Ranch photography shows life in its simplest form—raw and natural. Rugged landscapes, farm animals, farm equipment, and a few ranch hands or cowboys here and there are the common subjects you will encounter in this photography niche. And as a ranch photographer, you are expected to portray the basic components of rural life in a way that showcases these subjects and how they interact with their environments.
If you’re just starting out as a photographer and want to enter this specific photography niche, here are some tips to help you get started
Invest in the right equipment
Having the right photography equipment at your disposal is key to taking a great photo. Of course many photographers will say that the best camera is the one you have with you, but if you’re interested in becoming a professional ranch photographer, you will definitely need proper gear.
A good camera like a DSLR or high-end mirrorless camera is essential, but it’s even more essential to have a camera that you know how to work. You will also need some lenses to help you frame and give depth to the scene you are trying to capture. Ideally, this should be a combination of wide-angle lenses, a normal 50mm lens, perhaps a telephoto, and a fast prime with exceptional low-light performance.
For best results, a tripod will definitely come in handy. It helps you to eliminate blur and provides perfect stillness to best angle your shot. These tools should be carefully decided, whether what model to purchase or where to acquire, because these tools will aid you as you go through your journey to becoming a professional ranch photographer.
Learn to work with animals
As a ranch photographer, you’re going to have to work with a lot of animals. After all, they’re going to serve as your subjects majority of the time. If you grew up on a ranch, then this should be second nature to you. Nonetheless, it must be mentioned that to be an effective ranch photographer, you will need to learn to work with animals typically found on a ranch. Cattle, horses, and pigs are some of the most common, so make sure to familiarize yourself with these animals—what calms them, what spooks them, what not to do around them, and other important animal handling pointers to keep in mind.
Ranch photography requires a lot of flexibility, as well as a natural affinity for animals. This will allow you to capture the rawness of the animals in their everyday environment. Of course, you must always keep in mind to not not show any signs of influence or obtrusiveness in your images.
Know how to capture movement and expression
Taking photos of people or animals on a ranch means having to shoot them in various poses and in different places in order to properly document everyday tasks and activities. This entails capturing movement and expression to convey a sense of authenticity to the activities that are being featured in the image. Catching your subjects in movement is crucial to show the candid moments of ranch life.
As every photographer knows, the best photos are those that accurately capture and embody the expressions and emotions of the featured subjects.
Study photographic composition
Proper composition is essential no matter what photography niche you are into. It’s easy to snap a passable photo that is properly exposed, but what makes a true photographer is his ability to convey the story he wants to tell through the subject’s pose and facial expression, the lighting, and of course, the overall composition.
When composing a photo, it’s important to pay attention to the balance of elements. Balance in photography can be either symmetrical or asymmetrical, and achieving the perfect balance between all elements in the photo allows you to take control of how the viewer will perceive it. Symmetry is pleasing to the eyes, as it showcases balance and proportion. But sometimes, asymmetry can be beautiful, too.
Study composition techniques and play around with different types of balance to help you improve your resulting images.
Practice proper lighting techniques
Lighting can make or break a photo. Most of the time, you can fix bad lighting during the post-processing stage. However, it’s still ideal to know how to achieve proper and sufficient lighting at the moment you are taking the photo. This saves you time later on and helps you take better images overall.
With farm and ranch photography, you mostly have to rely on natural light. And since blinding, bright sunlight does not usually make for great images, photographers often cite the “golden hour” as the best time to take photos.
Sometimes referred as the “magic hour,” the golden hour is considered to be that specific time of the day with the best lighting. It is estimated to be the first hour of light after sunrise and the last hour of light before sunset. These are the times when the sun is low and gives off soft, warm, and dimensional lighting that won’t overexpose your shots.
Bend the rules
At the end of the day, rules were made to be broken—or at least bent ever so slightly.
There will be instances when you’ll want to change your perspective or try out an unusual composition or lighting technique that may seem counterintuitive to the shot you want to achieve. Compelling and outstanding photos aren’t created by rigidly following the rules, so if you feel like doing something different, do what your instincts tell you.
Make business connections
All professional photographers need clients. And to find these clients, you will need to make the right business connections. If you are interested in ranch photography, it’s probably safe to assume that you live in an area where farms and ranches are in abundance. From there, it’s all a matter of meeting people and building your network.
You can also go digital and explore avenues of self-promotion, including social media channels and perhaps even your own website.