Put the Fun Back into Your Photography with a Cow Safari

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Whether you are a pro photographer or a dedicated amateur, sometimes when you are photographing a lot you can get so caught up in achieving the perfect image, that you lose the sense of fun that got you interested in the first place.

Actively putting the fun back in can not only help you to enjoy your regular photography work more, and assist in getting your photo mojo back, but can inspire new ideas you otherwise might not have come up with. My favourite way to do this is a Cow Safari. It’s kind of like an African safari, but with cows.

Fun-photography-safari-01
Why cows? Well, for a start they tend not to eat you as much as lions and it’s much cheaper than a trip to Africa. Cows are not the most athletic of creatures, they tend to just stand around a lot and are not well camouflaged, so are pretty easy to capture in a photo. They generally hang out in very picturesque areas, perfect for a day out photographing.

Cows generally hang out in very photogenic areas.

Cows make a great safari subject and are generally vegetarian so your risk of getting eaten by one is fairly low. Can’t say the same for lions.

However, if you don’t live close enough to a cow hang out, you can make up your own safari. For example; if you’re in the city, maybe a pigeon safari, or seagulls if are near the beach. Perhaps a people walking their dogs safari, or even a flower safari – it doesn’t really matter, just so long as you can find your subject in various different places that you can travel around to easily over a few hours, a day, or even a road trip weekend.

My first safari was some years ago by the seaside with my father, the subject was seagulls. We set up a small wager, winner gets bragging rights. There has been no definitive winner, because the safari still continues years later. Even when we’re in different parts of the country, there is an occasional exchange of seagull photographs. It’s been inspirational, I’ll be bogged down in the photographic process and my phone will light up with something like this:

It's all about fun with these safaris.

A photograph sent to me by my father while on a seagull safari. I don’t think that seagull is very well, in fact I don’t think it is actually a seagull, I suspect foul play! Photo credit: Chris Hawkins

The main point of the safari is to step away from your usual photography routine and just enjoy taking photographs for the sheer sake of doing so. No planned images, no trying to achieve anything or get that perfect shot, just fun photographic play time with the idea of loosening and lightening up a bit as a photographer, and not taking yourself or your images too seriously.

Once you take the trying hard part out of the picture, you can get back to experimenting, and maybe surprise yourself, just like you did when you first fell in love with photography. Of course you may not end up with anything worth saving, and that’s not the point of the exercise. But, then again, you never know what you might come across in your travels.

You never know what you might find on your safari.

Had I not been out on a cow safari, I may have missed the opportunity to capture this cow doing a remarkably good impersonation of a horse.

Your safari is a great time to experiment with things you might not normally try when you’re too busy trying to get that perfect shot. Try the lens you haven’t really played with yet, test out some of the features on your camera you haven’t gotten around to trying. If you are a pro who is dedicated to manual setting, maybe just try out some of the Scene Modes, or vice versa, play with manual settings if it’s something you have not really tried. Maybe even pick up one of those cheap disposable film cameras, or test out some different mobile phone apps.

A safari is a great time to experiment with your gear.

Use the photographic time-out to slow down and experiment with things like mobile phone photography apps. 

How to Conduct Your Safari

Step 1: Grab a fun friend or two

They don’t necessarily need to be photographers, although I’m willing to bet they’ll end up taking a shot or two on their phones. Encourage them to bring a camera, or bring one for them. They could also come in handy as a model.

Take some friends, photographers or non photographers, it doesn't matter, it's about fun!

Safari fun is best shared.

Step 2: Bring some supplies

Depending on where you conduct your safari, you may not be close to a convenient cafe or food place, so why not take your own. Pack a few sandwiches or a whole picnic.

Supplies are a good idea, less time hunting for food places, more time to photograph.

Maybe pack a healthy picnic for your safari. It’s all healthy as long as there’s some fruit right?

Step 3: Get out there and have fun

Jump in the car, on your bikes, the train, or get your walking shoes on and head out. You can map your trip beforehand, or perhaps toss a coin for which direction to go, as you step out the front door. Just so long as you travel around a bit, and have a few different spots to stop and take some photographs.

Taking time out to have photographic fun with friends or family  is worth it, and not just for your own photography.

It’s thumbs up for the cow safari. My little friend here really got into the spirit of the day. He even took some great photographs and video on his portable gaming device. By the end of our safari he wanted to know how much he had to save up to buy a camera. Safari success!

Safari Tips:

  • Experiment: Use the safari to experiment with different lenses, settings, or cameras.
  • Go Mobile: Don’t disregard the phone camera, even if you are not a fan of phone photography.
  • Do variations: Try all versions of the above at each place you stop. See how each setting/lens/app deals with the same situation.
  • Don’t trespass on properties, as much as you might be tempted to slip under a fence to get that perfect cow shot, these animals can be dangerous, as can farmers who don’t appreciate trespassing.
  • Don’t hassle the cows. If they are close to the fence, keep a distance and approach very slowly. If they start to get up and move, back off. No shooting off a flash in their moo-ey faces.  The same applies to other subjects. Just be kind and respectful.
  • Set up a challenge with your co- safarians (I think I just made that word up), such as best, funniest, or worst pic of the day. Just don’t get too serious about it!
  • Keep it going in the processing stage: The fun doesn’t have to stop when you get home from your safari, take the same approach to editing. Use some of your images from the day to experiment in your editing program with different effects and techniques that you wouldn’t normally try.
  • Take it global: You could do your safari with online friends, just set up a date or an event on Facebook. In this day and age of instant online access, you can safari with friends from around the world.
Get out there and start having some photographic fun!

The final shot on our cow safari, taken through the car window on the way home.

Above all, have fun, relax, enjoy, laugh, play. This is about taking a photographic break of sorts and getting outside your normal photography practice. You never know, you may end up with that coveted perfect shot in the process. Or, maybe not. It doesn’t matter, as long as you were having fun with your camera. Although I am sure you will end up with at least one shot that makes you smile, and I would love to see that shot or any others you take on your safaris.

Please do share in the comments below, any safari shots inspired by this article or from a previous safari, or any tips or safari ideas you might like to share with fellow safarians (yup, it’s a word now). They don’t have to be great shots! It’s about sharing the experience and having fun with your photography.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Lea Hawkins is an Australian photographer working mainly in the areas of portraiture, fine art, and for the local press. Her work has been published, exhibited, selected and collected - locally, nationally and internationally, in many forms. All shot with very minimal gear and the photographic philosophy that it's not so much the equipment, but what you do with it. You can see more of her work at www.leahawkins.com

  • Mary Clark

    Perfect timing! A friend and I were planning a day together, and I just got a picnic basket! You’ve solved our problem, and given us a fun day out; thanks!

  • Totally agree!!! Cows make great subjects (unlike those cowardly sheep).
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/tankhimo/19389422282

  • I like the fun spirit behind this advice! I had a cow safari of sorts when I visited a farm to milk a cow: http://www.tootimidandsqueamish.com/2013/09/well-ever-milk-cow/
    My favorite shot from it, though, was of these two calves.

  • Tim Lowe

    LOL! Great idea for an expedition. A farmer used to drive his cows down our street but we’ve urbanized a bit since then. I have to go… at least 2 km now to find photogenic cows. 😉

  • soupbone

    What an udderly fascinating way to spend an afternoon. As a matter of fact, I think I’m going to grab a grand-kid or two and a couple of point-and-shoots (just to show them what a “simple” camera is capable of) and head on out to the County Fair…….. By the way, here’s a cow camouflaged as a white-tail deer:

  • This one was taken at a organic farm in The Netherlands during a day when World Animal Protection organised a day around the cows coming in for the winter.

  • Matt

    One of my favorites:

  • Matt

    Another favorite

  • Rob

    I think that seagull was the victim of FOWL play, lol. But seriously, I agree, setting some nice safe subject is a great way to go out and put fun back into photography. I also suggested it so someone who was suffering from depression, I told her grab a camera, chose a subject and make an afternoon of it. Even non photographers can get a lot out of such an exercise

  • Lea Hawkins

    Wonderful Betty-Lou, what great timing.

  • Lea Hawkins

    What a great suggestion for your friend with depression Rob, it made me smile to read that.
    As did your laughing at my “fowl” pun. Agreed, photographer or not, it is a fun way to spend a day. Thanks for posting.

  • Lea Hawkins

    Love this shot Matt, can see why it’s a favourite.

  • Lea Hawkins

    I must get out to snowy cow areas sometime. Great shot.

  • Lea Hawkins

    Hehe “udderly”, those cows are so great at camouflage! Really pleased to hear the article inspired a fun day out with the grand kids, also like the “simple” camera idea.Thanks for sharing.

  • Lea Hawkins

    Haha, a whole 2km! Well we Cow Safarians have to make some sacrifices I guess.

  • Lea Hawkins

    Too. Much. Cute. Just adorable little guys. Lovely light too. Glad you enjoyed the article Marcy, and have already had a cow safari of your own with great results. Thanks for sharing.

  • Lea Hawkins

    Haha, yes, sheep are cowardly, and chickens are gossips. Really like the composition in your shot and the non cowardly stare.

  • Lea Hawkins

    That’s fantastic Mary! So glad I could help. Feel free to share the results, picnic and all!

  • Ceci

    Absolutely love it. Great idea! I tend to do “hay bale” safaris myself – they are SO docile.

  • Lea Hawkins

    Haha yes hay bales! very docile and in this case, well camouflaged. A brilliant idea for a safari. I keep driving past them and thinking I should get a shot of those things one day. I might try this safari myself. I did stop once to get this shot below on the mobile phone, couldn’t resist that smile.

  • Ian Cross

    Brussels, infested by coloured cows, 2003.

  • Lea Hawkins

    When the first one popped up I laughed out loud. Nice safari work there Ian. They are breeding some very strange cows over in Brussels, crossing with zebra it seems. Lovely shots. I really the colours and the capturing of the people in the background on the first photo, and of course, that zebra-cow.
    (Zebrow? Cowbra?)

  • Ian Cross

    Thanks, Lea. Putting the fun back into Photography.

  • Wendy

    We went on a Buffalo Safari last winter. Was glad to get out and take a picture of something different in the middle of the winter!

  • reefski

    my recent cow safari

  • Richard Claire

    Moo! Whilst out for a run. I love phone cameras next time you get a new phone ask about cameras mine is excellent and a fun break from my Dslr.

  • Thanks Lea

  • David S.

    I enjoy the dps weekly newsletter, but sometimes it does get a little too serious. Thanks Lea for a good laugh (many actually), and a little inspiration to go out and take some photographs just for fun.

  • Dani Longnecker

    Okay, you inspired me! I went on my first cow safari yesterday! Fortunately, I have a very patient boyfriend…
    Thanks for a fun idea!

  • Lea Hawkins

    Dani, that is an awesome Cow Safari collection! Which says out loud that you, and I am thinking the boyfriend too, had a great day, not to mention you obviously nabbed some great shots. Love the letter box and the cow illustration shots particularly, you really got into the spirit of the Cow Safari! Thanks so much for sharing and very glad the article inspired that day, your response inspired a lot of smiling here.

  • Lea Hawkins

    A lovely comment David. DPS take their readers and photography information seriously, which is why I was a subscriber years before I started writing for them, but a lot of the articles are fun and just simply a good read. It has been such a pleasure to toss in a little light hearted one and it be this appreciated. Thanks for your comment David.

  • Lea Hawkins

    Richard, I only have a mobile phone for it’s camera. Use it as my second camera for shooting everything. So I am right there with you on that. Mobile phone + cow safari = Awesome fun and great shots. Thanks for sharing

  • Lea Hawkins

    Reefski, I have been in a cow situation just like this. Not on a safari, no camera or lens shooting from a distance, just me facing off the cows at pretty much this distance, they all staring in not so much a friendly way. It was pretty scary, I thought I was about to be stampeded and die a cow induced death. Clearly I survived and live to tell the tale to you now. Great shot, if a little scary ( if only for those of us who have faced potential demise by cow). Thanks to you for posting.

  • Lea Hawkins

    Wow Wendy, what a safari! Wonderful shot. I don’t get to see snow very often being on the east coast of Australia, we do have it here, but not with buffalo! I’m drawn in by his glare, that amazing soft blue that is echoed in his nose and horns. Glad you shared this with me and dPS readers.

  • Lea Hawkins

    You certainly did Ian!

  • Wendy

    Thanks, Lea! We are lucky to have them so close. They are totally unfazed by the snow and on this day the temperature was hovering around 20°F and I was wishing I had their coat! They are truly a majestic creature.

  • Cinnara

    Beware of cows with calves. Recently, an elderly hiker in Switzerland was trampled to death by a herd of cows.

  • Lea Hawkins

    No Kidding Cinnara. I did mention some precautions for this very reason. They can be very dangerous animals. Not quite as dangerous as lions, but we tend to think of cows as gentle creatures, for the most part they are, but when spooked or threatened and on mass, well as you said, they can kill people.

  • Jeremy Chenoweth

    Lol I go on cow safaris all the time, apparently there’s a name for it!

  • Lea Hawkins

    Haha, finally I’ve coined a new term! Glad to hear there are so many other Cow Safarians out there!

  • Mark Peters

    Agreed — cows make terrific subjects! If you’re very fortunate, you can visit a farmed animal sanctuary and see cows, pigs, chickens and other animals who will live out their (good long)lives peacefully. As much as we understand the emotions of other animals, these animals are truly happy.

  • Lesley Lee

    What a wonderful post. I had a really good laugh at the fowl jokes. A few other places you can do a good cow safaris – at the nearest saleyards – lots of beautiful soulful eyes there, poor things. The ‘long paddock’ is another good place and you can also do a sheep/ emu / roo / goat safari as well. And if you’re ever in Western Australia, go down to Margaret River to the little town of Cowaramup, where they definitely don’t bite!

  • Karl Boddenberg

    This is one I took not so long ago

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