed pan.)
Once you’ve gained a feel for the “ground rules” of farm
animal photography, you’re well advised to spend a few
afternoons with the area 4-H leader, agriculture teacher,
or county agent. Ask to be shown how livestock are “set up”
in the show ring . . . and pay attention to what you see.
This is the one “trick of the trade” that you’re sure to
find most valuable when you start clicking off the “best
possible” pictures of your animal subjects.
And last but not least when it comes to the subject of
training: Unless you need technical photographic
information, stay away from professional and newspaper
photographers. I’ve found that such people usually know
very little about taking pictures of livestock and most
don’t even care to learn. (Which is why there’s such a big
bushel of opportunities open for someone — you! — who does want to master the particulars of this little business.)
Livestock Photography: The Advance Work
Several weeks before any exhibit you intend to cover, check
in with the show superintendents and have your name
officially listed as photographer. You’ll find that many of
these shindigs (especially the smaller ones) will have no
one else shooting pictures professionally at all . . . and
you’ll be welcomed with open arms.
Now’s the time, too, to find out whether or not you’ll have
an official backdrop to pose livestock against. The “brass”
at most fairs, exhibitions, etc., are only too happy to
provide a drop with the show’s name prominently emblazoned
across the top. Just tell whoever is responsible that the
setup should be plain and a medium pastel color (some
breeds of animals do not photograph well against either
white or black).
If possible, have this backdrop located very close to the
show ring (sometimes it’s even placed inside the ring).
That way, when a winner is selected, its owner can bring it
directly to you for its photograph.
Livestock Photography: The Action
When a show is in progress, be available. Nothing is more
irritating to an exhibitor than to have to search out the
photographer when it’s time to have his or her animal’s
picture taken. And — as you’ll soon learn — once a
cow, horse, sheep, or whatever has been taken back to its
stall . . . most exhibitors will be reluctant to lead the
animal out again just to take a photo.
Then again, don’t push your availability too far. If you’re
taking pictures inside the judging ring, for example, you
must be absolutely certain that your activities will not
get in the way of any exhibitors or judges and that your
work does not slow down the action in the ring.
Pay for Livestock Photos: Dollars and Cents
Color film costs me about $2.00 per 20-exposure roll and
processing comes to another $7.90. That’s $9.90 for 20
shots, or approximately 48¢ each. Add on $1.30 for a 5
by 7 blowup . . . and I have around $1.80 plus tax invested
in each picture. OK. Round that figure off to $2.00 to
cover any miscellaneous expenses and then tack on $3.00 per
5 by 7 print for profit and travel costs.
That’s how I figure it and that’s why I charge $5.00 for
each 5 by 7 color blowup I sell. Black-and-white photos go
for half that amount and I double the $5.00 price for color
8 by 10’s. As my costs go up (and I’m sure they will), my
prices will go up too.
Livestock Photo Job: In Summary
After you’ve shot a few shows (and if your work is any
good), you’ll find that your reputation as a livestock
photographer will grow surprisingly fast. And, before you
know it, you’ll probably have to start turning down some
fairs, exhibitions, etc., because of conflicting dates. Ah
. . . the price of success!
So get out there and work those shows! You have nothing to
lose but a little time and, perhaps, a nice supplemental
income to gain. And one further tip: Don’t be afraid to ask
some of the runners-up if they’d like to have their animals
photographed too. Just because an exhibitor didn’t win the
first prize in his or her class . . . doesn’t mean that a
proud grandma or uncle somewhere won’t want a picture of
this Big Moment in that 4H’er or FFA’er’s life.