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Lights, Camera, Action! 9 tips for better ranch photography

Fun Fact:  Smartphones today are 1,000 times faster than the computer used to land the first orbiter on the moon.

With this technology we can connect with people around the globe instantaneously.  For the first time in three generations, farmers and ranchers can be in the living rooms of our customers.  Smartphones have become an invaluable part of our daily lives and give us the ability to amplify our voices and spread a message far and wide.  The effects are far-reaching and impressive; according to Neilson, YouTube reaches more U.S. adults aged 18-49 than ANY cable network.  Additionally, articles posted on social media with images get 94% more views than those without.

Social media is driven by the use of pictures and videos to tell a story by creating connections, evoking feelings, and providing experiences for our followers.  Utilizing pictures and videos is necessary to telling an impactful story and gaining viewers.  The good news is you don’t have to be a Hollywood cinematographer to do this successfully.  During the American Farm Bureau convention, AFBF's Johnna Miller shared these tips and rules to help us become better at capturing moments and sharing the story behind them.

The money shot 



  1. Shoot in landscape/horizontally: This rule applies to both pictures and video footage.  It creates more impactful images that convey a better message.  For example, how many of us would go to movie theaters that played movies in portrait layout rather than landscape?

  2. Stabilize the camera: Again, this applies to both photo and video but is especially important for video footage.  However, you don’t need fancy equipment.  There are a variety of affordable tripod styles available or get creative; balance it on a fence post, tractor fender, etc.

  3. Consider the light source: Try to have your light source coming from behind you.  If the light is behind your subject, photos and videos may be too dark or filled with shadows.  If indoors, be wary of white walls; its brightness can make the subject appear dark.

  4. Action shots: You don’t want your photos or videos to be a snooze fest, so be sure to capture some action!  Exceptions to this rule are when you’re capturing close-ups of plants and animals.

  5. Shoot variety: Capturing a variety of distances in your shots is called a progression. Start by capturing a wide shot to establish the scene, a medium distanced shot, and a final close up to provide detail.

  6. Look for interesting angles: Get up close, down low, up high or in the action to take an interesting photo that tells a unique story. Get "into" the action to bring the viewer into the scene.

    [caption id="attachment_7925" align="alignright" width="300"]This is a BETTER photo. We're closer to the subject, the lines of the corn stalks draw us into the image, and we can see they are contentedly eating. As we get closer to the subject, we can use it to tell a story. Perhaps the caption for these images would be:
    "Brrrr! Thermometer read a frosty 10* this morning, so we doubled up on hay for the cows. They're good at finding the leftover corn under the snow, but this cold and wind can make it hard to get to. They were happy to see two bales on the hay truck this morning!"[/caption]

    [caption id="attachment_7926" align="alignnone" width="225"]This is a GOOD photo, but the cattle are far away and just look like little black blobs from a distance! This image is a good "scenic" shot, but it doesn't tell a story if your goal is to talk about feeding cattle. The vertical orientation works for the image, but most social media streams will not display it as shot.[/caption]

    [caption id="attachment_7924" align="aligncenter" width="360"] From the composition standpoint, this is the BEST photo. We have an interesting perspective that gives the viewer the feeling that they are right there, and shows that as a rancher, we work closely with our animals. The lighting could be better, but I personally like the contrast of the shadows the illuminate just the side of the main animal's face. That's the cool thing about photography -- you can take all these "rules" and "tips" and make them your own to tell your own story![/caption]

  7. Tap for focus: To keep the camera focused on only one object, tap and hold that object on the screen of your smart phone.

  8. Watch the background: Be sure to compose your photos/videos, thinking about what's behind the subject or filling the frame.  For example, hold seeds in your hand rather than leaving them in a bag.

    [caption id="attachment_7930" align="alignright" width="300"] GOOD caption: Happy National #AgDay2016!
    BETTER caption: Happy National #AgDay2016 from the Nelson Farms calving barn. We're raising the next generation of cattle and kids to love the land and care for our natural resources!
    BEST caption: Happy National #AgDay2016 from the Nelson Farms calving barn. We're raising the next generation of cattle and kids to love the land and care for our natural resources! Learn more and celebrate #AgDay with us: www.agday.org.[/caption]

  9. Don't neglect the caption! We know photos are worth 1,000 words, but don't miss the chance to amplify the story with a description or story to make the image more meaningful. Make it personal, share your humor or insight, or think of one interesting fact, idea, quote or description of what you're doing to compliment the image. BONUS if there a call to action or resources for more information you can share. (Adding www.mfbf.org is always an option!)


Tricks of the trade


That seems like a lot to remember, but they are simple to follow and will really help elevate your photos and videos to the next level.  Remember; keep video footage to between 30 seconds and three minutes.  If videos are much longer, the percentage of viewers who watch them goes down.

There are many apps available that make editing photos and videos ridiculously easy and fast.  Of course, this is just a sampling of apps that exist.  If you find none of these works for you, explore others until you find one that does.

Apps for filtering photos: Litley, Snapseed, Afterlight, Mextures.

Apps for putting words over photos: PicLab, Typic, Quepo, PhotoGrid.

Apps for editing video: iMovie, Video Editor, Power Director, Replay.

If you have other questions about using your phone or any of these apps for photos and videos don’t forget about Google!  There are plenty of written and video tutorials explaining how to use your smartphone or editing apps.

Creating video and photos that capture our passion and love for agriculture doesn’t have to be overwhelming or difficult to master.  Anyone armed with these tips and a smartphone has all the necessary tools to share that passion with people around the globe.