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9 Tips for Taking Pictures at the Show

A few weeks ago I wrote the blog post, 7 Tips for Photographing Your Kids & Their Livestock. I received a lot of email about how helpful it was, and I had a few requests that I do the same for at the show. Let me say this right from the start, WOW can this be challenging!

Use the show photographer

You are probably saying I am nuts right now, why in the world would this lady encourage me to take pictures and then immediately tell me to buy them? If your show has a show photographer plan on buying a few photos! Knowing they are there, inside the ring, capturing images you can't get puts you at an enormous advantage. Let them take that stress away from you and enjoy the day. If you capture images along the way that are comparable to what they capture great, if not they have the better vantage point and will produce wall-worthy pictures.

Photographing your children at National Western Stock Show

It Isn't always Easy

Denver is the hardest place I've had to photograph my kids. I don't know if it's the confined quarters or the sheer number of people trying to fit into the barn on show day. In these situations, I am always thankful to have a show photographer in the arena. 

Tell a Story

I shoot from more of an artistic point. I find it is easier for me just to try and capture images with meaning to my kids and I. Frame your shots to include hints of where you were. Use leading lines to draw your eye down the rail into the showman. A shallow depth of field can place the heaviest importance on your subject. Another thing I like to do is capture the same image every year so that one day I have a series of the same type of photo. For example my youngest daughter in the pee-wee showmanship every year from age 1 to age 7.

Have The Right Equipment

You don't have to have a fancy camera but if you want to get serious, you might want to consider it. I will do a post next week about the equipment I use and why I have it but let's just say for the sake of today that you more than likely need a zoom lens. I know in the sheep, goat and hog barns many times you can get by without one but when you are in the cattle ring, there is no doubt they are a must. I cringe when I see someone trying to take photos with an iPad, nothing against the iPad (I love mine too).

Pick the right lens

I know in the sheep ring I can usually get by with my 85mm (my favorite lens), but I know if my girls are showing cattle I need to pull out the big boy. For that, I use my 70-200mm but there are a few other options available too. 

Learn Your Camera

Shooting in manual mode will be a huge benefit to you. But let me preface this by saying don't try to learn this at a show, practice at home until you have it mastered, so you don't miss an important moment. One of the nice things about shooting in manual is you have full control. Shutter speed is important when you are capturing moving animals and kids, this will prevent motion blur, but you need to understand how to compensate for your fast shutter through ISO and your F stop. 

Plan Ahead

Every judge does things a little differently. Watch a few classes prior to your child's so you know what to expect and can plan for that. Try to position yourself to get the kind of images you like. This could mean being on the long side so you get side profile images. Maybe you like to capture them on the move so try to snag a corner so you can catch them coming to you and also on the long side. No matter what be strategic in where you stand and try to imagine the photos you want so you can create them. 

Take Tons of Pictures 

I am not ashamed to admit I come home with cards full of images. You have to in order to capture authentic, good pictures. Sometimes the shutter is too slow, and I have motion blur. The next frame eyes might be closed. Taking pictures often requires constant adjusting!

Take a lot of pictures

We are dealing again with children and living breathing animals. They move, they blink; they sneeze and yes they do a few other things too.... Take a lot of pictures, even pictures in the same series. If you photograph them coming down the rail and take five photos one of those should catch everything in stride with their eyes open.    

Observe The Light

If the show is indoor, the light will stay relatively consistent throughout the day. It may change slightly if there are windows or eve lights, but as long as you observe those and pay attention to them you should be able to produce images that make you happy. One of the hardest things about indoor barns is getting your white balance correct. Have you ever taken a photo and thought everyone on it looks like a character from Charlie's Chocolate Factory? You can usually fix this through white balance but if that doesn't work a custom white balance with a gray card will do the trick. 

Corners Are My Favorite

When I know it is a crowded show I tend to go for the corner. I can usually get multiple images that fit my needs. Often I am in a good enough position to capture them going down the long side, coming at me and bracing. It's my sweet spot (share it with me and I will share with you).

Find a Good Location

The location is probably one of the hardest things to do. At our local fair it isn't too bad, I can typically come and go throughout the day, and always come back in to find a place to stand for photos. However, this totally changes once you head to state fair or even worse NWSS. At the bigger shows I always just hope to get a few good pictures. I realize going into them that it is tough to position yourself for the best photos, but I also know there is a show photographer there to help me out. I've learned patience is key. I usually try to grab a corner because I know at some point the kids are going to be in a position I can snap the kind of photo I want.

Be Courteous 

Just like you, there are countless other parents trying to capture the same moments.Try not to walk in front of them or to step in front of them to capture your photo and then not move. Most people would be understanding of you taking a picture or two. However taking a picture or two and then camping out in front of them and blocking their view of the arena will not garner you many friends. After all, none of us want to be "that mom".

Photographing your kids showing sheep

oh, this girl, the laughter in our house!

Anyone that knows her will tell you she is the funniest kid around. I am so thankful I've taken pictures of her each year in the pee-wee showmanship. If I hadn't, I would be missing out on gems like these. 

do your best 

In the end, you have to be forgiving of yourself. We can only do the best we can with what we are given. One thing is for sure, everything changes so quickly at shows and we have NO control over any of it. For me, I'd rather have as many of the imperfect photos as I would the perfect one. Those moments matter just as much as the perfectly scripted moments. You will be surprised how many hidden gems are in those images. Some will make you laugh, some will make you cry, but they are all memories you have captured to keep forever! When you have captured THAT MOMENT celebrate it, you might not be so lucky next time.

Special Moments frozen in time

Even though I could have been a few more steps to my left and captured just a little more of her expression, I am celebrating this photo. I will be forever grateful I caught Chloe's first win. Her surprise and pure joy is all over her face. This one makes my momma heart sing and my eyes well up with tears.