“The genius of the place”

Stoneboat CSA Farm, Helvetia. Hillsboro, OR.

“Two opposing philosophies of farm life”

The farm is a food-factory, and the criterion of its success is salable products.”

The farm is a place to live. The criterion of success is a harmonious balance between plants, animals, and people; between the domestic and the wild; between utility and beauty.”

Aldo Leopold, “The Outlook for Farm Wildlife”. Also referenced by Wendell Berry, “Limits in a Prodigal Age”.


photo of Precious the cat

When Precious arrived at the Oregon Humane Society, she was known as Monkey. Her current owners had kept her in the garage full time, never groomed her, and had a healthy disdain for her. Her beautiful hair had become so matted that it had to be shaved off entirely, and the description by the owners listed a slew of negative adjectives.

But like all animals – people and cats alike – companionship and environment matter. Precious needed a home that fit her; she needed an owner that met her strong personality with love and understanding. And she found just that five minutes after being placed out on the floor, so-to-speak, when Micki Naito immediately asked to see her. They’ve been happy roommates ever since.

Precious the cat now

Remind you of a comic strip character? Too cute.

Precious does not like to be touched, but other than that, she is very personable and curious. Most cats don’t take kindly to orders, so I just tried to make her comfortable with me and my camera. For example, I sat on the couch and let her come to me. Micki’s house has huge windows, bathing the room in natural light, so I thought it best to use that for Precious’ portraits.

The two photos you see of her were shot at f/1.8. This was for shallow depth-of-field and to use Micki’s couch as an easy backdrop. My goal was to focus on Precious’ incredible eyes and hopefully to have catch lights reflecting in them. Shooting at this aperture gave me the opportunity to use fast shutter speeds with just window light and a silver reflector.

How did Precious hold still for the camera? Well, she really didn’t. I used my auto-focus beep to get her attention and have her look towards the light. At that moment I was ready to press the shutter button. As you know, cats are unlike dogs and don’t respond to calls, so if the auto-focus beep worked then I went with it. Flexibility in your approach is important with pets, and for cats in particular.

I had a wonderful time with Micki and Precious and their story is, from what I experience, very typical when good people adopt animals. Pets are great to have and if you’re a photographer please consider volunteering your photo skills for a local animal shelter.


photo of dog

Pet photography has many guidelines, but it seems to me that much of the learning curve is trial and error. For starters, if you don’t like animals then needless to say things will be a challenge. Every individual pet is a bit different in personality and none care two bits about your camera. In fact, some might be spooked by it or a flash if you happen to use one.

So how did I get the dog you see here to look up and stay calm? It was easy actually, I held up a doggy snack with my left hand and shot with my right hand. Posture issue solved instantly. I suggest hand-held shots, if possible, because you can move around with the animal and capture moments at ground level.

The lighting was fortunate. My home studio has amazing window light at almost all times of the day. I bounced side window light off a sliver reflector that provided a 45 degree rear fill. I love the look of soft light in portraits and that is what I was after on this photo. My goal was the less post-processing, the better. Natural light sometimes looks best in portraits, in my opinion, when the final photo itself is the original image or close to it. Too much post-processing can take away natural softness. The image you see here is the RAW converted to jpeg.

Since the dog wouldn’t sit in one place for long I used a 85mm lens at f/1.8 to blur the carpet and make it an easy DIY backdrop. When he was facing the other direction I used the same effect on a white wall. This made composition simple and brings you to the dogs eyes, where window catch lights preserve his expression.

I think the most important lesson learned with this is to have fun and get as many shots as you can. As always, the more good photos you have of a subject the better you’ll look too.

Horse Play

horse photo

I have always loved horses for their natural beauty, grace, and power.

Though I don’t have much experience with them, I think everyone can appreciate their majesty and grace. So, when I was recently referred to a horse owner, I could not pass up the opportunity to shoot photos of such a magnificent animal up close and personal.

Before I began the photo session I spent some time talking with the owner. I learned that the horse you see here is a Thoroughbred Hanoverian, and despite the breed’s large presence, it’s actually an athlete and its sport is Dressage, which is an Olympic event.

Now the horse spends most of its time eating and relaxing in a beautiful meadow, the good life of an animal well cared for.

We started with some shots in the stable where I was told that pointy ears meant interest and flopped ears meant boredom. Hard to tell here.

Next was some galloping time in the ring and then on to the meadow where I was left alone with the horse. At first it was like any photo shoot, and we had to spend some time getting used to each other. Once the horse figured out that the camera, monopod, and I were not a threat, she relaxed and began to be herself. This meant mostly eating . . .  lots and lots of eating.

But every once in awhile she would do something spontaneous like gallop, roll and scratch her back in the grass, or calmly strut about with her head up. This is what I was waiting for: chances to capture the spectrum of her character intimately.

The late afternoon and golden hour lighting was perfect, but also challenging, because there were intense highlights and shadows dotted throughout the landscape.

Of course the horse would do whatever she wanted, so there were many key moments in both sunlight and shade.

It wasn’t necessarily easy, but it was a pleasure, and, as I think you can see, it made for some wonderful photographs. The horse is also a sweetheart, and it was my pleasure to spend a warm summer evening with her.