Mindfulness Photography And Your Cat

Camera outline on a plain background

I came across a small project online that aimed to use some of the guiding thoughts of mindfulness to encourage photography practice. It sounded like a restful concept in these stressful and difficult times, so I took a look and thought you might like to try this relaxing idea.

Sunday Selfie graphic

What is Mindfulness?

Tabby cat relaxing on warm sunny ground
Toulouse – smooth tones and softness (smartphone)

Although some people are quick to dismiss mindfulness as ‘woo woo’ or unhelpful. It forms one part of the meditation practice of millions of people worldwide.

At its most simple, mindfulness is bringing your attention to the present moment; such as noticing sounds or feelings, without labelling them with words like good or wrong. If you meditate this might mean feeling your breath moving in and out of your body. I have not seen a mindfulness photography course but I have seen a couple of books online.

Mindfulness is the practice of deliberately bringing your attention to something in the present moment.

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What Has Mindfulness to do with Photography?

The aim with mindful photography is to create an image that has a calming effect on the viewer. So, grab your camera and head out, or across the room with no agenda and no ideas about what you might photograph, although I am sure there will be a cat in the way somewhere!

The aim is to crate an image that feels serene and calm, and make your viewer feel the same.

Tabby cat on a fence. Light brown fur and grey wood.
Relaxed Cat on Wooden Fence- ISO 200 250mm f 6.3 1/80 (DSLR)

How do I take a Mindful Photograph?

Here are some helpful prompts for a mindful photo:

  1. Think of adjectives, describing words that mean calm to you; like softness, fur, relaxed, smooth. Try for quietness and a peaceful state of mind and incorporate these feelings into your photographs.
  2. Look for a light smooth range of tones nothing too strong or sudden. The range of tones in tabby fur or ginger is a great place to start.
  3. Set aside time for your project. An hour, a quiet morning, whenever you can find some time. Try not to worry about the other distractions in your day and carry over the calm you are nurturing into your photos.
  4. Don’t rush. Slow down and focus on you and your camera working together. Just take photos without expectation. The colour of a cat’s fur, or the contrast in texture between a cat’s paw and a wooden floor.
  5. Unlike last week’s secret iPhone menu post, don’t worry about camera settings this time. Go with your smartphone’s default settings or ‘Auto’ or Av/A on your DSLR. Maybe even try black and white.
  6. Above all, enjoy a relaxed time. If you even take just one photo that says ‘peaceful’ to you, your mindful photography exploration will be a success.

Even if you are not skilled in meditation this is a useful exercise that will absorb a lot of thought and maybe relax you. If you do want to look at meditation then check out one of the free Daily Calm meditations on You Tube.

Have you ever tried an exercise like this? Did you like it, or do you think you might try it?

Landescape Shot of the Makara Coast in New Zealand.
Peaceful Makara Coast, NZ – ISO 100 18 mm F/14 1/125

Mindful Photography Resources

Your iPhone’s Best Kept Photo Secret for Cat Lovers

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Did you know you that Apple have hidden an extra menu in your iPhone photo app? It could be your iPhone’s best kept cat photo secret. No, it’s not hard to find and these super quick tips will help you find it (and take batter photos), in no time!

So many people, including me, had not explored it because they didn’t know it was there!

Your Usual iPhone Interface

Let me show you a quick example of an iPhone ith the photo app open.

Your iPhone camera interface will look like this when you open it. You may see Photo, Portrait, Video, Slo-Mo and Panorama functions. These are all great options when you are using your iPhone as your main camera, as well as your ‘phone every day and you can use your thumb or finger to scroll through the options. So far so good. These are all things you might have used before BUT….

image of smartphone screen with menu on the right
Normal side menu on my iPhone 12

What happens when you put your finger on the screen and slide it from left to right….?

Eureka! A hidden menu appears. A menu that will help you improve your smartphone photos without elaborate apps and other camera software, right then and there.

The iPhone Hidden Menu

Holding your ‘phone horizontally and take a moment to look at this new menu. You will see a range of tools to help you adjust your photos.

  1. A Self Timer
  2. Exposure Adjustments
  3. Format adjustments, including square for Instagram
  4. Live Auto aka ‘Burst’ mode.
  5. A range of Filters
  6. Different Flash Settings
  7. Oh, the cat? He’s wallpaper from the game Stray.
image of smartphone screen with menu on the right hand side
Slide left for Enhanced Menu Options

The menu is easy to access and each of these menus has a short series of adjustments you can make very quickly when you point your phone at your cat. Is kitty too dark? Don’t stress, adjust your exposure a bit. Need an Insta snapshot fast? Change your format on the fly. All within the photo app itself.

Where did I find this goldmine of information to share? In the iPhone Photography academy and its amazing iPhone course (affiliate link) that I am taking part in right now! I have only just started and I am hugely impressed with the content so far (and ye I am fussy about the courses I pay for). I love my DSLR but as a lifelong learner this course is so much fun and as a skill builder it is amazing.

Can you find the menu on your iPhone? OK I admit it, Android users get a pass this week!

Tuxedo Cat In A Plant Pot

Blue banner of photography gifts for cat lovers

I practice what I preach when I take photos! Not only do I tell you to get low to take a good cat photo, I do it too (and get very dusty in the process). This is new boy Teddy who you will remember from my dramatic tuxedo photographs in black and white. He has taken to enjoying sun time on the deck.

I bet you don’t see a tuxedo cat in a plant pot too often but, he does look happy and contented. No one else wants to nap in his favourite spot and there is plenty of diffused light to show off his fur so Teddy is definitely enjoying the New Zealand Summer.

Cat laid in a plant pot looking to the left.
Teddy the Tuxedo Portrait – ISO 400 55 mm f 6.3 1/320

How is everyone’s weather? I am guessing there will be plenty of indoor photos if there is a lot of snow in the Northern Hemisphere!

New Zealand Tortoiseshell Cat Summer Portrait #QuickTip

Banner showing cats and a photographer in silhouette

As you might remember, January is summer time here in New Zealand and today’s selfie is Sienna our tortie enjoying the summer sun. I snapped her tortoiseshell cat summer portrait at eye level as she enjoyed the early morning sunshine on the bannister of our deck.

How Did I Take The Photo?

I focused on Sienna’s face and did not worry too much about the highlights of bright sunshine that backlight her fur. For a cute and quick snapshot this looks quite serious but she does not look like a senior cat does she?

The cat collar is from Beastie Bands and Sienna has had it for ages. Most collars seem to fall apart after some time but her Beastie Band carries on and on.

Sienna – ISO 200 f5 1/50

A word about light

I am currently working through a course (January 2023) called Candid Photography Skills by a photographer called Greg Williams. (It was on special offer on Instagram.) He says early on in the series of inspiring short lessons that there is no such thing as bad light. There is only light and how you use it as a photographer.

This hit home with me as someone relatively new to photography. Why? Because I always worry about light, having enough of it and it being in the right place for it. Greg Williams says use the light you have. He has taken the most wonderful fresh and candid portraits of famous people lit only by ambient light like a street lamp, a TV or even a smartphone screen. Check these sample shots for super quick inspiration.

Formal Portrait Reveal of Aviatrix Dot Kitten

Banner for Dash Kitten Tutorials

I promised a Christmas portrait reveal of our commissioned art work of Dot Kitten by New Zealand artist Sandra Wong.

We wanted a celebration of our girl as an angel and also as a fearless aviatrix of the skies where her spirit now flies.

It is a wonderful portrait in shades of vintage sepia and it captures her perfectly. The slightly concerned look as she gazed up at us, and her determination not be go unnoticed remind us of the amazing girl she was. Dot helped me win my first Muse® medallion in the Cat Writers Communication Awards, a proud moment for me and I am sure for her across the Bridge.

Without the inspiration of Dash Kitten, Dot Kitten and the Crew I would not be on my path to helping people take better photos and experiment with cool filters, so I owe her a lot. I hope you love her portrit as much as we do.

Our Grand Christmas Portrait Reveal

Photo of a cat painting done in shades of sepia brown
Christmas Portrait Dot Kitten the tabby
Marjorie with Dot’s Portrait Canvas

Create A Stunning Celebration Image Of Your Cat

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There are dozens of online options for getting someone else to create a stunning celebration image of your cat but, what if you want to create a more personal image? Something you will add a piece of your heart to as you create it?

I have developed a digital pet portrait project and two short videos that will help you create your own celebration cat image, or a remembrance for a loved family cat. The decisions you make, the photo and backgrounds you add, bring your own depth of love and value to your cat picture.

I have graded this as an advanced beginner project but it is not hard for anyone who wants to give it a try following the step by steps.

The reason for the more ‘advanced’ label is that the project uses tools I have not covered on the blog. Be brave try it – you will be glad you did.

This 3 minute video shows the project instructions in visual format. Rotate a smartphone screen for a larger playback.

The finished work will be one that you can print off on to a photo canvas, cards, or on a t-shirt, or you can share it online.

I believe that creating a cat portrait yourself from a photo means you can enjoy the fun in your digital exploration, learn two computer software tools and treasure the bond, or memory, of your cat.

Once you get the idea, the opportunities for celebration or commemoration are limitless as are the number of layers you can use.

Celebratory birthday cat Image
Senior Sienna’s Birthday Image (from video)

First, for those who have not used layers and overlays before, let me introduce these two new tools that beginners might not have explored.

An Introduction to Layers and Overlays

With layers I am using the basic definition, as found in Wikipedia. I hope you will find helpful as a beginner, I know I did. “Layers are used in digital image editing to separate different elements of an image. A layer can be compared to a transparency on which effects or further images are applied. They are placed over or under the image.”

In photography, overlays are an image or texture that is added as an additional layer to your photograph added using an editing program like Affinity Photo or Photoshop Elements. If you need a visual idea of what an overlay can do, check out my simple overlays post. Photographers use overlays to add a texture or interest that was not in the original image such as mist, snow or sparkles.

Note: Layers can also be called Adjustment Layers and Mask Layers when used in other creative work. For this beginner’s project I will use the term ‘layer’ as a simple description of a stackable element like layers in a sandwich or an onion.

This video gives a quick introduction to adding a single overlay. If you are a visual learner, seeing the process in action might give you a clearer idea of the steps you need to take.

What You Need To Create A Cat Portrait

  1. A photograph of your cat. This can be a digital image you have taken or a scanned image of an older treasured photograph. I recommend one with space around your cat. A portrait, or a napping cat, works better than a cat being held by someone. Sharply focused is good but if the photo is slightly fuzzy that’s OK. If your image has a lot of clutter a work around can be to use your software’s selection tool*. The black cat image below gives you an idea of what works.
  2. You will need a background image – this can be a garden, general landscape or something specific to you. I use a treasured Cat Writer’s Association Certificate for my project background of Dot (below) and I have also used foliage from our garden.
  3. A digital photo editing program like Affinity Photo, Photoshop Elements or PaintShop Pro.
  4. Optional: Overlay images. These can be stars or snow or something else that your image tells you that you need. Check out Luxe Lens for an idea of what’s available. Luxe is one paid option of high quality. Pexels has free stock photos you can use as backgrounds and textures. The overlay is ‘optional’ because, sometimes, you may add your first layer and then be happy with the result. Everything depends on what you want and what you want your image to say.
  5. Time to work through your cat celebration project. You can save your project at any time if you need to take a break. If you don’t ‘get something’ first time let your mind process this new skill or idea and go back to it later.
Black cat with radiant green background
Sample image – Taz with radiant green layer.

One question I am asked about overlays is “why should I pay for an overlay when I can get free ones? One word ‘consistency’. If you discover you love this project and want to make a series on a similar theme then a paid overlay will make your images look more coherent as a series. Overlays are easy to download and import into your editing application. They are fun too.

Overlays – Dash Kitten
Final image of celebration portrait of tabby cat
Dot Kitten CWA Celebration – Image + Layer & Overlay

TOP TIP Along the way you might discover that you create something amazing. If you do, save it as an image and don’t lose it. I promise you will not remember the steps you took to create it.

Create Your Celebration Image

I love working with photo editing software and overlays and I hope you will too. Read through the instructions to see the steps you take. This way you know what is coming up (no scary surprises!) If you are not sure of any steps, read the instructions a few times, watch the videos, and work through each section slowly.

If you are not sure which direction your portrait should develop in, give yourself permission to play around and learn the process. Collect images and potential backgrounds and try them out. The more you play, the more you will understand and learn. You will create a portrait filled with love and respect for your cat.

In this project I will be using a Luxe Lens overlay and Affinity Photo photograph editing software. Layers and blending modes are the same across all computer digital image editing apps and they will be in a similar location, under a layers tab or menu. In the slideshow below I have used a Luxe Lens bubble overlay, and a birthday image from Envato Elements.

  • Mistakes don’t matter, they can help you learn by showing you what can happen. Be positive and have fun.

Top Layer Tip

When beginning to use layers be aware of which layer is highlighted in the column located on the right-hand side of your applications window. It will be a lighter colour than the others. This is the layer you are working on. Take a look at the blue highlighted layer in the screenshots of this tutorial. Any changes or additions you make will affect only the layer you have highlighted. If you want to use more than three layers make sure they are clearly labelled e.g. Main Photo, Bubble Layer, Party Image etc.,

  1. You will create an image from a photograph with a layer behind it and an overlay in front. You will also use the Eraser tool which is a fun part!
  2. TOP TIP: To make creating your image easier resize your three images/overlays so they are the same size, before you start. This will avoid you having to add your layer and resize each one as you go. Look for Resize, or Document along the top of your software’s window.

Open Your Cat Photograph (Layer 1)

Select your photograph and open it in your photo editing software. This is your first layer.

This layer is your main focus, you embellish and adjust around this image. Whatever your celebration or commemoration I hope you understand from my examples how a clear image can be helpful. [For use in this blog post the image of Dot was rized at 1000 x 770 pixels.]

Here you can see my Dot Kitten image before I add the second layer, the award that becomes the background, thanks to the next steps you take.

First Layer of Cat Portrait
First Image of Dot Kitten

Add Layer 2

  • Open your second image in your photo editing program.
  • Copy this image Cmd/Ctrl A to highlight then Cmd/Ctrl C to copy.
  • Then paste it on to your original image (Cmd/Ctrl V).
  • Your first image will disappear underneath but don’t panic!
  • Look at your Layers Menu. You will see two images.
  • Make sure your layer of background that will go behind your cat image is highlighted like my example here. For me this is an award certificate, you may use foliage, a landscape, a collage of cat toys, anything.
  • (continue below)
Second Layer of Cat Portrait
Certificate Layer with Eraser Treatment of Dot
  • Now you will adjust the transparency of your second image (the Certificate). Look for the word ‘Opacity‘ in your Layers menu. This may be set at 100% to start with. Beside it will be a drop down menu of different blending options (modes).
  • For this project select Overlay, but take a look at the others while you are here to see the impact blends can have. Some are cool and some are crazy!
  • Adjust the transparency of the overlay layer. I have set mine to 85% as I want to show the background but you may set a more soft ghostly 70%. The choice is yours.
  • Do not be concerned about the background showing through your cat. We remove this in the next step.

Finessing Your The Cat Image

With your background layer still highlighted in the layers column find your Eraser. In your software it should look like a stylised rectangular eraser (or rubber in the U.K.) and be located on the left side of your editing screen.

  • Select your Eraser tool and adjust the size if it is very big or too small.
  • With your second image selected, try a few strokes to start removing the background you can see on top of your cat’s figure. Be careful not to go beyond your cat’s shape.
  • If you take off too much Cmd/Ctrl Z takes you back a step.
  • Remove the pattern or texture from your cat’s portrait so that it looks clear again.
  • It is a good idea to save your image at this point (if you haven’t already)
Gold Shimmer Overlay (black background for visibility)

Adding An Overlay Layer (Layer 3)

This layer is optional because you might be happy with your portrait as it is. If this is the case stop here, save your work and finish. If you are curious about adding an overlay layer continue with the next steps.

You can add any texture as an overlay. Something like lichen or stone might seem unlikely but the key word is texture. You will be adding a subtle overlay (50% or less) that binds your image together visually. An alternative overlay might be something humorous like bubbles or even stars. I have used a simple gold sparkle to Dot’s image and softened the overlay on the final image. Luxe Lens (and other paid) overlays have transparent backgrounds which makes them easy to add to your image and adjust.

  • Copy your overlay (Cm/Ctrl A) to highlight then Cmd/Ctrl C to copy.
  • Paste this on to your original image (Cmd/Ctrl V).
  • Adjust the transparency of your overlay (mine is gold sparkles). Look for the word ‘Opacity‘ in your Layers menu.
  • Select ‘Overlay’ as in the previous step or try one of the other blend modes.
  • See if you like the results. If not you can delete the layer.
  • Save your finished image. (see below)
Mockup of Cat Photo on a wall
Photo Canvas Mock Up of the Photo Project

Saving Your Image For Future Use

I recommend you save your image at a high resolution. This will make the file size very large but it will ensure your image prints well as a canvas or cards. You can save a further copy to share online but saving a good quality image when you first finish is essential as this will give you more options later.

Check the size of something like a photo canvas in online stores like Snapfish You will find canvases of different sizes and shapes, as well as the new flatter photo tiles (square) and printable garments for adults and children.

If you still have problems you can email me through my contact page.

Print Out the Instructions For This Post

Photographic Terms and Tips

  • Party images (Envato Elements – paid)
  • Selection tool. If you need to cut out your cat from a busy background try the selection tool. How the tool works depends on your own software selection i.e. Photoshop (Elements) Affinity Photo, PaintShop Pro etc., A quick search online will show you how your software treats different selections. The developer’s website and YouTube are excellent sources for the information I do not have space for here.
  • If you need an artist portrait check this post.
  • Snapfish USA Online Store
  • For Affinity Photo this excellent tutorial is helpful if you want to isolate a subject from its background with a selection tool.
  • My post on easy to create Overlays

iPhone Magic Movie App For Movies in a Hurry

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Today’s post showcases a fun and super easy way to create an instant bit of social media fun perfect for Christmas, or the summer holidays here in New Zealand. Grab your iPhone and use iPhone’s Magic Movie. I discovered this when I was short on time and wanted to get a video up online fast. How do I make a super quick movie like this one?

How to Use Apple Magic Movie

  1. Open iMovie
  2. Click Start New Project
  3. Select Magic Movie
  4. Preview your clips and select the ones you want to use.
  5. Using your finger, drag your clips into the order you like and click a clip to edit for length if you need to.
  6. Press ‘Create Magic Movie’ at the bottom of your screen.
  7. Magic Movie assembles your clips and stills into a short movie. (see Image 2)
  8. Run your instant movie to see if you like it OR go back and edit some more ….. 
  9. To do this, click on the pencil icon on the right to change or remove a clip.
  10. Run your movie to see if you like it then upload.
Magic Movie Software Welcome Screen
Select Magic Movie

After you create a Magic Movie project, you can rearrange the video clips and photos that you initially selected and experiment with different styles, music, text and filter options. You can also edit each video clip individually.

Apple
Magic Movie Software Showing a movie made in the app.
Image 2: Assembled Magic Movie

Editing Your Magic Movie

You have a surprising amount of control over your Magic Movie.

Tap the pencil beside each video clip to access editing options or remove the clip.

Top right on your screen you will see a small sparkly film strip. Tap this to change the presentation of your movie. You will see names like ‘Charm’ ‘Poster’ and ‘Contemporary’ all of which make changes to how your film starts and, if you need it, adds a piece of music, although you can chose your own purchased, or copyright assured music.

Tips For Taking Great Head Shots of Cats

Camera outline on a plain background

A good way to capture an impressive portrait of your cat without needing a lot of camera skills is to try a cat head shot. A close-up portrait of your cat can capture its fur texture, colour and personality without you worrying about your camera’s settings too much. For a beginner it’s a cool thing to try.

Whether you are capturing a cute cat head bonk, or a sophisticated showcat image, a few quick skills that will keep your photo looking good.

  1. Your photo needs to be sharp.
  2. Your photo needs to be close – just the head/shoulders.
  3. Finally, aim to get the soft bokeh (focus) look behind your subject.

Move In Close Cat Portraits

Head shots mean just that; the cat’s head, or head and a bit of shoulder.

My prize winning series about Sam a foster cat included several headshots which told his story eloquently through fur texture and differently angled head shots. I took dozens of photographs of Sam (so don’t think I nailed every single shot perfectly first time, it took a while!)

Getting this close if your cat is skittish can be a challenge. What do you do? This is my compromise and you might like to try it.

Get as close as you comfortable can by movement or using a zoom lens and take the shot, then crop in close to achieve your head shot. It is not cheating if the alternative is you and your cat getting super stressed in a crazy chase for a close-up that you end up not using.

Smartphone Cose-up Tip

If you use a smartphone then try your camera’s ‘Portrait Mode. This option is in a different place depending on your own brand of phone so look for it, and try it. Not sure where it is? Start by checking your ‘phone’s camera, this often has the portrait option within the camera app.

Smartphone Portrait mode demands a certain distance between you and your subject before the function kicks in. Experiment to discover where your sweet spot it and aim to take your photos once you see the fuzziness appear around your subject.

If I use this function I usually have to crop down to a head shot but smartphone portrait mode can be so effective it’s a compromise I am happy to make and you will be too.

  • If you don’t have portrait mode then check out one of the dozens of apps that created a ‘bokeh effect’ around your subject.
Portrait Closeup of Foster Cat Sam

The fact is some head shot poses work and others don’t but the good news is that more you try the better your head shots will get. I took dozens and dozens of almost but not quite there shots before I got a handle on keeping the focus point of my DSLR where I needed it, over a cat eye!

This quote from Adobe is one I appreciated. A professional photographer will have different intentions to you. The pro might be taking closeup photos of cats to celebrate show wins – images that may appear on print. You may be a proud cat dad or cat mom aiming to take a photo to make into a photo canvas for your wall.

Both need to be sharp but you are balancing sharpness with your love for your cat. Yes, this love and affection matters, it changes how your cat looks. They love you, and somehow this shows in their portrait.

To get a good headshot, a photographer needs to know whose headshot they’re taking and how it’s going to be used.

Adobe Head Shots
‘Taz’ – ISO 400 220mm f 6.3

Keep Your Cat Eye In Focus

People will forgive you a lot if they can see a sharp cat eye. We, as humans, automatically check out eyes first and are happier when we can see them clearly. You can see what I mean in the picture above of Taz, a neighbourhood visitor. He draws your eye to his sharp and clear gaze.

For this photograph I captured him perched well above my height on a fence. I was grateful for my 55 – 250 mm zoom lens which allowed me to focus on a well lit cat with the contrast of soft foliage behind him. Natural light is the best!

Did I know the portrait would come out to well? Well, I wasn’t sure. I was focused on his right eye and holding my camera steady. If I had been a bit closer my trusty kit lens would have been a good bet for a nice shot too, so never discount your trusty beginner’s lens.

What if My Head Shot is Not Pin Sharp?

Don’t be disappointed. See what else you can do to enhance your image. One of my own favourite methods of boosting a photograph is to use the magic of filters even if they are a bit fuzzy.

Cat Watercolour filter photograph
Watercolour Effect Filter
Affinity Photo Black and White Filter

What kind of filters can you use? This depends completely on the software you use. Affinity Photo or Photoshop can give you some serious filter power, but you don’t need to spend a lot to grab some cool effects. This watercolour effect portrait of Toulouse was transformed susing an early version of Photo Lab: Art Picture Editor, and below that, a monochrome image of Teddy was given a makeover by Affinity Photo.

In Summary

Cat head shots need a bit of practice but the end result can be totally breathtaking. My portrait of neighbourhood friend Taz was part practice in action and part lucky shot but he came out beautifully and if I can do it, you can too.

Have you tried head shots of your cat? Were you pleased with the results?

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