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FarmEtiquette for Photographers & Agritourism

August 28, 2013

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you search for etiquette information, there are books and articles to tell you what fork to eat with, what type of clothing is business formal and how to discreetly pick up the tab for a meal without offending your guest.

As agritourism becomes a bigger focus, it brings questions, and a great one was asked last night in #agchat on Twitter. Most agriculture operations I talk to welcome those who sincerely want to see their place and what they do. The controversy of ag protection laws, or “ag gag” laws (depending on perspective) is a concern. The number of people sharing photos and videos from the farm is increasing.

From @PlantAndPlate – “ q: what should a semipro photographer know/do before asking to photograph on your farm?”

I’ve seen seemingly minor, curious questions result in clearly hurt feelings because of the asking of questions without understanding the culture differences. Yes, that exists. In the country, we learned early you never ask someone how many acres they farm, or how many cattle they run. It’s considered rude and invasive – akin to walking up and asking what’s in your bank account and how much do you have invested in your portfolio.

Twitter is an imperfect medium at 140 characters to take on this topic, so here’s 10 tips towards making a better experience for both farm and visitor.

1. Ask the farm’s policy about photos. Most farms don’t have a problem with honest representation. Yes, sometimes animals get sick. Some days frustration is expressed in less than appropriate ways for an audience. It’s not just our work, it’s our home too.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA2. Leave gates as they are. Don’t assume – if a gate is left open it might be to allow access to water! If it’s closed it may be because animals are being sorted and it keeps groups separated. If in doubt, ask your host.

3. Ask questions. Please. If you see something you don’t understand ASK US! Controversial or antagonistic issues are out there – you know it, we know it. When we invite you to our operations, be a considerate guest.

4. If you are looking for a particular type of photo, let us know. Perhaps you want flowers, or baby animals, or scenic shots. Each thing may be a different time frame.

5. Be considerate. Be considerate. Be considerate. This cannot be stressed enough. While most farmers welcome visitors, hosting guests *and* tending to harvest (our pay day) *and* breakdowns of equipment *and* life matters can be stressful. Ask if there’s a certain time that is best, or if you’re looking to shoot for a particular thing, be honest and open about what that is.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA6. Be honest, especially with agritourism visits or personal farm tours. If you don’t know the weeds from the crop, say so. Ask for verification! If you’re not sure about a situation, ask. It prevents accidents or misunderstandings and makes it easier to understand with clear communication. Calves finishing their bottle may still look hungry, but giving them too much can make them sick. Don’t!

7. Don’t feed or water animals without direct instruction. I think of trespassers who opened a gate to turn a horse in a small pen out on grass – the horse was on veterinary care for laminitis, which can kill him. Turning him out on grass was not kindness, it could have been a death sentence! Equally, if a sweaty horse has no water, don’t assume it’s cruelty – it may be letting the horse cool off before offering water, which can result in colic. Too much or the wrong feed can have fatal results for animals on the farm. Be a considerate guest.

8. Don’t photograph children without explicit permission. Most people out there are curious about what we do.  They like to see our families. There are those who will target our families, our children and for whom breaking the law is not an issue. Don’t print names or likenesses without permission – a safety issue for any family, especially one that may be miles from law enforcement. Some farmers have received death threats, or threats to burn down our barns or homes.

Horses at BellBottom farm

Horses at BellBottom farm

9. Never forget you are a guest. We don’t. It may be for pay, or may be for free, but don’t assume we “owe” you more than agreed on. While we try our best to accommodate everyone, there can be urgent situations on the farm that cannot wait. Be patient – a loose animal can be unpredictable. A sick animal can be dangerous and sometimes treatment can involve restraints for animal and human safety. Understand that most farms will answer questions, but give us time to deal with the crisis first. Even gentle animals can cause harm – a horned animal swinging her head can bring a new appreciation of why modern cattle are often dehorned.

10. Definitely not required and usually not expected, but appreciated to share some good shots with the farm. So often when we’re busy it may be a phone camera or inexpensive camera we carry with us that captures our shots. Good photos are appreciated, beyond capturing the moment we like to share.

Remember, too, all farms are different. Communication, courtesy and consideration goes a long ways towards being a welcome, repeat guest, and may get you into behind the scenes situations – a foal or calf being born, or other events we like to share but cannot do so with a group. The safety and security of our family and farm, including animals on it, is priority.

Many of us love to share it with sincere, considerate, courteous guests. Try to understand our challenges and why we do what we do.

We’ll do the same!

9 Comments leave one →
  1. August 28, 2013 2:11 PM

    You share a lot of the same tips I have on my blog, but I have a few different ones. I also wrote tips for farmers to consider if they are hosting photographers. 🙂

  2. August 28, 2013 11:13 PM

    It’s easy to take charming photos of farm life; harder to do so without getting in the way of the farm workers and animals. Getting permission and being up front about usage are (should be, anyway) common practice for photographers, but it’s helpful to know “farm manners,” and how to schedule visits for less-busy times. Thanks for the thoughtful response — and your post as well, Janice!

    • August 29, 2013 3:42 PM

      Thanks! So often what can be mistaken for abrupt is just busy, and hard to take when so many welcome visitors who want to learn and see!

  3. September 17, 2013 9:07 AM

    Love the article I am sharing this with others. thanks 🙂

  4. September 29, 2013 11:47 PM

    Reblogged this on Tjaaay's Blog and commented:
    Thank you for sharing this for those of us that want to learn how to visit farms without causing harm.


  1. FarmEtiquette for Photographers & Agritourism | Tjaaay's Blog
  2. Five Years And a Legacy | Food, Farm, Life Choices

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