How Carolina Arantes took this dramatic shot of a cow fleeing slaughter

A cow captured in mid-leap jumping over a stockyard fence, its front legs already over the fence.
In order to capture this bull unexpectedly trying to escape the truck entrance that led to the slaughterer, Carolina relied on autofocus tracking. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens. © Carolina Arantes

The Brazilian-born photojournalist and former Canon Ambassador Carolina Arantes was documenting genetically-modified cattle at a farm in her homeland for her project Holy Cow when she caught an image of a cow attempting to flee from slaughter. Here, Carolina talks us through how she managed to capture the shocking image.

"One in four steaks eaten worldwide is Brazilian, making Brazil the biggest meat exporter in the world. My project, Holy Cow, is about how genetic cloning and engineering allows Brazil to be in such a competitive position. The Zebu, a breed of cow that originated in India, has become very commercialised here, with some animals fetching up to one million dollars in auctions. People are aware that this is happening, but they laugh about it. They don't have the full facts about the business. This is because the story is quite hidden.

"I shot the picture on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens at 42mm. The exposure was ISO100, shutter speed 350, aperture f/6.7. In this particular photo, it was a lucky situation. I was in the perfect moment at the perfect time. Technically, because it's reportage, I usually have my camera on shutter speed priority and autofocus tracking and choose the dot precisely where I want it. I could not wait or expect that the bull could jump the fence, so those two things are what helped most with this photo.

"I've always worked with Canon because it guarantees quality, even in low light. I prefer one body with the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens because I'm wary of being weighed down by equipment and missing a photo opportunity due to a lens change.

"I do very few things in post-production. I add a little toning and white balance but I try to get the natural light as best I can. I use the Canon equipment to read the light. In the photo of the cow in the auction [below], I played with the low light. I found that when I lowered the exposure, I could find the texture. You have to catch where the light is in situations, and I saw the light coming from the sparkling papers to capture this image. Again, I have no flash. I just used my body, my lens, and the autofocus.

A cow in a dark ring, with confetti falling down on it.
For this shot of a female calf entering the ring to be sold in a private luxury cattle auction, the photographer lowered the exposure to capture the light from the sparkling confetti. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens. © Carolina Arantes
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"This picture [top] is interesting because of the repetition of triangle shapes of both the cow and the buildings in the background. To me, it contrasts the natural force of the animal with the artificial architecture. In India, cows symbolise the magnificence of nature. Here in Brazil, they symbolise money.

"One of the most successful farms in Brazil is a family-owned business with 30,000 animals. Access wasn't easy and I had to prove I was really interested in doing this story before they would let me come and shoot. The trip to the farm in Pontes e Lacerda, Mato Grosso, was long and difficult, which is why I don't think they expected me to actually come. I drove there by myself on a tough road and spent five days staying nearby and visiting the farm every day.

"The day I took this picture the cows were due to go to the slaughterhouse. It was like they sensed their doom because they were very agitated and anxious. I found myself watching one cow in particular who suddenly tried to jump the fence and I was in the perfect place to get the shot. The cow didn't make it over the fence. In fact, it broke its leg in its attempt to escape, but they put it in the truck anyway."

Written by Rachel Segal Hamilton

Carolina Arantes' kitbag

The key kit pros use to take their photographs

Photographer Carolina Arantes looks down at a Canon camera in her hands.


Canon EOS 5D Mark III

A full-frame 22.3MP DSLR with 61-point autofocus and 6fps continuous shooting, this camera offers manual control over everything, plus a built-in HDR mode.


Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

This professional-quality standard zoom lens offers outstanding image sharpness and a robust L-series build. Its constant f/2.8 aperture enables you to take superb photos even in low light, and to control depth of field with ease.

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