Farmers Weekly photography competition winner Jane Murrell, who lives on a mixed farm in Long Marston, Hertfordshire, shares her top 10 tips for enthusiastic rural photographers:
1. Get a camera that suits you
There’s something available to suit all pockets. You certainly don’t need to spend a fortune and can even get great photos on some phones. I started with a compact, then progressed to a Nikon D200 DSLR, which I bought second-hand for £400.
It came with a 70-200 lens but I later got an 18-200. You could have a new, top-of-the-range piece of kit with all the bells and whistles, but if you don’t see the picture, the camera won’t get it.
More recently, I also bought a £70 camera simply because it works underwater – and it’s proved perfect for other shots as well.
Some people have a good eye naturally, others have to work for it – but your eye will improve and practise definitely makes perfect.
This means taking loads of pictures, which is not a problem in the digital age because it’s not as if you’re wasting film. Also, look at other people’s work.
Once you’ve got a picture you’re proud of, you’ll inevitably see one that’s better and that will drive you on. Expect to get a bit obsessive.
3. Make the most of your surroundings
When you’re farming, you’ve got an infinite variety of scenes on your doorstep 24/7.
It’s easy to take this for granted, but it’s a great place to start. I take a lot of pictures when I’m out walking the dog. I’m not into anything staged – I like natural pictures.
I’ve always been around livestock so I particularly love taking pictures of animals, although I’ve been trying for ages to get a really good picture of a cow licking its nose – but they won’t keep their heads still for long enough.
4. Study your subjects
With animals and wildlife, you have to study what they’re doing.
Generally, there will be a pattern to animals’ habits and movements.
There’s a lot of luck involved, but to a certain extent you make your own luck by being in the right place at the right time.
5. Enjoy your hobby all-year-round
Britain has got the most stunning countryside – there’s so much variety and every day can be different.
This means that going back to the same spot at different times of year – or even on two consecutive days – can yield totally different pictures.
Even going back an hour later can do. Never be put off by the fact it’s winter, either – you can get great outdoors pictures under crystal-clear skies.
6. Always have a camera with you – and expect the unexpected
I’ve been on a mission to get a great red kite picture since I’ve had my camera and this was actually what I was trying to get when I took the hare picture that won the competition.
I was taking food to the guys out harvesting and red kites were swooping as the bales were being moved. That hare was crouched and on edge because of the kites. I could have driven round that field 20 times and not seen it.
7. Be positive
We all miss great shots or see someone else get them but don’t get downhearted.
Sometimes we all have the camera on the wrong setting, but learn from your mistakes. Build your confidence by experimenting with the settings on your camera – but there’s certainly nothing wrong with keeping your camera set on automatic.
Don’t let yourself get frustrated by a flat battery, either – so make sure you have a spare battery with you (and that it’s fully charged).
8. Do a course
You can get deals on the internet with, for example, Groupon.
You learn a lot from other people and if you only learn three things, that’s three things you otherwise wouldn’t have known.
9. Join a club
Find one compatible with your interests – some for example, focus on competitions more than others.
They can also be good to enter, as they take you out of your comfort zone. You meet some lovely people through clubs and they’re generally a sociable bunch – all willing to help out and help you improve. I’m in Tring club.
10. Stay safe
Make sure that you’re safe in all respects – especially around machinery and livestock. If someone is on a vehicle, for example, make sure they know that you’re there. Wear the right clothing and footwear too – so you don’t slip. Farms are incredibly dangerous places if not used properly.