By Kerri Reynolds Lotven
*Editor’s Note: This story is part of the “Story Behind the Photo” series featuring first-place 2018 AAEA Communication award winners
For me, getting a good photograph is a combination of planning and luck. In my editorial work with Today’s Farmer Magazine, I’ll have a conversation with the subjects of my stories to schedule time together and find out what they will be doing that day. I’ll check the weather, maybe look at satellite images of the farm and start to think about what kinds of shots I’ll be able to get. When the day comes, I’ll arrive at the farm and hope to get something good – fingers crossed.
When creating advertorial photos, it’s double or triple the planning time. With editorial, the story is usually told through a series of images and writing. With advertising, a single image and limited text typically tell the story.
In 2017, our communications department was tasked to come up with an “apple pie” ad campaign for two of our proprietary seed brands. The concept is meant to elicit feeling or emotion – the same kind you might experience when you see your mother’s apple pie cooling on the windowsill.
There are many directions this could take. In brainstorming sessions, our creative team made all the usual jokes about babies, puppies, and rainbows.
When we got down to business, we asked what story we wanted to tell and what farmers care about most. Day-in and day-out on assignment, we interview farmers about why they do what they do through all the challenges. One answer we frequently hear is “I do this for my kids and grandkids, so they might have at least the same or better opportunities than I had.”
That generational aspect led us to our concept.
Our corn ad would feature a boy playing in the dirt with a toy tractor between rows of young plants and a dad walking through the field with him on his shoulders. Our soy ad would feature kids exploring a soybean field, their grandparents opening a pod to show them what’s inside. I drew pictures and had several back-up plans. We wanted to do a series of these ads, so we needed options.
Once we decided on the concept as a team, it was time to get the shot. We photographed the corn ad earlier in the year in a green, growing field. To vary the color palette, the soybean photo shoot would take place right before harvest.
To find a family, our social media specialist was instrumental. She had seen recent family photos posted by one of our employees whose family also farms. She had two young nieces, who, with their grandfather, would provide that generational context.
We scheduled to arrive at the shoot about an hour and a half before golden hour to meet the family and set up. We brought a few different props, a red wagon, hats with the seed brand on them and a blanket. Our former photographer, now new media editor, came to shoot video and our social media specialist captured behind-the-scenes footage for social media and hold a large reflector if needed. As the old adage goes, plenty of hands make for light work.
When we arrived, the girls were dressed in matching t-shirts with bows in their hair. We didn’t ask for that, but it was a nice surprise. We headed to the field. After a few shots, we traded the bows for branded hats.
While there, I did all the things I normally do with editorial sessions – photograph wide, get details, get low, shoot through an object for interesting foreground, etc. Because it was advertorial, however, I gave the subjects more direction. According to the camera data, this image was shot with a Nikon D810 at a focal length of 29.0 mm, 1/2000 sec; f/4.0; ISO 400. I always dual sling my personal Canon 6D too, usually with a 50 mm f/1.4 lens, ensuring I can do what I want with depth of field even if I have to zoom with my feet. The sun was low in the sky, and mostly to my back. I asked the grandfather to open up some seed pods as planned. Rather than just holding them and having the girls look at them, he handed the seeds over. Luck.
In my previous experience with the corn shoot, I wished I had brought some sort of bribe. I don’t know how ethical that is, but I’m pretty sure candy is key with kids. With parental permission, I brought three kinds that day – Skittles, Reese’s Pieces, and M&Ms, small candy that won’t stain faces or melt. They chose Skittles, and when I saw the girls tiring, I gave them a sugar boost.
It totally worked. Seriously, Skittles – it made things so much easier.
While I set out to create a stock-worthy image, what I like most about this photo are the details people probably don’t even notice. I like the hearing aid in the grandfather’s ear, the press in his jeans and the freckles on the girls’ faces. There are many heavily edited, albeit, gorgeous stock images out there, but it’s the realness that I think makes this one work. It’s those details that actually tell the story.
This image ran with this text courtesy of our excellent writers, editors and designer:
“We see beyond the beans. When your farm is measured by generations rather than acres, agriculture is more than just your livelihood. It’s your life. It’s your legacy.
At MorSoy, we understand that raising crops goes far beyond the seed brand you choose. The decisions you make not only affect your family today but also your farm’s future. We take that responsibility seriously. That’s why you can count on MorSoy. We offer the latest soybean varieties developed for your growing conditions and the challenges of modern agriculture.”