Or: "Learning photography with cats"
Since I bought my first (and only one so far) camera in August 2017, I seem to have shot quite a few cat pictures. Although I never especially liked cats until I met Katyusha , these little furry animals have been a repetitive subject in my pictures for some weird reasons.
Maybe it's because from a human point of view, they act rather erratically and unpredictive, and thus also make a good subject for training one's own photographic skills. It's a little like shooting "wildlife light" when you try to capture a cat. And of course, cats are kinda cute too and provide a subject with an "aww" factor :)
The following pictures were taken in chronological order since August 2017. None of them were planned and so I made quite a few mistakes on some of them. I also want to share what I have learned from the results.
The first picture is from the first time I took my camera outside for a walk, with the kit lense that came with the camera attached. We spotted this black cat sitting in front of some stairway, which was obstructed by a chain and a sign reading "No trespassing" on German. Together with the trees in the background, this provided an excellent opportunity for a great shot. Unfortunately, when I came home, I noticed that the cat - the main subject - was slightly out of focus and that the trees in the background instead where the focus area. Also, the camera was set to Program mode (a modifiable automatic mode) where it choses aperture and shutter speed combinations on its own, and I didn't spend much thoughts about it. But given the camera chose 1/80th of a second for the shutter might have been a little too slow for a living and moving subject, and this could have contributed to the slight bluriness of the cat as well.
I caption this image "The Gatekeeper":
In retrospective, the major things I learned from this shot is the following:
- Check and adjust camera settings before you shoot. Like a checklist that a pilot goes through before he takes off with his plane.
- The camera focuses by default to the center of the image (doh!) but can focus on different places if you tell it to do so.
- I should have modified the exposure correction to the left, because the trees in the background are slightly overexposed - this would also have gained me a faster shutter speed.
The second image I want to share with you was also taken in August 2017, at the banks of the Don river in the Rostov region in southern Russia. This little camper was strawling along the river, probably in the search of some food. While the scene was suitable for a good photo - a roaming cat, the river and boats - I made the worst mistake: Unfortunately, I didn't take enough time to frame the image, so the following was the result. I caption this image "Queen of the banks":
Major learnings from this one:
- Take your time to frame the photo and place your subject in suitable positions (the middle is rarely a good one)
- Try different angels and positions - especially on animals, it could be better to capture them on head level
The next picture was taken about a year later, in August 2018. We visited Ireland, and started off with a couple of days in Dublin. During one of our exploration walks through the district our hotel was located, we saw this little black guy with its really powerful, green eyes sitting on a concrete block below a warning sign reading "Caution: Overhead Power Lines". Well, seems this cat couldn't read well:
The problematic thing about the frame above is that the warning sign is such an eye catcher due to its bright orange colour and some of the reflections on it. I could not just crop that sign out of the frame, because it's a major part of the story. I first thought about doing a B&W conversion but then the green eyes of the cat - which was for me the main attraction that made the picture work. I know I could use B&W and selective colouring of the eyes, but I'm not much of a friend of this technique. So I decided to desaturate the complete picture a little, but masking out the eyes. The result even looks a little "artsy", don't you think so?
Lessons learned from this one:
- Post processing can be fun and save the day
After our days in Dublin, we went off to Oranmore, a small and cosy town near Galway. In the town's center, there's a small monument which also serves as the living room for a few homeless cats. The locals seem to feed them, and generally those cats seemed in very good condition despite being homeless.
Lessons learned from the above two images:
- Sometimes, cat pics are just cat pics :)
- Cats are cute and some people are good
On that same day, my girlfriend spotted a cat walking through a wild meadow with quite high grass. Although she could barely be seen through the grass, I readied my camera and we observed the cat further, and suddenly she jumped on the fence and - probably sick of wading through the grass - continued her path balancing on the fence. And then, the moment came where she stared at us and *click*. I call the following image "The Balanced Stare"
Lesson learned from this one:
- A good subject can pop out of a sudden, and it's good to be prepared
- Observance and patience are important
The final image is from Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad) in Russia, where we have been to in September 2018. We were visiting the impressive Mamayev Kurgan monument which was erected to remember the Battle of Stalingrad in World War 2 when I spotted this beautiful homeless cat roaming through the tourists, probably expecting to be fed by someone. I followed her a little, and then the time was right, she went to the large water baisin in the center of the installation and took a few sips. The time frame was short because the cat was quite quick, and so I had this couple in the background where the hubby photographed his pregnant wife.
I first thought that couple ruined the picture, but then I thought: There were so many people around that site, most of them were either photographing themselves, or photographing their loved ones, or photographing the huge statue on the hill. And I was there, photographing this cat (ok ok, I was of course also taking photos of my loved one and the statue on the hill), so the major lesson I learned from this one was:
- Different people take different photos. And that's perfectly OK.
- Even when we know how it should be done right, we tend to repeat the mistakes of the past
So that was it. Glad you read until here, and I do hope you enjoyed the pictures and my personal learning experiences with photography!