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Make – don’t just take – a picture

Progressive Dairyman Editor Dave Natzke Published on 05 May 2017

I recently attended a small conference involving several people I have associated with for years. There came an awkward time in the day’s agenda when we were directed to pair up with someone we didn’t know well personally, spending five minutes asking each other questions.

As you might expect, the typical conversation ensued, covering children and grandchildren, jobs and career moves, memorable events and favorite foods.

Then the conference leader threw us a curveball. We were asked to identify some words of wisdom we heard as a young person that continued to influence us today.

My “new” friend shared how a science teacher had instilled the importance and fun of lifelong learning. I recalled some advice my photography professor provided in one of the first classes of the semester: “Make – don’t just take – a picture.”

At the time, the professor’s advice seemed practical and limited to photography. We’ve all seen photos in which the heads of people are chopped off, or the location of a person in relation to bright sunlight placed the person’s face in a dark shadow, making him or her unrecognizable.

Our first teachable moment played out a week or so later, when the class was taken to a dairy cattle show ring and asked to photograph cows. Fellow students dutifully led and posed animals in front of the aspiring photographers.

As we had seen in numerous dairy magazines, we took photographs of the animals, attempting to highlight the type attributes we knew were important.

I felt good about the photo shoot, and since it was in the days before digital photography, I eagerly waited for our time in the lab when I could develop the film and print the photos.

I wasn’t so pleased when the photographs came to life in the developing tray. Above the straight backline of nearly every cow, I had photographed a large “No Smoking” sign. In fact, the sign was so prominent, it became the focal point in each photo. My “No Smoking cows” went into the trash bin, although I probably should have saved them for an anti-smoking public relations campaign later.

The lesson was learned: Make – don’t just take – a picture. When you think you have the full picture, take a few steps to the right or left, observe the foreground and background, framing and lighting.

Since then, my professor’s advice has been applied far beyond photography. When forming an opinion, it taught me to step back to get a broader view, and then step forward to hone in on a specific issue. Don’t lock into one position; take a couple of steps to the right or left.

Find a way to shed light on areas less visible; adjust the focus on those areas less clear. Don’t rush to form a mental picture based on a first look.

His simple statement also reinforced the concept of empathy, trying to view situations through another’s eyes. That lesson may be even more important today, as people get opinion and news through the narrow, and frequently biased, lens of self-selected social media sites.

I think members of Congress and the executive branch would have benefited from my photography professor’s advice too. This issue of Progressive Dairyman features lists of the policymakers who could have the greatest governmental influence on your dairy future (“Mapping the landscape of dairy policy"). Members of the 115th Congress have already begun hearings on the 2018 farm bill and have discussed federal expenditures for agriculture. Maybe they’ll get around to addressing immigration reform.

With your help, they should get a clearer, complete picture of dairy’s policy needs.  end mark

Dave Natzke
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