By Steve Werblow, First-Place Nuts and Bolts: Livestock Photo Category Award Winner
*Editor’s Note: This article is part of the “Story Behind the Photo” series featuring first place 2018 AAEA Communication award winners.
I shot this image on a plain in the Republic of Georgia. My goal was to share the experience of moving with an ancient breed of Georgian sheep—about 1,500 of them, plus a caravan of horses, donkeys and cattle. The first several minutes of the shoot were spent making sure that not only were the herders comfortable with my presence, but that their guard dogs were, too. Georgian guard dogs have a fearsome reputation, and the fact that they wear collars with three-inch spikes to keep the wolves off their necks makes them look even more formidable (and hints at some pretty rough duty in the mountains).
By the time the flock stopped at a sinkhole and the riders widened their circle to gather in the slowpokes, I was just part of the scenery. No longer afraid that crouching down would turn me into a Yankee-flavored dog toy, I worked to get eye-level with the sheep for a more captivating angle, craning just high enough to show the landscape and the riders in the distance. In many of the images from this shoot, I worked to include the high-tension lines and transformers from a power station we were passing—it was a great juxtaposition of ancient and modern, a microcosm of Georgia. For this shot, though, I really wanted to go as classic as possible—only if you look far into the distance do you see an electrical pylon. My hope was to bring readers into a timeless scene.
I tend to shoot on the telephoto end of the scale because I instinctively lean toward highlighting one or two elements in a frame, but I really wanted to hint at the enormity of the scene and convey the feeling of being in the flock, so the situation compelled me to challenge myself. Shooting wide demands that the photographer see the whole scene and then get close, which in turn put me in eye contact with several of the sheep in the crowd.
I made the shot on my Nikon D-800—a shutter speed of 1/200 sec at f9. As usual, I’d set my camera to aperture priority, which allows me to think in terms of depth of field. It’s an old habit. My 28-300mm zoom lens was turned as wide as it could go. In the end, the sky was a little blown out, but I just dragged the exposure of the sky down in Lightroom when I got home and was relieved to find that the clouds were hiding in the RAW file the whole time. In all, it’s one of my favorite shots from a dazzling country, and it reminds me of a really spectacular adventure—one of those days when it’s especially great to be out in the field covering an ag story.