Not at Your Best? Still Take Photos

Text and outline of a smartphone.

The flu’ hit us like a whirlwind this past week. Cat Dad Paul spent nearly a week in bed, coughing and sneezing up a storm. I got a bad cold which meant no newsletter, no blog post but I could still take photos.

Sunday Selfie graphic and a cartoon lady and her cat

On the positive side, we both felt well enough to visit the local quilt show in Lower Hutt, hosted by Capital Quilters. It was only a short drive away and I was able to say hello to one of my favourite quilt shop ladies.

I also invested in a lovely embroidery kit that will be the perfect size for my iPad! It is Sashiko, and being Japanese use a type of stitching (neat and well spaced) I will find challenging but the kit is pre-cut and that make my life a lot easier.

Quilts hung on display. Capital Quilters, Lower Hutt Events Centre
QUILT SELFIE

It took a lot of my energy to just get around the quilt show so I only shot a few of the most gorgeous creations which I am including in a slideshow. That did not stop me going ‘wow’ every few moments!

Jenny Hunter © Sashiko Puch Pattern blue, red, cream fabrics
Cherry Blossom Pouch (Plume Art)

I am very much a beginner quilter with wobbly seams but it was wonderful to see the magnificent work of the Capital Quilters. If you are on Instagram, there are some lovely photos that give you a wider view of the different quilts.

It lifted my slighly sniffly spirits to take new photos of such lovely work!

Floral Overlay with Tuxedo Cat

Faint Cat on a coloured background
tuxedo cat overlaid with bright flowers

Today’s selfie of Thomas is an overlay portrait that shows some of the rainbow colours that will greet our colleague Ernie of the Island Cats, who left us yesterday.

These flowers are currently blooming in a trough in the garden, in spite of a few frosts. I love the resilience of pansies especially, they shine on in spite of everything, like Ernie.

Ernie has been an absolute joy to see every week in the selfies with his wry comments or his blissful enjoyment of the sunshine. We will miss you Ernie, very much.

I thought you might be curious to see the two photographs I used to create the tribute image. One is of Thomas sat enjoying the garden and the other is an overlay. You can try overlays too.

Let’s Talk About Camera RAW

Camera outline on a brown background

Let’s talk photo editing woes. You take a picture, you love it on your camera, then you open it on your computer and it’s like…oof, back to the drawing board.

Maybe the colors seem wrong, the lighting needs some serious help, and overall it just feels…meh. It happens to all of us, but it can be super frustrating, especially when you were so excited about capturing that perfect moment.

But. Did you know your DSLR or mirrorless camera (and maybe your smartphone) has a secret super power that can rescue a lot of your images? Let me introduce you to Camera Raw. It sounds a bit scary but stick with me to the end of the post to discover if RAW might be useful, knowing about it certainly is.

What is Camera Raw?

Camera Raw is a different way to take photos because it captures your image as data. Imagine it as something out of the Matrix movies, streams of numbers that are impossible to interpret until they are processed using a raw processor/editor.

DEFINITION. A raw photo editor is software designed to process and enhance raw image files captured by digital cameras. Using raw editors/processors preserves the full data from your camera sensor, providing a lot of flexibility for post-processing. This ensures that your photos look their absolute best.

Fix the Photo
My Photo Might Look Like This? Oh My….

Do I Need a Raw Processor or Editor?

Yes. The data you see here is transformed from this scary jumble of data into an image when you open your photos using the raw processor.

Let me suggest three processors/editors when you want to explore camera raw. These will be helpful if your own software might not ready be ready to open the images. All of these are cross-platform compatible, which means they work on Windows PCs and Macs.

  • Here’s the kind of transformation you can make using camera raw. Your usual photo software might lighten the image but there would be a lot more blur, not the lovely definition of fur and eyes like you see in Toulouse and Jack below.

What Camera Raw Cannot Do

You cannot take a very rapid series of cat photos if your cat is running very fast and you want to capture and freeze its motion. Many cameras fall over their own digital feet processing the data ‘on the go’. Like me you might prefer to practice changing your shutter speed instead.

How Do I Add Raw to My Camera Settings?

To experiment with Raw and see if it is a function you can make use of, you will need to add the Raw option (aka RAW in capitals) to your image settings on your camera.

Here you can see a DSLR menu from my Canon camera menu. Look for something similar to these in your own camera’s menu. If you can’t find it, check your manual or an online resource.

A DSLR camera screen showing a menu including image quality

You will have an Image Quality button that stores your image options. You may have a lot more options but this list gives you an idea of image settings and file sizes.

  • Small – 720x 480 pixels. This takes up 0.3MB (megabyte) of space per photo
  • Medium 3456 x 2304 pixels 8.0MB (megabytes) of space per photo
  • Large – 5184 x 3456 taking up 10MB of space per photo.
  • RAW – 5184 x 3456 taking up 18MB per photo

Remember that a higher image size like 18MB means a larger picture and a much larger file size than 8.0MB.

Camera rear screen showing image quality settings.

Raw in Summary

It is easy to get swamped by discussions about RAW and JPEG formats that you find in dozens of photo blog posts. Most of these you will not need as you are on your own photo journey, at your own pace.

So, raw may not be something you will use immediately but the power it brings to your editing (called post-processing by expert photographers) can make a difference to your photographs, when the opportunity arises.

Explore it to see if you would find it useful. It’s an interesting next step to take in your camera and software exploration.

An Interesting Cat Capture?

Text and outline of a smartphone.

I was checking on our veggie garden as we have had some strong winds here and I was hoping the new plantings had survived without damage when I grabbed a fun cat capture.

(BTW The veggies had..)

I looked up and saw our tabby Toulouse poised on the fence. He was looking with laser focus at something I could not see, and I managed to slip out my smartphone for a quick shot.

I really like it as a cat portrait, but I think it might not be everyone’s ‘cup of tea’ as you can’t see his whole face. I was using ‘live’ on my smartphone and this allowed a tiny adjustment to show more of his face. I am still not sure it makes a difference.

Closeup of a Tabby Face
IPHONE 12 PHOTOGRAPH

Why do I like it? There is an intensity to his gaze and the image is sharp. It captures a moment I could not achieve if I’d tried to stage the photo. For me there is almost a holding your breath kind of moment before he pounces, leaps or turns. I know you will have captured such a moment yourelf and know exactly what I mean!

As the image captured my imagination, I explored it using the smartphone app Photoshop Camera to see if adding extra colour, or transforming the photo to black and white would change or add to its impact.

The Photoshop Camera Filters

Black and white tabby closeup.
PHOTOHOP CAMERA ‘MONOCHROME’

The ‘Monochrome‘ filter, called a ‘lens‘ in Photoshop Camera, adds depth and drama. It removes some of the focus on sharp fur but it still shows the lovely catchlight in his eye and the sense of drama I like so much.

Misty Tabby Closeup of a Tabby Face with a green filter
‘DREAMY’ FILTER

The second treatment uses the ‘Dreamy‘ filter. It has a gentler look and a soft focus quality. This filter retains the sharp fur and I know some cats will look fantastic with this effect, but I am not sure Toulouse is one of them….

Closeup of a Tabby Face with a green filter
COLOR CAST ‘LENS’

Finally, a filter that looks a bit unreal.

This would make a nice background image if you are considering adding text and making the image your background. This is the ‘Color Cast‘ filter which offers a small range of different tints while preserving the sharpness of the original image.

Would AI Help the Portrait?

I was wondering if I could sharpen the image with Affinity Photo or AI but that would be another project and post.

AI is something might report on that later this year as AI is a minefield and not all of it works as well as people think it does. Unless it is in skilled hands like our friend Cathrine at Bionic Basil there are a lot of over-fuzzy kittens.

Do you find it as intriguing as I do? Or, if you would prefer to see all of Toulouse’s face?

Let’s Talk About Shutter Speed

Camera outline on a brown background

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Taking captivating cat photos requires an understanding of your camera’s shutter speed. A shutter can freeze movement or blur it, depending on your camera settings.

Shutter speed also covers depth of field, and bokeh but in this post I want to show you simply how your shutter actually does its job and how it can help.

Yes, your shutter is working for you even if you are on Automatic or a ‘Mode‘!

  • Remember: Shutter Speed is one of the three pillars of the Exposure Triangle (see bottom of the post), along with Aperture and ISO. Seeing how they work together becomes something you grasp as you learn about the three elements in small steps. Don’t panic, or try to learn it all at once.

What Does Shutter Speed Do?

Shutter speed determines how long your camera’s shutter stays open. The two cat photos below will show you the difference between fast and slow shutter speeds when I tried to capture cat movement.

If you can’t see the video click to go to Vimeo

How fast the shutter operates affects the amount of light that enters into the lens and this affects how your camera captures your cat as it moves, as you can see in the quick video.

My video shows you what happens to your shutter and the settings you can experiment with. I am also including a helpful quote from Photography Life that describes how shutter speed is measured.

Shutter speeds are typically measured in fractions of a second when they are under a second. For example, 1/4 means a quarter of a second, while 1/250 means one-two-hundred-and-fiftieth of a second (or four milliseconds).

Photography Life

Quick Start Shutter Speed Prompt

Slow Shutter SpeedShutter Setting 2″ (seconds) for dim light, interiors or night photography
Medium Shutter Speed1/125 A cat walking at moderate pace
Fast Shutter Speed1/1000 or 1/2000 Catch a cat sprinting or jumping
What the back screen of my Canon camera loos like.
The maximum shutter speed on my Canon EOS 1300D (Right of Tv)

What Happens When Your Shutter Speed is Wrong?

When I began to take photos I had no idea what the impact a difference in my shutter speed could make. I got it wrong a lot of the time but, like you, I keep going and I keep learning. We all take a lot of ‘artfully blurry’ photos that might have been cats.

  • As your skills develop and expand. You can enter contests to win prizes and Certificates.

Remember, things don’t need to be perfect, you just have to be a bit more in control. You will learn that small adjustments to your shutter speed, balanced with your ISO make a real difference.

Let me show you two examples of shutter settings. One is a failure and one is a success.

Shutter speed fail

Two cats running on grass

To set the scene in my sample image. It was a warm summer afternoon and the Dash Kitten Crew were ready to play like mad things with a Neko Fly wand gifted by our friend Erin the Cat Princess. I took the opportunity to try my action photo skills and improve my shutter speed experience, which is what you should do too.

My first attempts included the photo above. Nothing is in focus, every cat is moving so fas. It is a settings disaster! Silver (the pale tabby facing the camera) flies off after the toy leaving Toulouse far behind. 1/250 is the shutter speed and f4.5 the aperture setting. As you can see I misjudged the shot completely!

Shutter Speed Success

Tabby Cat playing on grass with a butterfly toy

Toulouse in a dramatic solo roll. You might be able to see the blur of the butterfly toy closer to the camera. I focused on the top of his body with my camera’s ‘focus point’ on his chest. The settings were balanced differently this time. 1/125 is the shutter speed and f8 the aperture setting. A wider aperture matched with a slower shutter speed.

The spectacular shot worked because the camera did not have to work so hard. More light was being allowed in (remember in the video at the top of this post?) so the shutter speed did not need to be as fast. This is why you get better with practice and feel more in control of your camera.

Focus Dots as seen in a camera viewfinder
CAMERA FOCUS POINTS

Most modern SLR cameras have an array of focus points ranging anywhere from 5 to 75 and more. these are within the viewfinder. You can normally select either one specific point or all points at once for auto-focusing.

All Things Photography

A final note that might help you improve your focusing skills

If you have trouble focusing on a cat’s eye, or a specific point, I suggest you explore your camera’s focus points.

The quote above from All Things Photography is an easy explanation to take in. Your focus points are zones on the camera sensor that are sensitive to changes in image contrast, each zone might be a square or other mark you see through the viewfinder and the number of points varies with each camera. You can change these as much as you like when you gain experience.

Cat Photography Shutter Samples!

Brown cat yawns showing pink mouth
Kitty Yawn Fun with Medium Shutter Speed 1/125
Fast walking Cat moves towards camera
Fast Walking Cat Capture 1/1250

Shutter Speed and Aperture form part of the Exposure Triangle (with ISO) and there is a great explanation of how these work together on the Photography Life blog. I want, here, to focus on understanding shutter speed at its most basic level for this post.

Photography Definitions

Toulouse Will Travel The World

Faint Cat on a coloured background

Today’s selfie is one I am very proud of. Not only is it a member of the Dash Kitten Crew

BUT……..

Toulouse will travel the world as a birthday card to greet Cat Writers’ Association (CWA) members. How thrilling is this?

How did this come about? Late last year I was contacted by Deb Barnes, who is not only a talented blogger at Zee & Zoey but also Outreach Chair with the CWA. She asked me if I would like to be featured on the annual Birthday card sent out to members.

Yes I would!!! (Can you imagine the excitement!).

An image was chosen; tweaks were made and, below; you see the lovely card Deb created featuring my photograph of Toulouse.

I know you will love it as much as I do!

Don’t forget our celebratory giveaway featuring Harvey’s story.

Kuykendall Award for Marjorie Dawson

The image of Toulouse is one of my favourites and also one of the first I took using the lens I purchased with prize money from the 2019 Kuykendall Image Award.

What a selfie and when my own card arrved for MY birthday I was so thrilled!

Cat Writers Contest

I want to add a note for all cat creatives in the blogosphere.

If you write about cats, have written a story featuring a cat(s), written a poem that is on a blog or published in print in the year 2023 then please consider entering.

You have a couple of weeks to do so, and you do NOT have to be a member of the CWA to enter (although they are an awesome bunch).

Muse Medallion
Dot’s Muse® Medallion

Categories you can enter include:

  • Cat health, product review or entertainment posts
  • Poems and stories or books,
  • Podcasts
  • Videos
  • Your Blog
  • Social media accounts (fun, characterful impactful)
  • Photography -Single Image or Series
  • Cat Fine Art or commissioned work

You can find out more about entering and submit your best cat focused work here.

There are also some special awards here for special catgories like senior cats, training, and best NEW blogger (with cash prizes).

Harvey’s Selfie Giveaway

Banner with faded images of a book cover with a cat image.

Our post on Thursday launched our special giveaway for a paperback copy of Purrseverance, the anthology of cat stories that contains Harvey’s journey to his forever home, as well as the dramatic lost and found story of our friend Sawyer from Kitties Blue and the brave story of Tylan written by book editor Sierra M Koester.

It is Tylan’s sweet portrait you can see on the front cover.

Sunday Selfie graphic and a cartoon lady and her cat

Many of the regulars in the selfies will remember the drama and tension surrounding Sawyer’s escape and, I am glad to say, his recapture. But, not everyone knows the full story Harvey’s journey to us here in New Zealand. I was able to piece this together over time and I can tell you it’s dramatic and (spoiler alert) it has a happy ending.

CLICK IMAGE TO JOIN GIVEAWAY

Why a Giveaway?

I wanted to celebrate because Harvey’s story is my first ever writing in print. As a special bonus I also created a unique ‘one of a kind‘ mug for the winner (check the post!)

  • Of course the giveaway is open worldwide as I love Dash Kitten’s readers and want to include everyone. The copy of Purrseverance is a paperback, and you can either keep it or gift your win to a friend, but I guess you might keep the special mug!

Congratulations to all of the story writers who had me holding my breath, cheering and smiling with the astonishing stories.

Main Coon NZ Superstar

Faint Cat on a coloured background

Todays quick snapshot is the most amazing Maine Coon cat I saw at the Dominion Cat Show, here in New Zealand.

Sunday Selfie graphic and a cartoon lady and her cat

The small venue was packed and I could hardly lift my DSLR for the crush, so I had to use my smartphone. To make things more difficult the cats were all in cages and shooting through the bars meant getting quite close.

Close?? Hmmm. I was very reluctant to do this because I am a large human compared to a cat and this would be very intimidating, even to seasoned cats who are used to crowds.

This young man, a magnificent Maine Coon was patient and unfazed by the large numbers of people. I loved him to bits and his owner seemed to know my feelings were genuine so she asked if I would like to hold him.

Headshot of a tabby coloured Maine Coon cat.

I had to take a deep breath to calmly say ‘Yes, Please’ rather than jump up and down in sheer excitement going OHMYYESPLEASE!!

He was HUGE and he was HEAVY even for a young Maine Coon! I made sure I held him properly under his mum’s watchful eye. Honestly? It made my whole day, if not my week!

Above is my best shot – and I have edited out the bar across his eye so you can get at least a peek at his magnificent face. I am including a second shot of him in his cubby. Plain, unadorned and the perfect setting for a perfect diamond.

I could have hugged his mum, but tried to be calm and say thank you so much for the privilege.

Let’s Talk About Aperture

Faint Cat on a coloured background

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

After my quick run down on what ISO is and how it can help your cat photos, I wanted to add a super quick explanation on what Aperture is. When you eventually try manual, you will find ISO and Aperture confidence will give you so much more confidence photographing cats and other pets. Let’s take a look….

A Definition of Aperture

You will find a lot of descriptions, explanations and ‘technical’ breakdowns that tell you what Aperture in your camera is but, if they intimidate you, try this simple idea instead.

Aperture Numbers

Aperture is written as f/ followed by a number (f/2.8, f/8, etc.) easy enough but you have to remember that a lower f-number means a larger aperture (more light).

If the whole idea seems confusing, don’t give up. Keep taking photographs, look at what the effect of each aperture setting is later when you download and edit your cat photos.

Large Aperture (Small f-number like f2.8)

If you open your eye really wide you are doing what a camera does when it uses a large aperture. This camera setting lets in a lot of light. It’s great for low-light situations like a room the sun doesn’t reach very often or night time photography.

My favourite technique the soft focus bokeh behind cats like Toulouse here. I am using a large aperture and blurring the background. It makes your your cat stand out by blurring the background (shallow depth of field).

Small Aperture (Large f-number like f16)

Like a squinting eye, a small aperture lets in less light. This is helpful for bright locations and helps your cat photos from being over exposed (too bright). It’s benefits include a sharp photo from front to back. An example of this would be a landscape you take on holiday or out for a hike.

A black cat sat on a pine fence looking to the viewer's right
‘Taz’ Small Aperture – ISO 200 f/4

Beginner’s Best Aperture Tip

Many cameras have an “Aperture Priority” mode (often labeled A or Av). This semi-automatic mode lets you choose the aperture, and the camera automatically adjusts the shutter speed for a good exposure. It’s a great way to experiment with aperture while the camera handles the technical stuff!

  • Download your photographs and see what aperture looks like for a particular light if you use A/Av mode. It’s a really good way to get aperture confidence. You see what works and what doesn’t.

Finally, don’t be afraid to use one of your camera’s modes like Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority to help you learn. Some people swear by manual settings, others (like me) take prize winning photos using camera modes as well. Each photographer, like their images, is unique.

Go be unique and explore in your own way!

Correcting White Balance in Cat Photos

Text and outline of a camera

Today I put together a super short video showing how to correct White Balance when it’s too yellow.

Mostly you will keep your white balance settings on AWB (auto white balance) but if, like me, you have been taking photographs of your cat outdoors, you may have to change your settings to ‘Tungsten’ or ‘Fluorescent’ for inside photography.

How I Got My Yellow Toned Photo!

Teddy flopped down beside me and I realised he has put one paw in each of my two gardening Crocs! He looks so cute so I hurriedly grabbed my camera and took a few shots before he decided move position.

When I downloaded the image onto my computer I realised that, as cat photos go, it was too yellow and looked pretty awful!

The floor is a golden coloured varnish which makes the yellow tone look much worse as well. My white balance was set for outside and should have been set for indoor light.

If you look at the short video you will get an idea of how I adjusted the photo.

The Final Results

As you can see, there is much less yellow in Teddy’s photograph in this picture.

I did not spend too long editing the image. I basically followed these simple steps like you:

  1. Adjust your White Balance settings.
  2. Navigate to your Vibrance and Saturation settings.
  3. Carefully adjust these to add a bit of warmth or colour.
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