Word and Image

Portrait

Eyes

If I have learned nothing else, it is all about focus and the eyes in portraiture. Cat, humans, whoever whatever you shoot, it is sharp focus on the eyes that makes the picture. If you can do that, then you break all the rules. Or, any rules….

I run around camera in hand trying to get pictures. The cats merrily romp. The never cooperate and mostly never look in my direction. I have lots of tricks. I make strange noises. Distraction or draw their attention? You would never know. Note: all cats did not cooperate for these pictures; none were harmed.

Got eyes? Ok! Try and get fur. You need texture in the fur. Black cat? It’s near impossible. White cat? Ditto! There is so much to remember while you chase focus on the eyes. Yes, comical – a grown retired surgeon making strange noises and hand gestures while chasing after cats who could care less.


Easy?!

You think it’s easy?! Jules casually dropped a request for a family picture. Sure! She already had it planned out. She picked a spot under the pier. Ok! Backlighting. I should have used a flash. Nope. And then, to pose the kids. Nope, they weren’t having any. No way were two squirmy kids gonna look at my lens. There were too many distractions. Nope! No way! Great! I took nearly a hundred…. No dice. No cigar. No luck. Aha! Photoshop! Damn, I hate to resort to technology. But! For my trouble, we all got our feet wet. Jules and Jeff were barefoot. It was travel day. I was wearing sock on the plane so as not to stand barefoot in TSA. Yup! Soaked. Shoes and socks. Yes, it’s lovely to ride the plane coast to coast in wet shoes and socks.

We got a shot – several – some passable. I did not nail the image I sought. Everyone went away happy!


Lessons

What works? At least there are choices to choose from. Ummm, never end a sentence with a preposition. English, seventh grade, Miss Digman. Oh boy… I can hear her admonishment now.

Smile, focus, gaze directly into my lens…. I wish. As I shoot a way, I create choices in my edit process. It’s good to have choices to choose from. (yeah, yeah, another proposition)

Composition. I had a friend Charlie. He loved the pictures to show the whole thing (child). But focus (take a couple meanings) can cut different ways. No matter what, it is critical. Looking into my lens has it’s advantages too. No complaint. It’s good to have choices. Maybe the title should have been “choices?”


Set a task

I’m retired now. I don’t want to work hard. Things just jump out sometimes. Today, I was wandering around with my macro lens. The lens restricts you to a single focal length. It is a close-up lens so the composition is different in that you are closely focused on the face. It was easy to get Nutley and Spice. They cooperate. It’s easier for them to sit than running away from me. Willow has deep set eyes. Lighting is a problem for him. Peas and Tillie are skittish. They sit still rarely and only for a few seconds at a time. They pretty much never look at my lens. That leaves Feather. She cooperates well enough if you can find her. Finally, there is Elle. She is always hiding out. Skittish and camera shy. For a very long time she ran when she saw my camera point in her direction. Now she is resigned. I think it would be easier if I had fewer cats to chase. Seven, try rounding up seven cats. Ha ha. And, who’s the favorite? We all have our preference. I love them all, but….


It’s easy

Family photo. I just call. The cats obediently line up. Click. Done.

This particular time Elle led us on a merry chase. She’s smart. And quick. We eventually caught her. No one gets to decline my invitation to be in the family photo. Yeah, yeah, it ain’t perfect. The lighting is the same – flash. And the camera is on a tripod. So, except for the position of the models it should all match up pretty well. In theory?! In reality it is never quite ideal. Multiple redundant shots are used to get acceptable poses. It is good enough to pass a casual test. Alas, this image portrays our family and changes that have occurred. It’s seven cats – count ‘em. Soon enough that number may change (increase). I am feeling lucky! No doubt I feel so very fortunate to have a wonderful family.

What’s fake? The straight line? Ha ha, no. Spice and Peas are next to one another. They are arch enemies. Wrong! Colleen has identified Peas next to Feather. Shhh… I cannot tell the kids apart. Birthdays? Don’t ask.


Amalgam

A mixture or blend used more in dentistry than in everyday language. I have an amalgam of cats, characters one and all, independent, and full of possibility. I almost never get to photograph them together. Individually, they are hard enough to capture, especially Tillie. Black cats just don’t photograph well; the fur has no texture. Lighting is the key. Look at the camera; cats pretty much never look into the lens. You must position your camera in front of the cat; it works. Sphinx like? – mysterious and not allowing people to know what you are thinking. A classic pose! Why seven cats?! Well, I got snagged by kittens – in pairs – when I in the pet store to get food. It happened three, Three, THREE!!, times. We are very lucky. No, no more kittens. Ha ha. Yeah, I can do the math too. Sadly, we lost a couple along the way.

The numbers vary. We remain a merry band. I do not have a current amalgamated image. It’s bittersweet. Oh well, time to gather the crew….


Practice

I got good! Better?! New baby! This was my first try with our brand-new granddaughter. Photographically it was a success. I have learned. Hey! It’s not too late to learn. What? There are so many things to keep in mind – exposure, focus, composition, timing, etc. Whatever. As in, whatever makes you smile, is a “keeper,” a “winner.” You gotta shoot a lot of pictures to get a “keeper.”

Cats. What I learned from my cats helped me get better shots of newborn babies. ?? Cats do not pose or follow instructions. They – cats – do not smile on demand. And most importantly I learned to position my camera lens in front of the eyes instead of waiting for the cat to look at me when I called. Eye contact! Aha! Simple, ain’t it?


Groups

Colleen, I’m feeling blue. Ethereal, but a moment, delicate, fragile, gossamer, tenuous – life. We are here for a moment in time. My photographs depict some of those moments passed which will never be here again. Suddenly, things change. You realize how utterly delicately we interact. Loss is part, parting inevitable. I have been lucky to have experienced loss in small quantity. I am no stranger to love and loss. But, I have been largely spared. Hug your loved ones tight. Love them, tightly.


Lessons

Good equipment will only get you so far. I needed more experience. Lessons would have helped. Me? Nah. Too much ego. Just press the shutter, and, there you are! It did not help that I developed my own slides. So I accumulated a lot of rolls to process all at once. Therefore, feedback was severely delayed. Hence, my mistakes tended to continue. It was, using the wrong settings for a good long while before you realized the mistake. Lokking back, it appears I was lucky to have survived my msitakes. Oh boy! stupid! Really stupid! Parsimony. Film cost $$. What digital has taught me. Almost every shot is a double. Redundancy is de rigueur! Oh boy! The things I simply did not know to do. Oh well, the most important thing is to be self-critical and learn. My regret, it took decades to be aware of my mistakes. It’s just one more thing to do differently if there were a do-over.


Speaking of … still tryn’

I tried to illustrate wide angle distortion in an iPhone  portrait of a child the other day. Everyone liked how cute she was and ignored the forehead distortion. Ok!? So, here is a loaf of challah right out of the oven. Smells great, butter glazed, good enough to eat!! Colleen made a braided proportional loaf. That is to say, it was a parallel loaf!? I intentionally moved in close and distorted the lines. Do you see? It doesn’t matter when it comes to bread. But a child?

Ok. I didn’t want to do a formal portrait of my son. Shy?! I don’t mind sticking my camera into Colleen’s face. She is used to me by now. But, “the boy?” So, I sneak/snuck a few grab shots. The lighting was not helpful. It would help if we got the right situation before he is on the road again. Yes, they (the images) are a good representation. But it’s not what I am trying to achieve. … another day, another opportunity.  


More lessons

I fear I may have lost family after correcting angle distortion the other day. No angle distortion here. Secret: get the camera down at the level of your (cat) subject. Hence, use the angled screen to take the picture at the subject’s eye level. Pretty easy. Most people don’t do it.

Flash has never been my forte. I use it very sparingly. The more recent cameras I use have better exposure than ever before. Flash will certainly help to brighten hooded eyes. Portraits? It is the eyes. Focus on the eyes. And, to be more effective, I think the subject should be looking right at you. … my opinion. After that, breaking the rules is what gives you something different. Better, worse, “keepers” are pretty easy to spot. There are so many bad shots….


Familiarity

When you are with someone every minute of every day… well, I got to take some candid shots of Colleen. She needed a shot for a web profile… I had to look back a long way. Ha! And, Dave? I still do not have a quintessential shot during this visit. Once in a while we get a selfie in which my hands never touch the camera. It would be nice if Dave were better (this time around). But, in a pinch, any (vaguely decent) shot is a keeper. And, as Frank Sinatra sang, I love my wife.


Distorted

The original image transmitted was #4. I used ‘transform’ in Lightroom to make some quick changes.

1. Transform and crop – it’s better. But, see the sleeve and arm? They are disproportionately large.

2. Another try – crop and elongate the face, slightly. Without any other reference the distortion from the first pic is hidden.

3. Once more – I rounded the face slightly. Subtly. This is hard. Because of Covid I have not seen the child in person in more than two years. So the shape of her face is not quite known to me.

4. Angle distortion – it occurs when you stand above the subject and aim down with your spiffy iphone. The head is disproportionately larger than the feet. Can you see this? (My hydrocephalic patients had overly large foreheads.)

Of course, the easiest solution is for dad to get lower, more or less eye level with his kid. Because dad is tall, the distortion is more noticeable. Alas, I have lost many a friend due to constructive comments about their photographic technique. This is family. There’s nowhere to go or hide. I like the kid and think she deserves better preserved memories.

Epilogue: Since I texted the image corrections, not a peep from the parents. I guess I am/will refrain from further comment about their perfect child.


If you look back

…just a few years back. We have been in this house since 2015. Ok! Check out the backgrounds. Our house and deck were so sparsely occupied by things and stuff. No planters! Wow! My bad. I turned Colleen loose in the stores and she said, “I like that…” We got a few things – like a bunch of spinning wheels (not regular… great wheels!) and other such antique items. Did I mention – TWO barn looms? Oh my! Note: the iPhone 5 on the table. Those were the good old days.


Confession

I’m perfect. And, I’m the first person who will tell you so. Not, nope! Your family keeps you honest. In this case, my wife, Colleen. She said the pic we printed was not good. Color balance was chiefly the culprit. She could not articulate all the mistakes. I’m perfect and argued, “How can it be bad?” Wrong! She was right. I improved composition and color. It’s not perfect. Yeah, yeah. But, better. It was hard to get those cats to jump up and sit for another photo. But then again, I’m the dad.


Merry Xmas

But, of course! From our family to you and yours, we wish you a safe and healthy holiday. It’s been another eventful year. We lost a cat – Patch. We gained two cats – Tillie and Peas. Peas was an afterthought. We mistakenly left Tillie’s sister behind at the pet store. My bad. You cannot replace a lost cat – for (darn) sure. …but we had an extra food bowl…. Now the table is full once more. Happy and merry to you all. We are both fortunate and happy to wish you all the best. YES, they all jumped up on the table and lined right up. Didn’t you realize? I herd cats!


Out of print

Things jump out – sometimes, literally. Ha ha, another Photoshop trick (not!)? The frame was set up to take a portrait and to make it look elaborately framed. I would never be so subtle. Ha ha. It was colonial day on the green. People were dressed in Revolutionary war style fashion – a snake oil salesman, etc, It was still fall. I was still chasing color. In this case I settled for a closeup in order to avoid the vast areas of drab brown leaves. Autumn color was scarce around these parts.


What makes you laugh

This is not a hard question. It’s just hard to come by. I think a child’s smile is just about universal. If you are not smiling already… why not? Better yet, it doesn’t get better than the smile from your granddaughter. You work days photographing image after image while they visit. Maybe you are better than me? This is the culmination of thousands images in several days. One image? … priceless.


Eyes

Portrait photography – the first rule – focus on the eyes. From the start, when I did film photography, it was always focus (manually) on the eyes. Nothing else is as important. Cats feel threatened when you point a big lens at them. It’s like a big eye. The cat does not like it. Mine, they are resigned. I have pointed so often that the lens is familiar. It’s still not easy. The skill is in putting the lens in front of their eye so it looks as though they are looking at you. Ha! And, salt on the tail, will catch a bird! It ain’t easy. But then again, if it were, all my pictures would be perfect. Right?


Eyes

Focus – eyes. If the eyes are in focus, just about anything else is forgiven in a portrait. The image is an edit discard if the eyes are not focused. If you stand back far enough everything looks in focus. Up close – focus is critical to the success of an image. Have I said focus is important? In a family of ten it’s important to be focused. Ha ha! I did a go around the house and got everyone’s eyes, mine included. (I chose to be upside down.) I suppose this is photo lesson 101. Focus!


Gear

I split the discussion and did not show you gear in yesterday’s post. Waiting is good. Most gear I get is purchased after agonizing over the need and justifying the expense. Leica is Rolls Royce but I do not justify its expense. The “bang” for your $$$$ buck is too low in my opinion. The Canon G7X is my dive camera. It worked so well at the time and still would serve just fine. I am invested in its underwater housing and a strobe. The Sony RX100 VI is a compact camera with more than adequate telephoto reach. It is as good at getting a tele image as my Nikon 80-400mm zoom. Crazy! But to my eye, the image is adequate and way offsets carrying around a big heavy lens when traveling all day. The Canon EOS M6 II was my first mirrorless camera and made an instant leap to my carry-around camera. Covid canceled our trip to Scotland. And, a year later I got the Nikon Z5 full frame mirrorless camera. Full frame is the operative phrase, The camera is larger, therefore, heavier. If you don’t “get” (understand) it (heavy), the Z5 is not for you. Currently, the Z5 is my “go to” except where size matters and I wish to be unobtrusive. And. NO! Colleen will not be going anywhere for the “duration (of our forever marriage).” I am only allowed to have more cameras. … no more cats either. Tech? Gear? No, it’s the image!

So much gear… gearhead? So little time… need all that gear? Does/did it make you better? … do we need another spinning wheel? Sure! Aesthetic? Ah! Hedonistic! The antonym is eudaimonistic. And, we have never heard of that term. So…. go for it! Though, I tend toward introvert, I have never been accused of being a monk.


Tolerant

My cats are very tolerant. (If) There are no other subjects at hand. Cat portraiture, it is. Spring is here. Soon, I will plant the flowers. And then, we can begin flower pictures again. Meanwhile, I do not have a grandchild in sight. So, cats it is. Tolerance is a plus. And yes, it is still hard to photograph a black cat. I got the eyes. There is not much detail in the black fur. The sister has dark patches. You do see detail in the whiskers. None of the grandkids have whiskers. I continue to work the eyes. Focus on the eyes and you have a picture. Have a camera at hand or you miss those fleeting moments.


Black

I said a black cat is hard to photograph. I have few good pics of my black dog, Reggie. Maybe, I wasn’t very good. Interestingly, if you are too good, you can see the dust in Tillie’s hair. Or, dandruff, whatever! But I get it. Eyes, it’s all in the eyes. You get the eyes and the picture pops. Black, against a white background, helps in this instance. This time around I think I am up for a challenge.


Out for a stroll

We let the new kittens out of the bathroom for a stroll in the big house. They found our bed – perhaps our smell – and made themselves comfortable. The lighting is good. I need a reflection in their eyes and the big window gives great indirect light. I bet you don’t care. Peas is not a pretty cat. At least that’s my opinion. Colleen has seen many more cats and I am overruled. My first naming was Butt – as in butt ugly. Don’t laugh; it’s part of the reason I ignored her in the pet store. But Peas has the sweetest personality. She is the quintessential embodiment that beauty is skin (fur) deep. When I first picked her up, it was about a second later, she melted my heart.