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Highland Cow Photography

Throughout this year I've been working on a highland cow photography project; visiting every few weeks since January. It's been a really enjoyable background project, which has given me the opportunity to see the cows in different seasons, different light, and to experiment with different photographic styles. I figured that now we're at the end of the year, I should finish the project and share the photos.

Click on photos to view large, or visit my Highland Cows gallery to buy wall art prints.

Low-Key Highland Cow Photography

This was the one image I had in mind at the start of the year, that I wanted to capture, and I'm thrilled to bits with it. It's gone straight into the print gallery.

Rim-Lit outline of an amber highland cow head and shoulders, back-lit by the sun
Highland Cow - Side On

This rim-lit effect is a style I've used before with deer and bears, amongst others, and I particularly wanted to apply it to a highland cow in this posture - with it's head raised, as if proudly posing. I love how the horns puncture the line of back-lit fur with a contrasting texture and colour.

For the last few weeks I've been thinking about writing this blog post, and trying to put into words why I like this style so much, and why I think it's so effective. I think it comes down to 3 reasons:

1 - The fur. It's the most characteristic feature of the animal, and the texture is perfect for catching the light as it shines through the shaggy hairs. The colour of the fur is excentuated perfectly by the warm hue of the evening sunlight.

2 - Simplicity. I really like to simplify views and present subjects in a clean, minimalist way. I think that when the image is visually quiet, the subject shines with no clutter or distraction, and the overall result is a more peaceful one. Using this rim-lighting technique, the entire animal is represented by the minimum detail of it's key features; shaggy amber fur and long curved horns.

3 - This isn't how we see things in real life. This is the one that I've only recently put my finger on. We've all seen cows before. I don't need to share a photo of what a cow looks like. What I want to do is show that familar subject in a way that we don't get with our own eyes when we're out-and-about. I want to present the subject in a way which can only be seen through a camera lens at a particular focal length, from a particular angle, in a particular light, at a particular moment. That's the joy of photography for me; capturing a vision in a way that can be shared.

A highland cow with large horns, photographed low-key from the front for a dramatic portrait.
Highland Cow - Side-Lit

The side-lit photo above is another style I love, and I think this one works very well. However, I took one very similar a few years ago in the Outer Hebrides which I think I marginally prefer.

Next is another back-lit photo. With this one I really liked the posture - one which I wouldn't have pre-conceived, but it does a great job of illustrating the shape, angles, and textures of a highland cow in a very minimalist way.

A highland cow with large horns, rim-lit by the sun behind, in Bedfordshire, UK
Highland Cow - Rim-Lit

Summer Sun

As the weather got warmer and the trees came into leaf, I wanted to capture some photos that represent those long summer evenings. Writing now, in December, they feel like a long time ago, but I think they're bringing some warmth, even so.

A highland cow with large horns, facing the camera head-on in summer sunlight
Highland Cow - Font

This one's an unconventional framing, but I really like it - again for the warm evening sun.

A highland cow grazing on grass with low summer evening sunlight, in Bedfordshire UK.
Highland Cow Summer Sun

Here's an example of one where I could have zoomed in for another low-key minimalist photo, but for a change I've stayed wider to capture more surroundings, and the magic of that light coming in from over the shoulder.

Outline of a highland cow, back-lit in a field on a warm summer evening in Bedfordshire, UK.
Highland Cow - Back-Lit Field

It's fair to say that our use of cattle and livestock around the world is having a disastrous effect on the environment, with around half the world’s habitable land used for agriculture, and 77% of that used for grazing livestock or growing crops for animal feed [Our World In Data]. However, this site I've been visiting is not one of intensive farming, and in fact it's a great example of using cattle for the benefit of local biodiversity. The land is managed by the Wildlife Trust, and these cows help fulfill the role that ancient indigenous cattle would have performed centuries ago. It's part of a wider culture of habitat-restoration, which is thankfully being rolled out increasingly across the country, if very slowly. Specifically here, the highland cows' grazing helps to maintain the hillside meadows and grasslands for a multitude of species, including ground-nesting birds like lapwings and skylarks. As well as for the regrowth of rare wildflowers and orchids that are essential for pollinators like bees, butterflies, and other insects. It's really encouraging to see their progress over the years I've been visiting the site, with the species count increasing year-on-year thanks to this considered approach to habitat and land management.

Black and White Highland Cow Photography

As we got into later summer I wanted to go out on those days where we get passing rain showers. The beauty of this kind of weather is that you get interesting cloudy skies, and breaks of sunshine to light the subject. I really like this photo for the breathing space it affords around the cow, with the wide angle taking in as much of the field and sky as possible.

A highland cow standing in a field under summer storm clouds, in Bedfordshire, UK, photographed in black and white
Highland Cow & Big Sky

As with the low-key portraits above, I had the revelation that one of the joys of black and white is presenting images differently to how we see them with the naked eye. These photos look fine in colour, but would be quite literal; with no real creative expression. In black and white they're somehow distilled to something simpler and more timeless.

Black and white photo of a large highland cow looking at the viewer, in a field, Bedfordshire, UK.
Highland Cow - B&W Portrait

I took these three portrait photos on the same day, and the light was perfect for it. I was really pleased my reading of the weather forecast paid off for once. I think they make a nice set.

A large highland cow standing in a field under cloudy skies, photographed in black and white, in Bedfordshire, UK.
Highland Cow Close-Up

This last photo was the first one I took, back in January. The highland cow was standing right in the middle of the path, and the light was so nice I decided to zoom right out and get this wider view.

A large highland cow standing on a Bedfordshire hillside, photographed in black and white
Highland Cow On Hillside

I've really enjoyed photographing the highland cows this year. They've been a favourite subject of mine for many years, and one I'm sure I'll keep returning to in the future. Cows are such charasmatic animals, and I find highland cows in particular, a calming presence. It's easy to see their slow pace of life as one of contemplation and mindfulness. Or maybe that's just me. But I think a good proportion of the photos in this post could be interpreted a moments of reflection.

Highland Cow Photography Gallery

In addition to the new photos shared above, I've also got a collection of previous photos in my Highland Cows print gallery. Since we're on the subject, I thought I'd share a few of my favorites from there, as a cheeky bonus. These are all images rendered as wall art prints. To see them full size, check out the gallery.

framed high-key black and white photo of a Highland cow going for a characteristic nose-lickHighland cow going for a characteristic nose-lick
Highland Cattle Lick

framed photo of a highland cow, close-up, in black and white
Half a Highland Cattle

Living room scene with a couch, potted tree, and a framed photo of a highland cattle bull on the wall
Highland Cattle Bull - On White

Framed photo of a highland cattle bull in black and white
Highland Cattle Bull - Best Foot Forward

A modern living space with a couch and coffee table, and framed wall art of a highland cow on a black background
Highland Cow - On Black

View the print gallery...



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