Photo Friday: A Pillow Named Frankie


Chris will use anyone as a pillow. This time it was Frankie. As I write this, my left arm is his pillow. Good thing I’m right-handed.

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Basic Photography for Bloggers


When blogging was young it was mostly about the words but now images are a major part of almost every blog I see today. I consider photos to be very important on this blog, partly because they help to tell the story. With that in mind, I want to share some of the things have learned over the years.

Photography is all about collecting light and there are three major components that help you do that. Each one has its own advantages and disadvantages. I’m talking about shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. Each of these can be adjusted to help get the right amount of light for a good exposure but knowing which ones to adjust is a challenge because there are so many factors to consider. Let’s start with aperture.

Aperture

Aperture is simply the size of the opening in the lens. This is also referred to as an f-stop. I believe the “f” is for “factor” and it is a ratio of the focal length of the lens to the diameter of the opening, or pupil. For example, on a 50mm lens f-11 would be 50/11 or 4.5mm. An aperture setting of f-1.4 would be 50/1.4 or 35.7mm. The important thing to remember is that the smaller the number the larger the opening.

The size of the opening matters because whenever you double the size of the aperture you cut in half the time it needs to stay open for a proper exposure. Some lenses are considered “fast.” These are very expensive but have apertures as wide as f-1.0. Some are even wider than that. These are good for very low light conditions or when the shutter speed needs to be very fast.

Of course, for every plus in photography, there is a minus. The larger the aperture, the smaller the area that will be in focus. To understand why let’s look at a pinhole camera.

Source Wikipedia

This is the most basic type of camera where a pinhole is made on one side of the box and photographic paper placed against the other side. To get a perfectly sharp image, the pinhole would have to be no wider than a single ray of light, but that would let in so little light that the exposure time would be extremely long. A larger opening would shorten the exposure time but then the light coming from the top of the tree, for example, would enter the opening through the top of the hole, the bottom, left, right, middle, etc. The light would then strike the film at slightly different spots causing the image to be out of focus.

The camera lenses solve that problem to some degree but they create instead a focus zone. That essentially means that one area of your photo, your subject hopefully, is in perfect focus and a certain area in front and behind is in acceptable focus. The rule of thumb is one third in front and two thirds behind. This zone of focus is also called depth of field. The important thing to know is that the smaller the aperture, the larger the depth of field.

Below is an example of a photo with a small depth of field. This is Frankie and Chris taken using an f-2.2 aperture. Notice how Chris is close to Frankie but still out of focus. Sometimes this is desirable. I think this photo works well with just Frankie in focus.

I took the photo of Floki and Chris below using a smaller aperture of f-7.1. Notice how much more is in focus. Even the car in the background is relatively sharp.

Cats Floki and Chris kissing in sun.

A larger aperture would have made the photo better by blurring out unimportant parts. To get that larger aperture I would have had to change the shutter speed which, in this case, would not have hurt the photo. I will talk about that in the next two sections.

Shutter Speed

A shutter is basically a light-proof “curtain” between the lens and the sensor. It slides open to allow light to reach the sensor and then closes after a given amount of time. That time is called the shutter speed and can range from several seconds to 1/4000th of a second. The shutter speed serves two basic purposes. It varies the amount of light reaching the sensor and it can blur or make sharp a moving object.

This is kind of important to know for pet photographers because it is difficult to keep them still while you try to take their photo. Granted, if they turn their heads as you are about to snap the photo, shutter speed won’t help but it will prevent small movements from becoming blurry.

Sometimes you want the blur. A good example would be when you are tracking a moving object across your field of view and you want to convey a feeling of movement in the image. The photo below is an image I took years ago of my friend riding by on his motorcycle.

The shutter speed was just slow enough to cause blur in the background from the movement of the camera but since my camera was moving with the subject it stayed relatively sharp. This effect gives the viewer a feeling of speed.

Another reason you would want a fast shutter speed is when you are hand holding the camera. This is especially true when you are using a telephoto or zoom lens. A telephoto lens turns a small camera movement into a large one so a faster shutter speed is needed. The rule of thumb for 35 mm film cameras was that the shutter speed should equal the focal length of the lens or faster when you hand hold the camera. Now, with different size sensors and image stabilization technology, it is difficult to suggest a rule of thumb. It is probably best to check your camera’s manual for tips on this subject.

One other thing that could be useful to know is your “flash sync speed.” This probably won’t apply to anyone using your camera’s built-in flash but if you use an external flash there is a limit to how fast your shutter speed can be. Not every camera is the same so it is good to know what your camera’s sync speed is.

To understand how this works, imagine a stage where the curtain is closed but instead of the left and right curtains both being pulled to the middle, the right curtain is pulled all the way to the left. That curtain is then pulled to the right to expose the stage and when the show is over the left curtain is pulled to the right to close it. Once the audience goes home, both curtains are pulled back to the left for the next show.

A problem with flash photography occurs at higher shutter speeds. To go back to our stage analogy, when a show is very short, like 1/500th of a second (some shows I wished that was the case) the stagehand operating the left curtain starts closing his curtain 1/500th of a second after the other stagehand started pulling her curtain open. Since it takes 1/125th of a second for a curtain to travel across the stage, the entire stage is never in view at one time.

A flash is much faster. It varies but most often the flash speed will be between 1/5000th and 1/30,000th of a second. That means when the flash goes off only part of the stage will be illuminated.

ISO

ISO stands for International Organization of Standardization. This originally represented the “film speed” or its sensitivity to light. I remember it being called ASA (American Standards Association). When shooting film the photographer had to buy different types of film for different lighting conditions. On a digital camera, one can just change a setting.

The ISO number represents the sensor’s sensitivity to light. The higher the number, the less light is needed for a shot. For example, shooting at ISO 100 requires twice as much light as shooting at ISO 200. So why not just shoot everything at the highest ISO? Because every plus has a minus.

During the old days of film, high ISO film meant grainer images. Some photographer’s used that graininess to their advantage but mostly it was a necessary evil. On digital cameras, a high ISO setting results in images that have more digital “noise” that is similar to the old film grain.

Below is a photograph of Frankie shot at ISO 26,500, the maximum for my camera.

High ISO shot of Cat Frankie

Notice the grain, or noise, when viewed close up.

High ISO shot of Cat Frankie close up

Compare that to a photo of Chris at ISO 100.

See the difference? The above photo of Chris was cropped but both close-ups are at the same magnification.

High ISO shot of Cat Chris

Besides the major three settings, there are others that you can play around with, like white balance and HDR, but I want to stick to the basics here.

Since this post is for bloggers I want to talk about file size. Internet speeds and storage space have increased over the years but file size is still important on the web. People are busy now and will not wait more than a few seconds for your page to load so if you have a lot of photos, they should be as small as is reasonable.

There is also storage space provided by your web page hosting service to consider. If you exceed your limit you will need to pay for more storage. WordPress.com gives me 3 gigabytes of storage and so far I have used 37% in over six years of blog posts. If I uploaded my photos full size, that would have been gone long ago.

Conser this: My computer monitor’s screen resolution is (in pixels) 1680×1050. The highest I have seen is 3840×1600 which is 4K. Many are probably the same as an HDTV which is 1920×1080 and there are some older ones that are smaller than mine. Smartphones have similar resolutions but on a much smaller screen. There are 8K monitors coming out but since most blog traffic comes shortly after a post is written I wouldn’t even consider those now.

I chose long ago to use the old XGA resolution (1024 x 768) on most of my photos on this blog. Since the photo never takes up the entire screen, I thought that was a good compromise. I use the canon software that came with my camera and save a copy of the photos I will use to 1024 pixels on the longest side, a little less for square photos.

There is also a quality adjustment for jpeg files that can reduce the file size even further. My program allows a choice between one and ten with ten being the highest quality and largest file size. I choose seven because I don’t notice a quality difference at that level but I do notice slight degradations at level five.

I should note that I treat my photo blog a little different because I only use one photo per blog post and I want it to look good so I reduce it to 1200 pixels with a quality of nine.

I think that should cover the basics. If you have any questions or comments, I’d love to read them.

The Badness Continues


My post last week talked about how Chris can still be bad despite his age and weight and about him getting up in the cabinet to eat the flavor packet that came with the NomNomNow food. Now that the flavor packet is gone he is still getting up in the cabinet.

I think he was looking for it but when he realized it was no longer there he spied the container of catnip.

Naturally, as a punishment, I gave him some catnip.

This morning I went out for a bit and returned to find the catnip on the counter. I guess he struggled to get it open and then gave up without even trying to hide what he had done.

Photo Friday: That Look


You have probably heard that Siamese cats are cross-eyed. That is true, as you can see from this photo of Floki. cat Floki close up

I have heard a couple of different reasons for this. One is that their retinas are slightly off center so crossing their eyes allows them to see better. Another has to do with the way their brains interpret the images. That I didn’t really understand so I will leave it at that.

I also read that some breeders have bred this cross-eyed trait out without actually fixing the misalignment problem so if you see a straight-eyed Siamese cat, he or she may not have ideal vision.

Chris Can Still Be a Bad Cat


Chris has slowed down these last couple of years, partly because of age, I suspect, but mostly because he has gained weight. Still, he sometimes surprises me by being his old, bad self.

Last Friday I was cooking dinner when Chris jumped on the kitchen counter. He then opened the cabinet and started rummaging through it. Since we have a small kitchen, I have some cat related items and other things sharing space with our dishes. There are feline supplements, premix for the raw cat food that I make, and a container of catnip, among other things.

I thought he was after the catnip but that was on the second shelf and he was clearly interested in the first shelf. I looked at what he was looking at and found a ziplock bag with flavoring that came with my order from NomNomNow.  Someone already chewed through the original packaging which is why it was in a ziplock bag. The flavoring helps to get finicky cats used to the new kind of food but our cats never needed an incentive to eat it so I just put it in the cabinet. I put the bag on the top shelf above the bag of Tostito’s that was up there. I figured it was way out of his reach.

The next morning we went out for a little while and when we returned I found the bag of flavoring mostly empty on the counter and the Tostito’s with a hole in the side of it.

Apparently, I underestimated his current ability to be bad.

Camera Review – Canon EOS Rebel SL2


I originally thought that doing a camera review on a cat blog is a bad idea but then I realized that my blog is just as much of a photo blog as it is cat blog and I am sure there are many other pet bloggers that are interested in photography.

My birthday is coming up in a couple of days and I am a hard person to buy for so my wife put it in my hands to find I gift that I would be happy with. So I decided it was time for a new DSLR camera. The camera that I had been using is a Canon EOS Rebel T1i. I got it for Christmas in 2009 and the way that technology advances it should be a dinosaur but, surprisingly, at 15.1 megapixels, it still takes better photos than any smart phone being sold today. Nevertheless, I think I could benefit from an upgrade.

I did somewhat upgrade my camera a couple of years ago. I bought a Canon EOS M1. It is a small, mirrorless, 18-megapixel camera that is not a DSLR but it does have interchangeable lenses. I like it because it takes excellent photos and because it is small, lightweight and much easier to carry around. I don’t like it because it takes way too long to focus. That is fine most of the time but try to get a cat to hold still for more than a second while the camera is focusing. There are several upgrades to the M series that probably corrected that problem and thought about upgrading that camera instead but chose the DSLR instead because it is more obsolete.

I looked around for a long time. I wanted a camera that was at least 24 megapixels but was also reasonably priced. I also wanted a Canon because I have lenses for it and because I have liked Canons since my dad gave me his Canon F1 in 1987.

It came down to the Canon EOS Rebel SL2 or the Canon EOS Rebel T7i. Both cameras had similar features and the T7i had some slight advantages but the SL2 was a bit smaller and lighter, which is helpful when you have to carry it around for a long time. It was also almost $200 less expensive which was a big plus for me.

I ordered the camera on Amazon and paid about $600 for it. The Rebel line is made for amateurs and is significantly less expensive than the pro version without much, if any, loss of picture quality. I think the main difference is in how rugged the camera is built but this will be my third Rebel since 2005 and I never once had a problem with any of the cameras.

It arrived Monday, too soon for my birthday but my wife didn’t care if I opened it, so I did.Canon EOS Rebel SL2

Naturally, I wanted to test it out so I spied Frankie lying on the floor.

cat Frankie

I always set the camera to shoot RAW + Jpeg. This takes up more room but allows me to view all my photos easily and the RAW format gives me more options when editing the photos. I want to say that I then erase any RAW file that I know Is not top quality to save room but I usually forget that step or I am rushed and don’t bother doing it. I didn’t look at the settings until after I took the above photo but it came set up for just Jpeg so I had to change it later.

The camera comes with several options for scene selections and other things but I won’t review those because I don’t use them. I use one of four settings:

  • Program Auto Exposure – This sets the aperture and shutter speed automatically.
  • Shutter Priority – Lets the Photographer select the shutter speed and the camera does the rest.
  • Aperture Priority – This is like shutter priority except it is the aperture that is set by the Photographer.
  • Manual – All settings are set by the Photographer.

Canon EOS Rebel SL2 camera

My first Canon Rebel, the XT, was a fine camera but changing a setting was a laborious task. You had to fumble through various menus until you found what you were looking for. This camera has the main settings laid out on an easy to use touchscreen. In addition, the screen can be pulled out for viewing from different angles and then turned for protection when not in use.

Canon EOS Rebel SL2 camera

I have had no opportunity to take this outside for a real-world test but I did take several photos of the cats. I was very impressed with how quickly it focused. There was no noticeable lag time between pushing the shutter release and hearing the sound of the mirror flipping up to take the photo. I’m sure it wasn’t instantaneous but it was fast. I also took several photos very quickly and had to wait for the camera to write them to the SD card. I was using a cheap, slow, memory card and was glad the camera had a large enough cache to accommodate it.

The photo below was taken in the morning before the sun came up so it was relatively low light. I had it set to fully programmable and it used a shutter speed of 1/13th of a second. Typically, I don’t like going below 1/30th of a second when hand holding a camera but, thanks to image stabilization, this photo is pretty sharp.

And thanks to the 24-megapixel sensor, I can zoom in on the eyes with much clarity.
cat Frankie close up

The fast focus also allows me to capture Chris while he is rolling around. It would have been pure luck to get this photo with my M1.

Another great feature is the Canon app that allows you to control the camera with your phone. The app lets you see what the camera sees and you can change settings or take the shot remotely. This is useful for group photos or maybe even for catching your pets being naughty.

Canon connect screenshot - Siamese cat Floki

Here is the photo of Floki that I took remotely.

cat Floki

The app has a couple of other features that I find even more useful. Since the camera does not have GPS, it can take GPS information from your phone and include it in your photos. It also allows you to download photos to your phone so you don’t have to wait until you get home to share your photos on social media.

I plan on taking this camera with me when we go away for my birthday. We are going to the east coast of Florida to visit my wife’s father. We booked a hotel on the beach and we hope to see nesting sea turtles. If we do, I can’t use a flash or other form of light to photograph them and since they only lay their eggs at night it could be a challenge.

What do you think? Do any pet bloggers use a DSLR for your photos? Would anyone be interested in a blog post on basic photography?

 

Photo Friday: More Classic Chris


Here is another early photo of Chris with his adoptive sister and brothers. It was taken about ten days after we adopted Chris and it shows, even then, that he loves being the center of everything. Cats Abbey, Alex, Chris and Tigger

Here he is between Alex and Tigger with Abbey Sleeping at the top. Unfortunately, Flash is missing from the photo. I don’t think a photo exists with all five cats in it.

Stalking the Cottontail


Stalking the rare Cottontail Rabbit, otherwise known as the common bunny,  requires great skill and cunning.

One must blend in with the environment . . .

. . . and remain hidden while the perfect position is obtained.

Once you are in position and ready to pounce . . .

. . .  you only need to wait until someone removes the screen.

 

Photo Friday: Lost Brothers


I decided to look into the archives for today’s Photo Friday. Sometimes it can be fun to stroll down Memory Lane. I found a photo of Tigger and Flash dated December 28, 2009.

cats Tigger and FlashTigger and Flash were brothers who we ended up with due to an unusual circumstance. You can read about them in my post “Life Before Chris.” We adopted them in 2006 and, unfortunately, Flash died in April 2010. Tigger passed away in early 2013. Both were lost too soon.

At the same time that I took the above photo, Chris and Abbey were on the cat perch just to the left.cats Chris and Abbey