Cat count. No, not 120 cats, just eight reside with us. It took 120 shots to get eight good ones to post today. I shoot multiples but mostly none of my cats pose on demand and mostly they ignore me and keep on sleeping where I found them.
I do a sweep several times a day to be sure all cats are accounted. They get separated from one another for different reasons. Groups gather and separate at different times. Peas is segregated otherwise she would be attacked. Hence, the bell on Feather and Spice. Mozart remains a kitty in search of a friend among cats. He craves hugs. Colleen will have to suffice. She laughs. Mo follows me wherever I go.
Command! At my command, they line up and pose for the family picture.
Hey! I finally did it. Colleen did not allow me to do it sooner. Mo was too new in the household. Black cats are notoriously difficult to photograph. Tillie! The rest do what I tell them. Oh sure! Paraphrasing Roy Scheider in the movie Jaw – we’re gonna need a bigger table!
First you clear the table – it was covered in spinning materials. Then you grab each cat – easier said than done. Shoot multiples, one will surely be serviceable. Everyone objects. No one smiles – except us. Then composite. It’s seems my table is not large enough. Oh well, I guess we will need two tables for nine cats…
I casually offered. They accepted. You learn new things every day. How about the cat tower? Hmmm… I had not thought about that nor had ever tried it. Cooperation? Hardly?!! Mike and Jen thought (innocently) they could hold all four cats for a single take. A single picture? They have seen Colleen’s pics. We did it with seven cats across the table. Easy! About 101 pictures later… They had great ideas and we improvised as we went along. Nut crackers, cat tower, oh my! Done! I’d do it again… no cats were harmed… a few scratches later…
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.
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!
Eight pictures six cats. We are doing a kitchen renovation. The cats are kept free and separated from the workmen. I got two or three (cats). They are spooked. Strangers! So, they hide. The others are with Colleen and want to see. They are ready to go explore the doings. Sort of. Several want out. Freedom! And Feather? She has steadfastly remained hidden under the couch since the doorbell rang.
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?”
Winterthur. Springtime. Spectacular! We should do this more and again. We never do. There is always so much else to do and so much to see. I live near the beach and don’t go to walk there nearly as often as we should.
The azaleas are in full bloom. Peonies, rhododendron, and the hydrangea all contribute to the colorful display. Mr. DuPont would be happy to know his garden legacy is so appreciated. We certainly felt privileged to be there among his blooms planted so long ago that others would benefit so many years later.
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….
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.
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….
Group shots. Same ole. Same pose. Create? Creative. Do something different? I tried jump. It’s too crowded. Raise your hands. That can be done. Not too good (results). Raise one hand. It works. It’s different. Been there done that. Point?! Hmmm…. Funny, it was hard to get the group to point simultaneously. Really?! Eventually, they did it. I may be on to something here. Group shots.!? Fun. It is documentation of a gathering. Family, they were all here in this time and this place. Priceless.
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?
Nature or nuture
My daughter – no names please – has been said to look much like me. And, I suppose it is logical her sense of humor… I can vouch that her photographic skill is sound. Humor in pictures? Oh my! Ha ha. It is indeed comforting to know that some of my good character is reflected into the future. Poor kid, there is a lot to be said for smiling and laughing. Colleen still cannot believe Jules staged this. I got to say that I was surprised at the genius myself. And, I am proud some of the lessons turned out so well. Lessons? Nah! I just put a camera in her hand one day. Proud?! Yeah, it’s nice to see your kids surpass you.
Nowadays. Life is still disorganized. Sure, why would it be different? Come as you are. Discover adventure as you go. We don’t work with a plan. I take pictures. Random discoveries, scenes, locations, cats, weaving, and selfies dot my work. You never know what reflection will present itself or what sunset will come next. Though life can be unpredictable, it has and is certainly a lot of fun.
Madness! I have always said that computers are very good at keeping lists. Anything! Keep track, a computer keeps lists. Photographs or digital images, a computer can organize and keep the list. GIGO – garbage in, garbage out. Of course… you have to keep an organized and logical list… Digital alone numbers hundreds of thousands of images. I have two catalogs – sort of – one before 2016 and another after. Don’t ask. It’s chaos. I just checked. Things before 2016 are in the 2016 and vice versa. Confused!? Yes, it gets very confusing in a hurry. I got a spreadsheet data base and redundantly copied backup files/images. In other words, you are organized, till you’re not.
Did you lose interest? Anxious? Do you keep track of your images? It’s important in the event you lose your pictures. Anxious now?
This was 2019, the pandemic was right around the corner. Xmas. Groups!? I use my tripod and gather groups together. Somehow everyone seems cooperative. Pictures were taken. Do I remember? This was a random spin through the catalog and we were in a lot of homes gathered together with family and friends.
Logic? Logical? Just when you think you have a viable system, a good list… you discover chaos. I have a method to my madness. Anyone following me will have chaos. All the information is stored. Nothing has been lost. I can still make a coherent list. Maybe. Ha ha. Christmas in June, oh my!
Here to there
How’d I get here? In the absence of anything else, I shoot cat portraits. Simple. They pose?!? Nope. I put the camera in their face and point the lens straight at their eyes. It works.
Finally, a new oven! The old one – dead. Built-in obsolescence. Better one? It had to fit the hole of the old one. Pain!!! Major pain, supply chain issues, we snagged a clearance model at less than half price from retail. Lucky! You bet!! It clearly said on the box – in big black and white letters – the oven was too large for the hole – ¾ inches too large. Really!! So, it fit right into the hole of the old oven. Go figure.
And, within moments – carrot cake. I add (my mom did it) a cup of grated carrots; the cake rises…. And, a few days later… a sour cream apple walnut pie. We wasted no time in making up for lost time.
Pizza? Well, I gotta say, “Who doesn’t like pizza?” Gluten free crust. ??? Oh! Well, Colleen is also vegetarian (off and on), so, two pies – mine had sausage. It was a good pie! Yeah, it’s good to have an oven again.
One more step – to product. I spin – wool. We process. … ‘cause I don’t wash. The one and only time I washed, I felted. (If you don’t spin, the joke went right over your head.) Straight off the sheep, the fleece is polluted – grass, dirt, poop, etc. The fleece is opened up – picked. Then, it is washed, carded and prepared into bats, ready to spin. Spin, spun, it looks rather fine and refined, ready to go – cloth, shawl, scarf, and so forth. This would be here to there. Yarn!
Survivor’s guilt. Death is all around us; the war in Ukraine rages on. Loved ones are lost forever. Grief, despair, loss, it is all too much for words to express the loss of human life.
Colleen. We still grieve our pet. Ray. Is it for the fact that his death was so sudden and instant and unexpected – for Ray? Can we take comfort that he did not suffer? Can platitudes assuage my guilt?
Two for two, I have failed to resuscitate a loved one twice – my Dad, my cat. Guilt?! It was never meant to be. I never had a chance. My Dad died at home in my arms my third year of medical school. I lived with failure to save him, early guilt nearly my entire medical career. And, when I had stopped practicing medicine, I was given another chance, Ray. I failed. Failed. Did failure teach me that I had no chance way back when? Answers don’t come easy. I can only say that knowledge and experience do not help even now. As a physician, I have encountered life and death too often. I know the consoling words. I fear words are inadequate. I keep trying. I will always do so. Even now, I am comforted by your hand, Colleen.
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.
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.
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….
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.
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.