Agriculture assignments can sift you like wheat. Timing is everything — the position of the sun, the entire season’s rainfall’s effect on the growth of the crop, and of course the availability of the farmers, their combines and implements, and the client as well.
Honestly, I’ve dreamed for decades of a glorious shoot capturing those “golden waves of grain” we sang about as kids in “America the Beautiful.” Last October, I was granted my wish, except the shoot would be in Saskatchewan, Canada, not my home turf! In weeks, I’d be a newly budded expert in the growing and harvesting of canola seeds, valued internationally for their nutritional and lubricant applications.
As planning progressed and the dates were timed for harvest, it became clear this shoot would stretch my skills. To begin, crossing the Canadian border for commercial photography requires delicacy and diligence. . . if the photographer hopes to attend the shoot himself, with all or even some equipment in his possession rather than embargoed at customs. Never once was flying into China for a photo assignment as tricky, but careful research and hours of filling out forms got me to Saskatoon, where a short (prepared-for) exchange with a customs agent opened the gate and let me through! (Insert: sigh of relief.)
The next challenge presented itself as a leaky front, tracing an immovable high-pressure zone. For the duration of the shoot across two provinces, we’d encounter flat-grey overcast skies, often rain. The local Cargill reps and their farmer clients were friendly and flexible, so we seized every opportunity for a shot in sun or detailed skies, sometimes moving a heavy combine just an inch or two into muddy field edges or using my drone for an overhead panoramic. During rain showers, kitchens and barns became the “set” of Cargill’s great relationship with farmers.
There’s a note for you: relationships are important to the image yield. My client and I took care to sincerely ask questions about the business of growing speciality seeds so that we could tell the story honestly. When opportunities eluded us, I offered as many ideas as I could with good humor and confidence. We needed to work together and leave a good impression of Cargill when we left. Here are a few selects from the study: