Models have to endure all sorts of elements during a photo shoot. Fortunately some models are built to handle weather like that of early spring in Maine better than others. Some of the hardiest include the ladies at Conant Acres in Canton. Paraded out one at a time, several members of the registered Holstein herd were selected to pose for their portrait to be taken by professional cow photographer Jenny Thomas. Thomas made the trip to Maine recently, scheduling visits to four dairy farms to photograph their bovine beauties.
Of course, when the photos are finished, the barren, frozen landscape (or in the case of the Conants, the paved dooryard in front of their barn) will be replaced by a lush, green summer pasture thanks to a little Photoshop magic. And while it may be more appealing than what was really present that day, everyone looking at the photos will be paying attention to the subject of the photo, not the background. These photos will be used by the farms to market their genetics to sell embryos or calves or young breeding stock. The photos will appear on the farm web site, in sale catalogs, in dairy publication ads, etc.
Thomas is well-practiced at highlighting a cow’s best features, which often includes a high, wide udder. Before the photo shoot, she helps to brighten the white of the cow and make the black shine, while also polishing the hooves and looking for any stray hairs. As she looks through her camera lens, she directs members of the Conant family to position the cow just so.
“Move the left foot forward an inch, the right foot half an inch,” she calls out. Dennis Conant was in charge of keeping the cow’s attention facing forward by shaking a grain bucket and making strange noises and waving his arms. “Let her get a whiff of that grain,” Thomas said. “Let her reach for it. Then pull it back.”
The difference between a dairy photo shoot and a fashion photo shoot is that there is no hustle and bustle when it comes to cows. Thomas and the Conant family move slowly and speak easily to keep the ladies calm. “Just let her settle here a second,” Thomas says patiently. “Easy does it.”
From Ohio, Thomas grew up on a dairy farm, studied animal science in school, worked in the dairy industry and married into a dairy farm family. Both she and her husband judge cattle, and the family shows their cattle around the country. Eight years ago, she had the opportunity to train and work with Cybil Fisher of Green Bay, Wis., a well-known dairy photographer. Thomas continues to work for Fisher’s business, taking photos from coast to coast.
One might think photographing only cows would get boring. Not so, says Thomas. “Every cow is different,” she says. “It’s always a different challenge.” And some can be more challenging than others, like the Conant’s cow Randi who has to be reset for the fourth time because she refuses to place her feet on the block. “Those are the fun ones,” Thomas says.