A subject which I have grown to appreciate photographing is animals, be it cat, dog, reptile or pig. A group of animals that I have the fortune to be able to photograph in abundance is donkeys. My girlfriend’s family take care of donkeys, both rescued and their own (in addition to many other animals), this provides me with the opportunity to spend time and appreciate these docile creatures.
The generic scenarios of which you are likely to see a photograph of a donkey are: rides on holiday; assisting sherpas in the himalayas or in a charity advert. When people enquire why they look after donkeys, the first question usually is why donkeys? Donkeys are the underdog, the majority of people may think that investing in horses would be the most fruitful with the ‘opportunity’ to race and ride these creatures, donkeys on the other hand are often used for hard labour, tourism and not much else. To some, the previous statement could be considered a gross generalisation, however the donkey is often neglected in favour of other equidae (horses, zebras etc – had to look it up…).
When photographing any living creature, consideration must be given to their nature, right to move about and their individual personalities. My experience of photographing donkeys is that you must move and adapt to their needs and levels of inquisition: some may wish to come closer to nuzzle into you, some expect food, others see humans as being associated with access to the safety and warmth of the stable (especially in winter). This may not be applicable to all donkeys as some are not so comfortable with humans and often avoid close contact. When anticipating what you wish to capture, there is a potential that they will have a different idea.
The most difficult aspect of photographing these animals has actually been their welcoming nature. Having the ability to enter a field and walk amongst them is fantastic, however as soon as you fix your settings with the intention to capture a moment – say donkeys in fields covered in beautiful yellow buttercups – they often want to approach you, which has often resulted in me having to move back in order to get the photo, whilst they continue the move towards you.
Alternatively, you can use a wide angle lens and wait for them to approach you to get a tight head or body shot which results in a different perspective, having their faces appearing elongated.
Although I have never been kicked by a donkey (a near miss occurred which was not photography related), it goes without saying that you have to respect their nature, do not get too close or crotch down without being certain that no donkey is behind your or in the vicinity. Although this rule should be adhered to for safety sake, I have had occasions when taking a photo of one donkey, another has walked up behind me and began sniffed my head, so you can never be too careful.
Having the ability to photograph the same subject over a period of time provides you with the ability to assess your photographic journey, comparing how you used to shoot to how you do so now. Whether it be composition or capturing a moment or an aspect of a creatures personality, reviewing work over time should demonstrate a progression in ability. I feel fortunate that I have the ability to spend so much time with the donkeys, whether it be photographing, caring for them or just observing them. Next time you see any creature, consider what moment could be captured to convey a moment or their personality.
Be aware that it is of course not suggested that you walk into any field with animals without the owners consent and awareness of the animal’s personal space. Animals large and small should all be respected.