I know this is a few weeks late, life sometimes just gets in the way. I've been pretty absent other than filling orders. Life is precious; you never know when it will escape you. Treasure every moment of it with the ones you love. Sorry for the PSA, I felt like I owed you short explanation as to my delay, this certainly isn't like me. If you would like to read part 1 - 7 Tips for Photographing Your Kids and Their Livestock you can find it here. Part 2 of the series - 9 Tips for Taking Pictures at the Show is located here.

How It All Started

I fell in love with photography when I had my first baby. That baby is now 14... where does time go!? I didn't know anything about photography when I first started. I consumed everything I could about the subject. I read books, joined forums, took classes and just practiced. I've tried several camera models before I settled on what I currently use and love. Although this works for me, that doesn't mean it will be perfect or even ideal for you.

My Camera Body


I don't think you have to invest in a $2,000 camera body to achieve fantastic pictures. I started out with a very small budget and traded up when my skills were in a place I could justify the expense.

Cameras are a lot like technology, always changing and in most instances constantly getting better. I've owned two Nikon cameras that I've loved. I initially started with a Canon but found I liked the way Nikon fit my hand better; you will just have to try them both and see what suits you best.

My starter Nikon was a D7000, and it was an excellent camera. After using this camera body I wanted full frame and better low light performance, so I upgraded to the Nikon D700, this camera was replaced by the Nikon D800 and the D700 remains one of the most sought Nikon bodies. Often you can find a decent refurbished one on Adorama.

My Favorite Lenes + My Wish List

The real magic is in your glass, and this is where I've invested a lot of my money. Whenever you can buy the top end lens, just do it. You can have a lower budget camera body, the better your glass, the better your photos. Bonus, once you've decided on a brand, you can always upgrade your camera body and continue using your lenses.

My favorite lens is my 85mm f/1.4G; it rarely leaves my camera. I use this for just about everything, almost every single portrait style photo or show image with a sheep in it was taken with this lens. I seriously LOVE this lens. This lens is a fixed focal length, meaning I have to move to change the distance to my subject; I can't adjust it on my camera.  

I also own the 50mm f/1.4G. Originally this was my most used and is a great lens on a budget. You will be very pleased with the images you capture with it, and I will always have it in my arsenal. This one is good in the lamb/hog/goat barn and wonderful for portraits as well. This lens is also a fixed length.

The biggest invest in glass happens to be the lens I use in the cattle arena. The 70-200mm f/2.8 is a killer on your pocket book, and there are some lenses you can purchase with very similar results (Tamron and Sigma brand come to mind). This lens is an adjustable focal length so I can change the distance to my subject through my lens. I consider a zoom lens a necessity at the cattle show.

My wish list currently has two lenses on it. A 24-70mm f/2.8 I think I would love having a wide angle/standard zoom lens. This lens has so many uses and would be so handy at lamb shows. The second lens is a 35mm f/1.8 because I love the creamy bokeh this baby creates and I can always use another portrait lens.

My Recommendations to you

Save money and rent gear to see what you like. Rent a camera body you are interested in and a 50mm lens to go with it. Give it a trial run at home and see if it is the one for you. Try both a Nikon and a Canon to see which fits your hands the best. You can rent just about anything under the sun right from your computer, Borrow Lenses is a great resource!

There is no shame in buying used gear. I think I have in the past and it has worked out just fine. My only recommendation is to make sure it is a reputable company. One of my favorites is Adorama.

Even after you have purchased a camera, there is no shame in renting lenses. I rented the 70-200mm for years before I broke down and bought it. I don't think I've even used it enough to justify the purchase at this point however I am sure once my girls are finished showing it will be well used.

Get the book Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson. Read it, learn it and test it out so you have a real understanding of how your camera works. This is probably one of the easiest things you can do to get better.

If you want to take a course (something I do every chance I get), I can't say enough good things about Karen Russell's online course Snap Shots of A Good Life.

Lastly, I have a vast collection of pins on Pinterest related to photography. I would love for you to follow me here.

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.

Disclaimer before I even start. I am not a professional photographer, this is purely a hobby I've invested a lot of time (and money) in so that I can capture lasting images that I love of my own children. There are countless reasons to take good pictures of your kids, they change so fast! We all spend so much family time in the barn often time important moments are forgotten. It might feel like everyday chores to you but this is how we've chosen to raise our children. The next time you head out take your camera with you and plan a little photo shoot so you can always remember these times, you will appreciate it someday!

Real Moments - Real life

If I hadn't taken the photos of the lamb on the left we wouldn't have had any really nice images. I am so thankful I have started this tradition of taking photos before fair every year just to ensure I have saved the memories with the "special ones". The photo on the right is about as real as they come. Two images before this one her lamb was eating her hair. I kept snapping while she fixed things and the result is a gorgeous and very sincere smile while she casually hugs her lamb.

Prepare in advance

Think about what you want to accomplish with your shoot. I always do a pre-fair shoot with my kids so we are prepared for thank you cards post sale. In addition to that they always have those photos of the animals they've nurtured all summer and then sold, I think of it as capturing special memories.

Also decide what you'd like the shoot to look like. Casual, dressy, trendy or just a basic stock show photos. Taking pictures can be so fun, make them even more special by planning exactly what you want to do! Have you ever thought about a themed shoot? How about that gorgeous field of blue bonnets? There are so many unique opportunities, take advantage of what you have right in front of you!

Light is the most important factor

You can't have a good picture without great light! Often times this is confused with blazing sunlight but once you've realized this results in squinting eyes and harsh shadows you will quickly try to find a better solution.  You will get much better results with indirect sunlight. This is a fancy way of saying find open shade. Place your subjects just inside the shade so they are still receiving the soft, glowing light that is so flattering.

Another option is the glorious "Golden Hour". That 30 minutes right before the sun goes down. The light is just amazing and so flattering! You can shoot into the sun for a back-lit image that has a wonderful hazey glow. When you do this make sure you are exposing for the skin. You may need to angle your child so the sun is more at their  side for a properly exposed photo.

Hello Gorgeous Haze

These photos aren't perfect but it will remain a favorite. The gorgeous light is just wonderful for a gallery display in my daughters room. I wouldn't use them to sell cattle but they document our life perfectly. Photos aren't just about showing the perfect moments, don't neglect the real moments to have photos that sing to you or your child's heart.

Choose your location wisely

Never over look the fact you need to keep both kids and livestock safe. Pay attention to the surroundings and never put anyone in a position to be injured. Once you've determined everyone is safe start considering the light you have to work with and how best to use it to your advantage. Do you have leading lines you can use to draw the viewer into the image? What's the best way to compose the shot and position the person your photographing?

How I captured this image

Know your surroundings and how to use them to your advantage. In this photo the light is so flattering. Just off of my daughters left shoulder is a huge, open, overhead door at our fairgrounds. I positioned her just inside of it to produce a flattering, soft image. It took about 15 images in this series before I finally captured this one which I love.

practice patience

Shooting kids is never easy. Add to that an animal or two, no matter how broke they are, and you are bound to have a few trying minutes. There will be eyes closed, funny faces and frustrating moments. Don't loose your cool. Step back. Take a deep breath. And recompose yourself. When you are photographing your own kids you have nothing but time. Try something new and return to the shot you are trying to capture in a few minutes. You never know when that magical moment between your child and the animal will happen.

Showcase Their Bond

This is often when the magic happens. That perfect shot where the stars have aligned and your heart sings when you see the finished product. Often times the only way to capture these is by stepping back and giving your child space to just be with their animal. They have an amazing bond, no one else means as much to that animal as your child. Give them a little space however keep snapping, among those images there is sure to be something you just adore.

The bond that can't be broken

In these images we went to the midway at the fair and had many obstacles to work around like direct sunlight. I combated this by placing the sun to the right of the subject. I let things unfold and naturally and captured some really great photos where you can instantly see the connection this lamb had to his owner. Not to mention it was such a fun location!

Move around & just shoot a lot

Try new things. Approach it from a different angles (literally and figuratively). Get down on the ground, stand on something tall. You never know what is going to be the most flattering or create the image you have seared in your mind. There is always more than one way to capture the perfect image. The more new things you try the more unique your images will be.

A New Angle

This image has such a unique angle which showcases her expression while still keeping the true story of the shot front and center. Don't hesitate to try new things!

Listen to their ideas

This is one of the most important things to remember when you are working with kids. They might have a vision you never thought of. Take full advantage of their creativity and see if you can make their ideas happen. The photos will mean so much more to them if they actively participated in them. 

 

Candid moments are often the most real

This picture is a classic listen to what your child wants and produced one of our favorite images of all time. This was a candid image my daughter requested after she won county fair. She pulled together some of her closest friends as quickly as she could and I just stood back and shot. The result will forever remain one of our absolute favorites. The next image in the series everyone is looking at the camera and all smiles however this image remains the favorite. Pure emotion and happiness among the group!

Angie Sandy shares her love for life with her husband and three daughters. She was born and raised in northern Colorado, the same place they raise their girls. As a family they share a passion for all things livestock. They own a small herd of cows they are constantly trying to improve on.  They've also passed on this love to their kids who enjoy showing 4H lambs, steers and heifers. Aside from these great endeavors she love spending time with her girls, riding horses, growing her budding love of photography and relaxing with friends!