Anatomy of a photo #20: Portrait of a sheep

Sometimes blurred out sheep can say more than if they were tack sharp, especially with a sharp image for contrast

I was originally taking pictures of the sheep that are blurred out in the background, when this wooly lawn mower came munching by. I quickly changed my focus, realizing that this nearby sheep would also make a nice image, especially with the others blurred into suggestions of sheep.

I had actually been driving around the different ranches on this day, looking for sheep or other interesting things to photograph in the nice light. When I saw sveral sheep with lambs grazing and relaxing in this field I pulled my truck over to a safe spot, and then snuck back to take some photos.

I made sure to take this picture before the ewe blocked out the others in back, or its face was on the wrong side of them. Having the subject facing towards the unfocused sheep and lambs helps with the photo’s flow. It helps to balance the picture. I also didn’t want to include much more than just the head of the main sheep. There wasn’t any need for other body parts to tell us who this animal is.

The lighting was also ideal for these pictures. It was late afternoon, almost evening, so the sunlight is coming in from a low angle. Notice the face is nicely lit, but even the backs of the ears are already in shadow. The animals in the background all have sun on the left side, shadow on the right. If this was the middle of the day all of the light would be coming from straight above, a much less dramatic light, but also the shadows would be distracting in a bad way.

The other nice thing about this late afternoon sun is the warm tones it creates. Mornings and evenings will often give the richest and warmest light. By the time afternoon rolls around, the light can become much harsher. Durning the winter months that those warmer color tones can last for more hours of the day (the sun is naturally lower in the sky for more of the day).

The angle I took the photograph from also adds to its appeal. The camera was at the same level as the sheep’s face and of the family in the back. I could have done this by laying down in the grass, but sheep can be a little skittish, especially when they have lambs. They are nice enough, but if they aren’t around people regularly they can get nervous easily. The road actually cut through a small hillside  a few feet below ground level, where these sheep were relaxing. I was crouched behind this cut, peering over the verge… pretty much I was stalking the sheep.

The blurred effect was created by using a telephoto lens with a wide open aperture (i.e. a smallish aperture number). The aperture wasn’t too wide though, as I wanted the subjects face to be fully in focus. The exposure was manual, but I largely followed the built in light meters recommendation. Since I could rest the camera on the ground and didn’t have to worry so much about camera shake, I shot fairly slowly for the lens I was using- 1/160th of a second.


About Galen Leeds Photography

Nature and wildlife photographer, exploring the world on his feet and from his kayak. Among other genres, he is one of the leading kayak photographers in Northern California. To learn more about him, visit him on his website-
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