Never climb a fence to get a picture, you’d be breaking the law. Plus there is a danger, if there’s a bull or calves and cows together in the field, you could get hurt. Okay, that gets the safety bit out of the way, now the photography.
These wonderful, inquisitive animals are a joy to capture. Rolling pastoral countryside and golden light, the large animals are one of our most common sights when wandering the footpaths of the UK. Being larger, slower animals you can use aperture priority and concentrate on composition more. Look for patterns you can use in your framing, on or around the animals. I like to use differential focus and backlighting whenever I can to creative effect, particularly with big fluffy ears. Cows are curious animals and if you are patient, they will often come in close to you. Here you can put on a wide lens and shoot more funky, creative portraits say with a fisheye or ultra-wide, just watch that your focus point is on their eyes. But look for abstracts with your telephoto: parts of the body or head can be fun to shoot too. Even a macro, if you have one, to get their pretty eyes — Jersey cows in particular. However I can’t stress enough about the danger of bulls. Check any field before you enter; I have never been hurt in a pasture, but bulls can be unpredictable. And if there is a black and white bull, a Friesian, definitely steer clear.
Apart from more scenic shots and the back-lit, frolicking lambs in spring, sheep are far harder to shoot — unless you have something like a 600mm lens — as they are so much more wary of people. But don’t let this put you off. Again, look for patterns and lines you can use in your compositions — sheep across a hillside or flocking patterns.
To a certain degree you can manipulate some farm animals — with dogs, a whistle or simply your own presence will do. However pigs just don’t care and will do their own thing. But they are so full of charm and great to photograph. Characterful portraits with big floppy ears, piglets lined up in a row feeding, back-lit fluffy ears again and large snouts poking through bars. The key is to just take your time, watch them, try different lenses and pick your background carefully before you shoot — a wide aperture would be useful of course.
I usually only shoot chickens on longer lenses and wide apertures as scruffy backgrounds are hard to avoid. Also, getting down low can be messy, but you’ll be rewarded for doing so. Pick your subject carefully and remember, chickens move quite quickly so check your shutter speed is high enough to avoid movement blur.
Things like pigs, chickens and the more exotic farm animals are often more easily photographed at open farms, zoos or agricultural shows. They’ll be cleaner, likely to be penned in and closer to you. Watch for scruffy backgrounds, try and shoot at eye level and focus on the animal’s eyes are some basics to remember.