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.


pretzel merchant photo Oregon Renaissance Festival of Hillsboro

Today’s post is written by guest blogger Beatrice Benedick.

Paul took many wonderful shots at the Oregon Renaissance Fair, as you may have seen on this blog this past week. Many of them exemplified his talent for using 55mm focal length to make colors vibrant and pop off the photo as if taken on Kodachrome. Those images are rich and immersive.

But my favorite image of the set doesn’t have that trademark color. The light is actually a bit hard, making the blues more elemental and muted. But if the blues of the photo had been very strong, they would have dominated the photo in great contrast with the almost severe look on his face. (And that face has so much subtext and complexity.) Unlike a fairy princess or the queen, neither his character nor his outfit is made to garner attention, and the color of the photo truthfully reflects that.

I think the framing is also critical here. Too close and the picture becomes too on-the-nose, like a dour portrait with overwrought emotion. Too far and the surrounding fair (and its patrons) could take the focus away from him, or, worse, make his emotion seem melodramatic or silly. Instead, just enough of him is exposed to honestly reveal a working man on the job.

How would you edit this photo?

a trio of musicians play at the Oregon Renaissance Festival of Hillsboro

The Oregon Renaissance Festival of Hillsboro

My first thought when shooting this photo was for it to be a silhouette. But then I thought color and vibrancy was a good way to go so highlights were dropped and shadows boosted. A lot of photography and post-processing is subjective, so what would you have done with it?

Would you have opted for a silhouette? Would you have cropped out the violinist and focused on the two guitarists? Soft, sharp? Whatever choice you would have made, there is no hard right or wrong answer in my opinion. There are only guidelines and what looks good.

As for the trio you see here, they were a delightful sounding group at The Oregon Renaissance Festival of Hillsboro. Regardless if you’re into renaissance fairs or not (I had never been to one before), I highly recommend taking your camera to such an event. The people there lack photo inhibitions and the costumes are worth the time by itself.


Just another 55mm photo

photo of pickle cart and merchant at the oregon renaissance festival

There are times when you’re on location somewhere and your only plan is to see what looks good, what light is available, and then use your photography knowledge to frame a shot you’ll love. It’s not random snap shooting because thought goes into each photo, but being somewhere at the right time certainly helps.

One thing I often look for is a unique person, doing ordinary things in their own way. I keep my eye open for a setting that is not busy but offers an interesting contrast to the subject or person. If I see it, I go for it.

That said, this being candid photography I cannot direct the person to stand or look a certain way. What a person is doing the second I look into the viewfinder could be very different the next moment. It’s sometimes a challenge, but certainly an enjoyable one.

There is so much I love about this photo… his beard, how he crossed his legs, and his clothes. I love his pickle signage. The background colors are unusual for someone engaged in this activity. The look on his face could make you wonder what he was thinking in that moment. Did he get any business that day? Or was he just hot and tired from being outside all day long? We don’t know and that is what makes shots like this fun.