Sunday, January 13, 2013

Cats in Closeup

If you've never been to my house (which, most likely you haven't) you'd notice that I decorate with a lot of cats.  I've got cat figures, cat pictures, cat lithographs, cat statues, cat frames...well, you get the  idea.  Point being, my favorite display of cats in my house are the photographs I have taken of my own cats.

If you have multiple cats like I do (or dogs, I suppose heh heh) and you want an instant conversation piece, think about displaying pictures of them in similar frames together on the wall or on a bookshelf somewhere.  Closeups of our furry friends are very beautiful, and even though they might be a bit difficult to get at first, the final product is extremely satisfying.

Photographing cats can either be extremely easy (if they love to lay in the sunshine and sleep) or extremely difficult (if they're in constant motion and like to hide).  So it's always a challenge when it comes to getting that perfect portrait of your favorite cat in the household.

My first cat photograph was of my Mom's cat, Alex when he was around 8 years old.  Alex is now around 14 years of age, but still plays around like he's a kitten.  Thankfully, even though this striped tabby is in constant motion (especially when he spots a wrist strap on a camera like he did in this photo) he also loves to sleep in sunny spots.  The different stripes and gradations of his fur, and his beautiful yellow-green eyes pick up the light for just about any photo I've taken of him.

The second photo of Alex shown here was taken this Christmas when he was going on 14 (as of January 6th or thereabouts).  The camera has changed, but Alex still has always taken to having his photo taken and will usually give you a fair number of opportunities for a good shot to be taken.  If you have a cat like this, you're lucky!
The second cat I photographed was my Neo.  He's been deceased now for about three years, but I still have his photograph on my wall because he was a dear, sweet pet and an awesome companion.  Neo also loved to sleep in the sun, but because he had deep dark brown fur (you'd call him black normally, but with all "black" cats they very rarely have actual black fur, it's usually very deep brown), it was hard to get a good shot of him.  Dark animals such as Neo should be photographed when they're in good lighting and you have to be patient for a good photograph of them at times.  You'll see what I mean later when I show you a picture of my other black cat, Mina.

Obviously, lighter colored cats, cats with stripes, etc, all pose their own specific challenges when taking photographs.  Take my husband's parent's cat, Maggie, for example.  Maggie can have her picture taken in sun or shade (as you can see here, slight shade is preferable since sun tends to make her washed out), however, Maggie is an ornery cuss.  You wouldn't know it by this photo, but the next day she swiped me across the face with her claws because I leaned too close to her to look at her without my contacts and she didn't like me looking at her 'funny'.

But closeups don't have to be close, as long as they are clear and have an obvious subject.  Don't aggravate your animal too much when taking photos either.  If they're starting to get irritated, stop, wait for another day and try it again.  Maggie, for example, will start to growl and swipe if you try too many times.  I've spent many trips to my In-Laws trying to get another good shot of her without much luck.  In my last attempt she started to give me 'crazy eyes' maybe next time!

Obviously lighting makes a big difference in photographs you take of your animals.  A nice sunny day will probably produce better results than a a shady one.  But we won't go into it too much because I'm not a professional photographer, I'm just a novice who likes to take pictures of cats.  So, if you aren't happy with a particular picture, wait until you get one that you're really happy with before hanging it on your wall!

Olivia is my first cat in my new home.  She is solid gray with light yellow-green eyes.  She photographs extremely well when she's sitting still.  In this shot she was in her cat tower watching for birds out the window.  I'd recommend getting a bird feeder if you want good shots of your cats being still.  There is nothing like a cat holding still to try and pounce on a bird that can get you a good opportunity for photographing them!  They'll hold still in sunshine for minutes on end, and even if you irritate them a bit with your constant nagging with the camera, they'll tolerate it to get a chance at that next bird!
As I mentioned before, cat photography doesn't have to be close up.  The idea though, is to capture a moment that really defines your cat's 'essence'.  Okay, this probably sounds stupid, but what does your cat (or dog, this works for both I swear) like to do most?  Do they lay around or do they catch frisbees?  Do they scratch up chairs or roll around on the floor a lot?  Catching them in their natural state might be difficult without a good action shot camera, but give it a try.  It might take a good many photos to capture them in that 'just right' moment, but it can be done, and it's worth it.  Especially in the age of digital cameras, just snap and delete away until you get just that moment of awesomeness.  The photo of Olivia on her stand was one of these special moments for me because she reminds me most of "Happy Cat" in it.

Now, lastly, the hard pet to capture a photo of.  You'd think a cat that likes to lay around like this would be easy to take a picture of, right?  Throw in the fact that the moment the camera comes out, Mina is running around after the camera cord, or she's running off to plop down somewhere else, or if you get near her near the door while bird watching she's off to see something else...well, this is where that patience I was talking about with Maggie comes in.  You can have a loving, adorable pet who will come right up to you in numerous situations, they can get right up there in your face, and yet, you can't take a clear picture of them if your life depended on it!

Mina is definitely THAT pet.  My husband and I used to joke when we first got her as we'd show each other photographs of spaces of empty floor, "this was where Mina should have been, but she moved."  Or "this is a picture of Mina's ear" or "here's her tail".  Yeah, you get the picture.  If you have a cat who likes to hide a lot, I'm sure you know the feeling.  You might love them to pieces, but sometimes you just want to glue them down!

Even when Mina is sitting in the sunshine, she's extremely hard to photograph.  As you can see by this photo, she's different than my first cat Neo because her hair tends more toward black/white/gray than it does brown.  Her 'mane' or ruffle around her neck is a bit more brown, but she has little white hairs throughout her body and if you pull out her tuffs they're a dark gray rather than brown.  It makes for very difficult photographing.  As you can see by these photos, I'm still trying to get that perfect shot of her.  However, I did give up just recently and use the bottom photo as one I have on my wall.

Try it for yourself.  Especially if you are a pet lover like me.  Make your own calendar, send out picture cards, etc.  Just... don't take pictures of them in hats or clothing.  PLEASE.  And the reason I say this isn't because I'm against dressing up animals.  I've done my share over the years too.  No, it's mostly because, just as with humans, certain styles of clothing will date a photo more than anything else.  Capturing an animal the way they are most of the time around the house, that will make a better artistic display than putting a hat and cape on your dog.  (Unless they're a shi tzu and they're always wearing a bow to keep their hair out of the eyes...then well, maybe.)  You may not believe me, but try to trust me on this one, you'll be happy if you do.

Feel free to send me your own cat/dog photos.  I'd love to see your closeups too!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Coffee Snob

I don't have licenses to any of the stuff you see in the right...I just wanted to show off my "coffee counter".  I'm not a huge coffee snob by any means, and I don't have to have the cup of joe every single day either.  It's just nice sometimes to have a cup now and again and it helped when my mother in law gifted us the Keurig a few years back.

At the time of the Keurig, I really didn't think it was going to catch on like it did.  Having to use one little disposable cup per cup of coffee?  Specialized machine?  And it's how expensive to buy a box and a machine?  Well, it certainly did kick off another world of coffee making devices, and this one is one of the earliest machines that came out.  It's still working fabulously, sans an occasional bad k-cup, but otherwise I can have a cup of coffee in less than five minutes if my heart desires it, so it's grown on me.

For those of you in the "coffee club" and perhaps also a member of the "sci-fi" club, you'll recognize the little worm from MIB (in this case it's a bobble from the trilogy BD set) drinking his cup of joe.  I really thought it was a fitting addition to the coffee counter.  They never really went far with the worms on the movie.  The first movie they were pouring coffee, then leaving the planet with smokes and that was it.  Second movie the princess ended up staying with them awhile, but no coffee.  The third they were around a bit but not all that important.  What's funny though, is that if you're like me, you'll remember them having a much stronger 'coffee presence' at one point or another, and that came from the MIB cartoon series that was on for quite awhile.  The worms were almost always drinking coffee (probably because their other vices, cigarettes and alcohol weren't allowed on a children's cartoon) so if you ever caught that series you'll know what I'm talking about.

My history with the coffee cup began at an early age.  I know my mom always loved to drink her coffee, and I'm not sure when I first started to be able to order my own cup of it in the mornings.  It was pretty early, because I do remember on the first day of Junior High, I remarked to my mom that I would like to start having coffee in the morning because I had to get up so much earlier than I used to in Elementary school.  So it was probably around 12 or 13 when I first started having coffee fairly regularly.  I even introduced a JH buddy to it at her Dad's birthday party by showing her how to mix up a good cup using cream and sugar.  At that point she was mostly into Moon Mist and other caffeinated soft drinks.

Coffee was a fairly boring thing though until I reached about college age.  I used to call where I lived "The Town Starbucks Forgot" because it wasn't until after college we got our first real, stand-alone store.  Before that point we had to go probably an hour's drive to visit a Starbucks, and even though there was a little kiosk in a local Hudson's (later bought by Macy's, basically the same store) it really wasn't the same.  There was a couple of fancy coffee places around town, one was "The Coffee Beanery" which I didn't realize until later was actually a chain.  It had perched itself next to a bookstore called "Young and Welshen's" in town and eventually they even opened a doorway between the two so you could have coffee and books.  But I never really partook in that until a few years later when Border's opened across the street, driving that chain closed and then moving the "Beanery" down the street into the mall.

HOWEVER...don't mistake me, even with these coffee options available, I was a poor college student who was working as many hours as I could and paying my way through.  Most of my money went to the cheap vending machine cappuccinos and lattes.

A friend of mine whom I met online introduced me to my first freshly ground, brewed through a natural filter, real cream, real sugar, in a pretty little coffee cup.  It tasted so completely different than the Folger's and Maxwell house I'd pretty much grown up with that it was a special treat every time I had it.  And even now, to this day, I can't quite copy the supreme coffee mastery she had, even grinding my own beans and using all of the same ingredients.  She had a touch with the ordinary cup of coffee.

Fast forward years later when I first moved in with my soon to be husband.  He drank tea.  He wouldn't touch coffee until I got him to taste a sip of mocha here and there.  And even then he'd never actually drink an ordinary cup of coffee.  But then came the Keurig.  Then came the coffee grinder and the Starbucks cards and the Caribou Coffee and the local Stauf's.  I actually think it was the local Stauf's that was the final nail on the coffin for him.  Most specifically the "Highlander Grog" and "Snickerdoodle".  When he found out you can flavor coffee before you even brew it, and it doesn't taste as much like coffee...I think that did it.

Since then we've both become low-level coffee snobs.  We won't drink the extremely cheap stuff and we both like to grind our own.  We have Keurig for when we're too lazy to do it.  Heh heh.  Coffee left on a burner for hours?  NO.  Coffee made from something out of a can... Most likely no, unless it's freshly opened.  Gas station coffee?  No way!  And we're both gold card members for Starbucks...'s that bad.