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How can I photograph my black cat?

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Thread started 05 Jul 2006 (Wednesday) 15:13   
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StewartR
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I'm really struggling to work to how best to photograph my cat. She's very cute, but very very black. This makes it almost possible to capture any detail in her fur - mostly she just looks like a black blob.

I've attached one not-entirely-unsuccessful photo which was taken using a flash. (Incidentally, cats seem to suffer from green-eye rather than red-eye!) I've noticed that the harsh lighting from a flash can show up some detail / texture. I also found a good example of somebody else's work here where the photographer has used studio lighting. But of course it looks a bit artificial.

In natural light though, I just can't see how to get the exposure right. The second attachment shows quite a typical result. The background is nicely exposed, but the cat is mostly just a silhouette. I know I could over-expose to lighten the cat, and I know how to do that, but [a] it would look unrealistic and [B] the background would be burnt out.

Any suggestions? I'd love it if people could show me their successful photos of black cats and tell me how they got them!

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Post #1, Jul 05, 2006 15:13:58


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Balliolman
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Nice moggie! :D

Post #2, Jul 05, 2006 15:28:01


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Joseph ­ Hoetzl
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What equipment are you shooting with? Body/Lens?

Can you meter more off the cat rather that the whole scene? Perhaps open up the aperature a bit? Maybe f4 and kick the background OOF a bit?

Try putting the flash over the top of the cat, maybe even slightly behind it to create a bit of a halo around it. Maybe two flashes, or some strong shop lights and a reflector under the front to get some "chin" seperation?

Post #3, Jul 05, 2006 15:29:18


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blue_max
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Shooting it with a darker background will help enormously. Avoid harsh light.

Try to get a bit closer to capture the detail and try to bracket your exposures.

Graham

Post #4, Jul 05, 2006 15:40:02 as a reply to Joseph Hoetzl's post 10 minutes earlier.


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Jon, ­ The ­ Elder
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StewartR - You are going to get all kinds of technical advice (some of it good).

We have a very dark Siamese. Sharon combs her out and gets the fur to really shine. This also 'perks' her up and we get come nice 'kitteny' shots as she cavorts about.
If you really know cats, then you know the best pose will be on her/his terms. After a snack = good cleaning shots,and at nap time for the sprawled out look. Ours loves to chase a laser pointer all over place. If we don't use it at a certain time each evening, she will sit in front of you and 'tell you all about it' until she gets her way.
Tough subject matter if you want more than just
'a-picture-of-my-cat' photo.

Post #5, Jul 05, 2006 15:40:15 as a reply to Joseph Hoetzl's post 10 minutes earlier.


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zacker
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spot meter just the cat? or throw a bucket of green paint on it :)
-zacker-

Post #6, Jul 05, 2006 15:59:04


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DavidW
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Spot or partial meter the cat, placing it at -1 2/3 or maybe -1 1/3 stops. That way, the details in the cat aren't lost in the shadows, but hopefully the remainder of the picture isn't too over-exposed.

One way to do this is to set partial or spot mode, set the camera to M mode, and choose an appropriate aperture. Half press the shutter button with the circle in the centre of the viewfinder aimed at an area of fur, then wind the dial behind the shutter button until the 'needle' in your viewfinder points to -1 2/3. Reframe (so long as you don't change the lighting the cat is in) and shoot.

Another way is to set partial or spot mode, set the camera to Av mode, and choose an appropriate aperture. Half press the shutter button and wind in -1 2/3 of Exposure Compensation. So long as the cat's fur fills the partial or spot circle when you meter (either on the full press or when you use AE lock), it should work.


For E-TTL flash, you probably need to use FEL to spot or partial meter the flash, and maybe some FEC (possibly negative FEC, though FEC guidelines are not as straightforward as those for Exposure Compensation).


It's basically the same problem as metering for a black tuxedo.

David

Post #7, Jul 05, 2006 17:14:34




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Tlee05
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I just took a quick snap of my cat today and thought I would do it againist the sun to bring out different lighting on the coat heres the image :

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Post #8, Jul 05, 2006 17:18:40


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StewartR
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Thanks everybody for the suggestions so far. I don't think we've got any definitive solutions yet, so I'm keen to encourage more contributions. And I think it would help enormously if people could post some successful shots. Believe me, I have spent a long time trying to photograph this cat and I think it's harder than you'd expect. Take a look at the 'Nature & Animals' forum and you'd be surprised how few of the cats there are black!

If it helps to know what equipment I'm using, it's a 350D and a Sigma 18-200 zoom lens that opens up to f/3.5 at the wide end.

Joseph Hoetzel wrote:
Try putting the flash over the top of the cat, maybe even slightly behind it to create a bit of a halo around it. Maybe two flashes, or some strong shop lights and a reflector under the front to get some "chin" seperation?

Hmmm. I imagine that might work. Certainly my best experience has been with flash. Can you post a shot to demonstrate it? However I would need to get the cat to sit still for long enough, and even then all I have is a 'posed' photo, which is a problem because...

setiprime wrote:
If you really know cats, then you know the best pose will be on her/his terms.

Exactly.

blue_max wrote:
Shooting it with a darker background will help enormously. Avoid harsh light.

Hmmm. Dark cat, dark background, subdued light. Sounds like I need that f/1.0 lens. Sadly all I can achieve is f/3.5 at the wide end of my zoom. Why exactly does the dark background help? Have you taken any shots like this? Can you post them here? What setup did you use?

Joseph Hoetzel wrote:
Maybe two flashes

blue_max wrote:
Avoid harsh light.

Well, I don't think I can do both of these...

Joseph Hoetzl wrote:
Can you meter more off the cat rather that the whole scene?

zacker wrote:
spot meter just the cat?

DavidW wrote:
Spot or partial meter the cat, placing it at -1 2/3 or maybe -1 1/3 stops. That way, the details in the cat aren't lost in the shadows, but hopefully the remainder of the picture isn't too over-exposed.

Looks like there's a consensus here. So far my experience has been that, whilst metering off the cat and dialling in some negative exposure compensation sounds reasonably straightforward, in practice it seems to be very difficult indeed to get the exposure right. However I haven't had my D-SLR very long - I've recently gone digital after 20 years with 35mm - so I've got no reason not to blaze away and try different things. It's not going to cost me anything. Meanwhile, do any of you have any successful examples to share?

blue_max wrote:
... try to bracket your exposures

I'm reluctant to do that, because with cats it's often the case that timing is everything. I'm worried that, if I press the shutter button just as the cat lunges at the butterfly, then by the time the camera has taken the 2nd or 3rd bracketed exposure I've missed the moment completely.

Would there be any advantage to shooting RAW instead of JPEG and doing the exposure compensation (to get the same result as bracketing) in post-processing?

zacker wrote:
throw a bucket of green paint on it

Why didn't I think of that? Cheers!

Post #9, Jul 06, 2006 04:10:36 as a reply to Tlee05's post 10 hours earlier.


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SkipD
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Stewart, I haven't tried photographing a black cat but I understand what the problems can be like. I'll throw out a few thoughts here which may be useful.

I think your first shot (in the original post) is underexposed because the camera/flash saw the reflected light coming off the upholstry. Using an automated flash system can be VERY tricky at times.

Try using a background that contrasts somewhat with the black cat, but is not reflective (shiny) in nature or a light source in itself.

Do not aim a camera-mounted flash directly at the cat. If you want to use a camera-mounted flash, make sure it is NOT the built-in flash. That's the most useless light source I can think of. Instead, use a hotshoe-mounted flash that can swivel and tilt, and aim it at a large white reflector that's held to one side and above the camera (for initial trials). The flash would be turned almost around backwards and aimed up at the reflector for the setup I am envisioning.

The best lighting source would likely be some off-camera studio flash equipment with large "modifiers" such as umbrellas or softboxes. Flash sources are generally much brighter than typical household lights or shop lights that some folks try to use, and thus would allow smaller apertures for a greater depth of field. Flash lighting output is usually a very short duration, eliminating the need for wide aperture settings to obtain a fast shutter speed to stop movement of the cat.

Gotta run, but there are more ideas for the future.....

Post #10, Jul 06, 2006 06:23:23


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stevieboy378
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Bounced flash, and a light coloured background . . .
Oscar, my Oriental Ebony, is very dark, and I just couldn't get a decent capture of him with the inbuilt flash. Once I got my hands on a Speedlite and was able to bounce the flash off the ceiling I started to get better results :

IMAGE NOT FOUND IMAGE IS A REDIRECT OR MISSING!
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HTTP response: NOT FOUND | MIME changed to 'image/png'

Post #11, Jul 06, 2006 12:40:06


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tweatherred
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blue_max wrote:
Shooting it with a darker background will help enormously. Avoid harsh light.

Try to get a bit closer to capture the detail and try to bracket your exposures.

Graham

That is exactly the opposite of the advice I got when I asked a pro how he got some good shots of a black dog he was showing at a workshop. He said that dark animals are the exception to the rule that soft light is better and suggested going outside in bright sun. That is a similar lighting situation to what stevieboy seemed to do with his flash to get a very good result.

Post #12, Jul 06, 2006 12:48:57 as a reply to blue_max's post 21 hours earlier.


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Tlee05
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everyone has different ways of shooting black animals etc, asa i posted : I just took a quick snap of my cat today and thought I would do it againist the sun to bring out different lighting on the coat (get a nice furry outline) heres the image

Post #13, Jul 06, 2006 13:26:08


"The goal is not to change your subjects, but for the subject to change the photographer."
"Sedit qui timuit ne non succederet"

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cmM
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I remember reading a lengthy thread about this issue on another forum (FM?). Ultimately, the unanimous solution was the following: next cat you adopt, make sure it's 18% grey :D

Post #14, Jul 06, 2006 16:09:13




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blue_max
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Just to clarify my comment about a dark background. You can expose for the animal and not be concerned about the background blowing out. If it goes a little light, it's not a problem, but blowing out looks ugly.

When I said bracket, I was referring to when you do some trials. You will find an exposure compensation setting that works well. Then use that for the real thing.

You don't have to practice on the cat - a Dell keyboard or something will do just as well.

Graham

Post #15, Jul 06, 2006 16:19:47 as a reply to cmM's post 10 minutes earlier.


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