Milking it on farm for the Farmers Weekly.


September 2012


There is great importance in knowing the subject you’re photographing …

I’ve worked for the B2B publication Farmers Weekly since 1995 – it is Britain’s largest weekly circular magazine for the farming industry.

Jodie is their Group Picture Editor with the job of commissioning and gathering all the right pictures to help illustrate the industry specific news & events, features and articles of the last week. With an average of more than 120 A4 pages to fill it’s quite a demanding job! Part of getting the right coverage is planning ahead, and it was from this point of view that Jodie called me to undertake a series of on farm shoots. These were to help illustrate three case study farmers who were adapting their buildings for their dairy calves to reduce infection and help fight diseases.

The article was to run in a few weeks time, but required images of each of the farmers on their respective farms, posed in context with the feature’s content.

Once set up with the full brief and contact details from Jodie, it was up to me to plan my logistics with each farmer located in Shropshire, Worcestershire and Wiltshire respectively.

I enjoy planning the logistical aspect of shoots because I know my work schedule and can fit jobs in accordingly. After a few calls & email exchanges each farmer was more than happy to oblige and accommodate me on farm between their busy daily workload.

Being a graduate of Harper Adams University College is a real bonus when it comes to liaising with farmers and those in the agricultural industry.

It gives confidence to a farmer that the person wielding a camera in front of them does have an in depth knowledge of the subject matter they are commissioned to capture.

I have heard (from farmers) tales of horror as visitors to farms have turned up wearing trainers … only later to find themselves standing knee deep in a muddy field, or tales of photographers being on farm specifically to capture a technical aspect of farming, to not know the difference between a suckler beef herd and a dairy herd, or a commercial flock and a pedigree flock, or recognize a wheat crop from a barley crop! Farmers tell me that this does not inspire confidence.

Having this knowledge really does sort the wheat from the chaff so to speak!

Being able to converse with a livestock farmer, a herd manager, an agronomist, an arable farmer, a contractor, a land agent or auctioneer about the specialist areas of their expertise is vital in creating a professional relationship with the subject, built on knowledge. It assures them that what I am aiming to portray in my pictures is actually what would be happening in every day real life on farm.

Dave Richards was the second of my three case studies. Once on farm with Dave in rural Worcestershire he was a delight to chat with, so much so that my allocated time on farm overran by an hour or more. For the main portrait I photographed Dave in a shed where calves are kept. It was important to capture Dave with the calves and the environment in which the calves live.

My working area.

My working area.

I set two lights up, powered by a high capacity battery pack. I bounced one light off a whitewash wall to reflect some light back into a gloomy shed and the other directly at Dave as a main key light.

In situ: two monobloc light heads, powered by a battery pack, fired by radio transmitters.

In situ: two monobloc light heads, powered by a battery pack, fired by radio transmitters.

With an amount of bracketing for exposures, dialing up / down the lights’ power / flash output and playing with a few poses … the results were complete.

Dairy farmer David Richards from Wichenford, Nr. Worcester in Worcestershire.

The completed portrait.

I don’t need to be photographing sports stars and celebrities to make my job interesting … an understanding of where our food comes from and the dedication of those who manage and undertake that farming production always inspires me.

Quite simply, without these people we’d be hungry!

My thanks to Dave for his time spent on farm with me, and to Jodie for the three shoot assignment. Now I’ll raise a glass of milk to that!