This photograph was pure luck.

This is one of my favorite photos I have ever taken.  It was a fluke and I was lucky.  Below I highlight some things you can do to make luck less of a factor.

I can fly

Most people who know me know that my parents farm near Armagh, Northern Ireland. Last year we had a ewe with four lambs - which is rare. They got a little help in terms of a bottle feed twice a day and we kept them in a little rectangular paddock of their own for their first few months.

You have not experienced unabated affection in an animal until a baby lamb thinks you have food.  Go to a farm in springtime and try.  As I clambered over the gate into this field the bravest member of the quadruplets looked on me like an undergraduate student spying free pizza.   In a space of ten second he ran to see what bottled lactic delights I possessed before his nerve broke and he made me for the fraud I was, swiftly returning to mum.   I think this captures that enthusiasm as his nervous mother looks on.

There are some technical reasons that the photo also works. 

  • The thin depth of field in the image separates the main subject from too many distractions (like the pile of old car tires used to cover the silage pit that you didn't notice). 
  • The lines on the fence and the gate behind the lamb draw your eye towards it.
  • The photo (kind of) obeys the common rule of thirds that photographers commonly use to give photos more visual impact.
  • The grass in focus beneath the lamb adds to the depth of the image. It looks faked without it.

But none of these matter as much as the action being captured or the story this tells me.   It feels uplifting. Even if it only matters to me.

Tips to do this + make yourself luckier.

  1. Get low.  I love the juxtaposition of a small animal and the height of its jump.  This also works well for dogs or horses jumping. With horses I would never lie down as low as this unless i am somewhere i know I can't get trod on.....   Large solid objects to get behind, like trees, are your friend. For this shot I was on my belly - luckily i didn't land in anything too smelly.
  2. Keep shooting.   As the lamb galloped towards me I shot nine frames of it running.  One was from my standing position when it recognized the white lens on my camera as a bottle.  The next two missed focus completely as I dropped low.  Three more showed the lamb in mid step along the ground - nice but not anything special.  This shot happened on the seventh frame and the next two show the lamb slamming on the brakes and turning to run back to mum.
  3. Keep a camera on you.   At this time I never routinely kept my camera nearby - it gathered dust for most of the year and got pulled out during lambing season, horse related events (Boxing day, New years day and a few others) and family things.   I only carried my camera at this moment because we where introducing my niece to the pet lambs for the first time.   Although it is heavy and often impractical I almost always have my camera with me now - this started that practice. 

Isn't she the cutest thing in the world?!


Technical stuff

It is unlikely that a modern DSLR or compact camera will get you the same effect with a program or automatic mode. You have to try manual mode to get an effect like this.  To get the technical aspects right - or close - try these settings below.

  1. Shoot with a fast shutter speed. The original camera file has been lost to the passing of time and bad record keeping on my part but this would have been 1/800th of a second or possibly 1/1000th.  Tune back into the blog later when I plan to explain shutter speeds for animal photography.
  2. Use a wide aperture.  This was shot at f2.8 but would also have worked at f4 given the separation in distance between the lamb and his family. Open that aperture as much as you can.
  3. Use a continuous burst mode.  In moment of excitement it is really easy to jerk the camera every time you hammer on the shutter release button. This can blur every image ever so slightly - even with a fast shutter speed.  With a continuous burst you maximize the frame rate the camera is capable of whilst removing this downside from all but the first shot. 
  4. Let the camera do the rest.  Most cameras will let you select the ISO (equivalent to film sensitivity) automatically - this allows you to focus on nailing the image rather than getting the exposure perfect.   I shoot in the camera's RAW format which lets me tweak the exposure later.   Unless you are in very bright light or want to get creative with your lighting this setup will generally yield acceptable results.

Automatic or program modes don't typically account for subject motion so they will default to a slower shutter speed to gather more light and produce a cleaner (less noisy/grainy) image.  This will leave blurred portions in the image where there is movement - ruining the shot.   So get your camera set to M and have a go.

If all this seems like too much work and you want to have this photo as a print or a canvas in you house (I do) you can order one from the store page here


Thanks for stopping by.