Project:52, pet portraits (week 5)


a simple, window-lit portrait. The contrast between the cool-toned light from the window behind Bug and the warm-toned lamp light beside him add some nice colour to a black kitty.

Because Erin and I are both avid cat-lovers, doing pet portraits for one of our weekly photography challenges this year was pretty much a given.  As we are still in avoiding-outside-as-much-as-possible mode, this seems as good a time as any to do some creative work with our favourite furry subjects.  Being a cat owner and a photographer, I do already have quite the collection of kitty portraits in my photo library.  So while I do love the above portrait, in order to properly challenge myself I decided to try something a little bit different for this project.

One of my favourite things to do with the cats (other than curl up on the couch with one on my lap of course!) is watch them chase a laser pointer.  Both of our cats absolutely go nuts as soon as that little red light appears, and they’ll stalk it for hours if we let them.  For this week’s photo, I wanted to see what sort of images I could capture of them playing.  This concept was complicated slightly by the fact that my tripod is missing the piece that would hold the camera in a vertical position.  Because I imagined a vertical shot with the trail of the laser light visible, I had to prop my camera up on the coffee table (with the lens rested on a book) in order to keep it stable for the longer shutter speeds.

It required a fair bit of trial and error to get the exposure right.  I started shooting on my default setting, AV, with an aperture of f9.  With an ISO of 100, my shutter speed was way too long at 15 seconds.  By opening the aperture to f4.5, the camera was giving me shutter speeds between 2.5 and 4 seconds.  And that variation was the problem:  depending on how dominant the cat was in the frame, the camera re-calculated the shutter speed to compensate for the amount of black cat against the white wall.  So sometimes there would be a nice laser light trail, and other times there would only be a short bit.  Switching to manual mode let me keep my shutter at 2 seconds, which gave me just enough time to record a nice bit of the laser’s light and the cat’s movement as she chased it.  This type of shoot requires a whole lot of patience and practice:  cats aren’t always the most cooperative of models at the best of times so you certainly have to be prepared to shoot a whole lot in order to get a couple of good images, particularly when trying to capture them at play.  Adding the laser into the mix provides another unique variable.  I found I needed to do a fair bit of post-processing to get the laser to stand out the way I wanted.  For this image I decreased the saturation to remove some of the yellow tones in the image, added a curves layer to increase the contrast and applied a Topaz Adjust filter to really bring out the texture in the floor and the cat’s fur (as well as editing the contrast of the laser separately to ensure it stood out.)

If I try this again, I’d love to try drawing shapes or words with the laser – but for now this was quite a fun experiment, and I’m quite pleased with the shots I got.  (Think Meeka definitely enjoyed her modelling stint too!)

Next week’s challenge:  food photography!

Chasing the laser

Aperture f4 at 2.5 seconds.