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Put the Fun Back into Your Photography with a Cow Safari

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.

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.

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Lea Hawkins
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

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