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Archive for Dairy Cattle Photography Ethics

No Cow Is Perfect – Not Even in Pictures

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

top13of2013The other day I read a comment that basically asked, “If steroids are illegal for athletes then shouldn’t Photoshop be illegal for models?”  This got me thinking about the implications for dairy cattle marketing as well.  As the Bullvine approaches the one-year mark, it reminds me of one of our initial articles, Has Photo Enhancement gone too far?  In that article we first addressed this taboo subject questioning how programs like Adobe Photoshop lets designers create anything the client wants.  Our goal in publishing that article was to spur change (Read more: Dairy Cattle Photography: Ethics and Copyright).  Similar to the way that Jose Canseco’s book “Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big” exposed steroid use in Baseball, we wanted to spur change in the dairy cattle photography industry (Read more: The Big Bad Wolf of the Dairy Industry). The reality is that no cow is perfect, not even in pictures (Read more: The Perfect Holstein Cow).

The Bullvine Holstein Mature Model Cow

The Bullvine Holstein Mature Model Cow

If foreign substances are illegal for show cows, then shouldn’t they be illegal for cow pictures as well?

Like major league baseball the show ring has had a transformation in its perspective on drugs and ethics (Read more: The Code: The Unwritten Rules of Dairy Cattle Show Ethics).  However,  similar to the world of cycling, the dairy cattle marketing world has yet to see this transformation (Read more: Lance Armstrong, Drugs and the Dairy Industry) That really got me thinking that, if foreign substances are illegal for show cows, then shouldn’t they be illegal for cow ads as well?

Toplines that have had “hair” added, udder texture that has been enhanced and teat placement that has been corrected, all seem to be more prevalent than ever.  Don’t even get me started about how some photographers have single handedly solved many breeder’s challenges of getting clean long necked cattle.  Even the basics of getting good lighting seem to have gone out the window.  Photoshop has made it too easy and more profitable for photographers to do it in post production than making sure the animal was the real deal to start.

model retouch

With Great Expectations Comes Great Disappointment

In an industry that already has unreal expectations about real beauty, the use of Photoshop in the fashion-modeling world has made for even greater unrealistic expectations of appropriate body image – especially among impressionable children and adolescents.  But there is one big difference between the photo retouching of fashion models and photo retouching of cattle images – The models are not the product that people are buying.

Right there is the big issue that I think many people are missing in this whole debate.  While we have all become complacent about fashion models whose appearance has been retouched, we have also become complacent about dairy cattle photos that have been retouched.  It has come to the point where most don’t even look at photos anymore to gage a sire’s potential  (Check out our recent Facebook poll).

I can remember when we first marketed Calbrett-I HH Champion and we put a lineup of 10 VG 2YR test sire daughters photo’s together – the first in the industry to do so.  But I am sure with genomic sires being used on such high caliber animals it will happen again soon.  It sold semen like none other.  Today when a new proven sire comes out, you are lucky to get two or three daughter shots and that’s about it.  For genomic sires you are often lucky to get a picture of the sire himself let alone a picture of his dam (often it is a heifer picture as she was contracted and flushed at such a young age).

This has me thinking whether there is value in picturing anymore?  I realized that while pictures today may not directly sell semen or embryos, they do a great job of generating hype.  While everyone likes to bash some livestock photographers about the ethics of their photos, there is no question that you can share a great shot of a show-winning cow on Facebook and the thing goes Viral.

So what is the average ethical breeder to do when they don’t have some great show-winning cow but wants to market their cattle?

In thinking about this challenging question, I remembered what Unilever did with their Dove line of products when facing a very similar challenge.  In 2004 they released The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty.  The principle behind the campaign is to celebrate the natural physical variation embodied by all women and inspire them to have the confidence to be comfortable with themselves.

In the dairy industry three great ways I can see for this to be done are as follows:

  • Roy - ABS Global

    Show all the angles
    Instead of just a boring side shot, try to get different angles of your cattle.  Three quarter rear shots are great at grabbing attention.  Show multiple angles of your cow, in order to gain maximum attention.  It is also hard to fake a shot when you see all sides of the animal as any changes would be amplified when comparing angles.  (Read more: 5 Tips to Make Your Next Dairy Magazine Ad the Best Ever and All Talk and No Action)

  • Leverage the Power of Video
    There is nothing better than video to help you sell and promote your cattle.  It does not have to be some big costly production.  In fact, it can be much cheaper than having a professional photographer come in.  You can simply use your hand held blackberry or smartphone and snap some quick snippets to share with potential buyers on Facebook or on your website.  Even good quality digital video cameras can be picked up at your local Best-Buy or Wal-Mart.  Many even come with some basic software so that you can add your own titles, images, and music.  (Read more: Nothing Sells Like Video)
  • Share it on Facebook
    It’s really pretty simple.  Set up your own Facebook page or a Facebook Fan page for your farm.  Tell your story.  Did you have a great classification round and want to let the world know?  Share it on Facebook.  Had a great flush and want to sell the embryos from it?  Share it on Facebook.  Your friends will spread the word and before you know it, you too will start to have a loyal following. (Read more: 7 Reasons Why Your Dairy Farm Needs to be on Facebook and The Fakebook – Our secret is exposed)

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Yes!  There are certainly photographers who have held true to their ethics, however, it seems that they are now in the minority rather than the majority.  I understand that Photoshop, a program that I love to use, makes life easier for all.  There comes a point, however, where ease should not outweigh ethics, especially when you are editing the appearance of the very genetic product that you are selling. The reality is that no cow is perfect, not even in pictures



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The whole world watched as Lance Armstrong admitted to Oprah that he used EPO, human-growth hormone, testosterone and other drugs to help him win his 7 Tour de France titles.  Actually, many learned about his confession second hand since, not that many people get Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network.  The part that was really interesting is how Mr. Armstrong said he doesn’t consider himself to be a cheater.  He said he looked up the word “cheat” in the dictionary and said the definition—to gain an unfair advantage—doesn’t describe his use of performance-enhancing drugs.  “So many other riders were also using them”, he said, that “the playing field was level”.  This got me to thinking, if leveling the playing field is what some of those in the show and high end genetics world consider that they are doing?

Much has been said about dairy cattle show ethics over the years (Read more – The Code: The Unwritten Rules of Dairy Cattle Show Ethics), as well as the ethics of those breeding and marketing top genetic animals (Read more – Business Ethics and Marketing Dairy Cattle and Has Genomics Knocked Out Hot House Herds?) and also  dairy cattle photography ethics (Read more – Dairy Cattle Photography: Ethics and Copyright and Has Photo Enhancement Gone Too Far?).  People feel very strong on both sides of this argument.  Others simply wish to enjoy cattle shows without having to think about the ethics, politics, economics (Read more – RF Goldwyn Hailey: Cash Cow or Cash Hog) and social issues.

Show Ethics and Major Sports They Have a Very Similar Past

The one thing that caught my attention was how for the most part show ethics have mirrored those of the cycling world as well as most other major North American pro sports.  Baseball, Football, Basketball and Hockey (yes we are Canadian so we have to acknowledge Hockey) as well as cycling have all gone through major transformation in their perspective on performance enhancing drugs.

At one time, using illegal drugs or doing unethical practices was seen as a necessary evil in order to compete at the top level.  As Armstrong says the need to take banned substances was like saying “we have to have air in our tires and we have to have water in our bottles.”  Well, in the show scene, at one time, it was pretty much the same.  For the most part in order to compete at the highest level (there are exceptions) you needed to push the limits in order to win the prize.

Villains or Lambs to the Slaughter?

Lance Armstrong is to cycling what Jose Canseco is to Baseball (Read more – The Big Bad Wolf of the Dairy Industry).  Both have been tagged as the poster child for their drug era.  Both sports want to put this dark time behind them.  The debate boils down to whether these two  are really the rare villain or are they  the greatest of their time who performed on the stage demanded  by the spectators  of that time?

It’s funny when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were in pursuit of Roger Maris and his single season home run record, the world watched with great amazement.  Television broadcasts interrupted prime time shows to show a McGwire towering blast.  Previously, interruptions were restricted to an act of war or a Presidential address.  Similarly, everyone loved the great story of Armstrong’s seven Tour de France victories.  But now as the full story comes to light everyone looks back and labels them as horrible people, as evidenced by the treatment of Armstrong in the media, and how both McGwire and Sosa were shunned in the recent Hall of Fame voting.

Have Things Really Changed?

The question now becomes “Has the cheating stopped?  Or are those being tested just one step ahead of the testers?”  There has been great debate in the media whether baseball and the other major sports are really clean, or have the users found new and better ways to elude detection.  In the case of Armstrong, there was regular testing at the time but he was able to elude detection.  It was not until recently that new tests were developed that they were able to confirm his use, since they had his blood samples on file (Something the major pro-sports have not started until recently).  This has me thinking, has the show ring and the genetics market really cleaned up their act?  Or are they just staying one-step ahead?

The Bullvine Bottom Line

In the 90’s and early twenty first century, drug use in sports was so endemic that the moral culpability of individual players who start taking steroids after the use is widespread is much more ambiguous.  Much like the dairy cattle show scene in the late 80’s and early 90’s.  I am sure there are those that will tell you it never happened.  There are also those who will try to tell you that the Apollo Moon landing was a hoax or that there really were UFO’s recovered at Roswell.  Even better, that the Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding (CDCB) are controlled by the big A.I companies and they just want to beat the little guy down.  The major lesson is that you can’t waste your time pointing the finger at individuals but, instead, we need to keep working together to improve the industry as a whole.


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Yesterday I let my enthusiasm get the better of me and posted a picture on Facebook that I shouldn’t have posted.  The picture was a compilation of cattle parts from some of the greatest cows in the breed.  The response to the image was insane.  There were over 300 people trying to guess what parts were what, with not one comment on the ethics of the photo.  However, what I failed to realize is that in the image there were some mistakes, and for that I am sorry.

What mistakes you might ask?  Well it really comes down to three points: 1) The background of the image was a signature background of a well known photographer 2) The original images were copyright 3) The effect it could have on the perception of livestock photography.

Every Artist Has Their Signature

Just like Picasso had his Cubist movement, Michelangelo had his Mannerist style and Leonardo da Vinci had his constant experimentation with new techniques.  Every artist has their signature approach or technique that tells you instantly that it is one of his or her pieces of work.

For dairy cattle photographers that typically comes down to their signature background.  For Patty Jones, it is her Royal background that is different from Vickie Fletcher’s Royal background and Cybil Fisher has her Madison background.  Each one tells the viewer that the image is instantly their piece of work.

In the image I created, I had not changed the background from that of Cybil’s Madison background, and for that I am sorry.  Especially when I am the one who wrote the article about how and why to change backgrounds (read – Has Photo Enhancement Gone Too Far?). As someone who greatly appreciates the work that these artists do, I worked too fast and overlooked this key element.  When one of the photographers brought this to my attention, my heart instantly sank.  I know how much work these photographers do in building their brand and, unintentionally, I had kind of slapped Cybil in the face.  I apologized profusely when she and I connected on the phone.

Photo Copy Right

Always a touchy subject with any artist is the rights to their work.  These photographers work very hard and spend many days and even weeks at a time on the road to provide a great service to the industry.  When someone takes off or removes credit from their work it can be very disheartening.

In the image in question, we removed the photo credit as it was actually the work of three different photographers and would not be accurate to put just one back on.  Since the image was more than 50% altered it technically did not qualify as one original piece of work and we did not, on the image, give the credit on it because of that.  We were expecting to give the credit with the article we planned to publish explaining why we created the image – Digital True Type Model – and explain that the image was altered not for exposure reasons but rather to help further our discussion of what the ideal cow looks like.

My benchmark for photo credit goes like this – unless the cow, bull or animals themselves have been altered in any way, photo credit should always be given.  Since the image in question at its very core was an intentional alteration of the animals, I did not want to include the integrity of the photographer in the end results, and hence no photo credit.

Photo Manipulation

Photo manipulation for the purposes of deception is 100% wrong.  Anyone who alters an image with the intent of deception is not a professional photographer or marketer and brings great disservice to the industry.

In altering this image we did not do so for any purpose of deception but rather for the purpose of education.  Everyone knows the technology exists to alter images.  We see it in the movies when people are walking on Mars or in magazines when super models are so airbrushed that you would not even recognize them in their day-to-day lives.  There is no question that it can be done.

In the dairy industry it seems to be a taboo subject.  No one wants to acknowledge it and address it.  The problem is that, by not doing so, the issue has only gotten larger and larger.  It also has led to a wide variance in each photographer’s line on what is acceptable and what is not acceptable and, in the end all photographers tend to be painted with the same dirtied brush.

In talking with some of the photographers that I hold in the highest regard about this issue, the subject always comes up that there are no technical guidelines about what is acceptable and what is not.  There is not an accreditation process to ensure that the photographers and marketers in the industry all abide by the same guidelines.

I have heard this often enough, and am offering to help establish, champion, and fund such a process so that the great work that many of these photographers do is not diminished by the few.  In saying such I would be reaching out to each of the major photographers, getting their input and seeing how we can establish such an organization.  Those I know their integrity is above reproach will be eager to join, and those that are not, will quickly identify themselves to all.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

We all do things out of excitement that, looking back on, we wish we could do differently.  This is certainly one of those incidents for me.  In the past, when people have challenged my opinions or comments, I have stood my ground as I knew exactly how I felt and where I needed to hold my position (Read – The Bullvine – Under Fire).  On this issue, when certain aspects were brought to light, I instantly took action before even speaking with the photographers in question, because I knew I was wrong and for that I am very sorry.


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