Archive for the ‘Cats’ Category

h1

How to get cats to photograph themselves and other secrets: the magic of Tetsu Yamazaki

6 September, 2010

Tetsu and Hiroki Yamazaki

For all of us who’ve tried to take a photograph of a cat, we all know how impossible it is to capture the perfect pose because cats are constantly in action!  I have stacks of photos of cats with missing heads, tails or who are mere blurs.  So I’m always filled with envy when I look at cat books and see row-upon-row of perfectly-posed cats.  Just how do these professional cat photographers do it? Here’s how Tetsu Yamazaki, one of the world’s top cat photographers demonstrates his magic.

Tetsu Yamazaki is famous for the book “Legacy of the Cat“.  The book is considered the definitive classic not only because it is filled with expert information on the 37 breeds of cat represented in cat shows, it’s illustrated with beautiful photos which capture the magic of each of these breeds.I was thrilled to meet Tetsu and his wife, Hiroki, at a recent cat show – UK CoonTICA’s “Somewhere over the Rainbow”.  Tetsu’s presence highlighted the significance of the show as it the first TICA Western European regional show.For someone with such a prestigious reputation, Tetsu and his wife were unassuming, warm and open.  They happily chatted to me about his life and work as a cat photographer.

 Q:  Why did he become a cat photograph?
A:  He fell into it by accident.  34 years ago, the photographic industry
was going through a bit of a lull and he was at a loose end.  A friend had
been commissioned to do a cat photography book and insisted that he take
the photos.  So he did.  At the end of that the publisher decided that he
was a good cat photographer.  And so did the people who bought the book.   So he didn’t make a conscious decision to become a cat photographer – it was almost an act of fate that saw him become one.

He’s recently done a new edition of his book “Legacy of the Cat” because
when he photographed the first edition 20 years ago, many breeds of cat we
have today were still not available, for example, the Bengal was a new
breed then, and there were no Munchkins.

Q:  Has his style changed much over the 20 years?
A:  Not really because a lot of what people want to see in their cat photos is the same.  However, his photographs try to capture the cat in its natural pose. 

As my cat soulmate Sonya (who was also there) reminded me, his wife Hiroki showed us a special Japanese edition of a cat magazine which featured the work of several cat photographers.  Hiroki turned to the pages of Persian cats – she explained that two (or three ?) other photographers had contributed photos on that breed.  Most of the cats were in static poses and she pointed to each in turn saying “other photographer, other photographer, other photographer..” – until the last photo, where the Persian cat was standing on its hind legs waving its paws in the air – “Tetsu photo!”

Japanese cat magazine featuring Tetsu's photos

Q:  What’s the main secret of cat photography?
A:  Play with the cat.  Engage with the cat.  Bring out the playfulness of
the cat.  Some cats are more walking cats.  Some look better when turning.  So he tries to suit his style of play to the cat.  In that way the cat will almost take the photograph itself!  There was something almost Zen in the way he described his method, but it makes sense – why force the cat to do something it doesn’t feel comfortable with?  Better to play to its strengths and natural movements.Q:  Which cats are the easiest and which the hardest breeds of cats to photograph?
A:  It’s not breed-specific.  It all depends on the personality and
temperament of the cat.  And also the desires of the cat owners.  For
example, owners of Persian cats have often trained their cats to adopt very
passive and still positions, to preserve their beautiful coats.  So that’s
what the photo will consist of:  a beautiful cat sitting still!  He finds that playful cats are easy to photograph as they will engage with the photographer.

Tetsu's travelling studio set-up

Q:  What kind of studio setup does he use?

A:  Because his work involves a lot of travelling to different cat shows, his studio has to be portable, and simple to setup and transport.  For example, at the CoonTICA show, the room that was allocated to him was a classroom.  On one side, he taped a plain white background to the wall, which overhung a table.  The cat to be photographed was placed on the table.  Directly overhead was a light with an umbrella diffuser and opposite the table at a diagonal was another.   

Q:  So no light box?  [this is a 3-sided box made of translucent material in which the cat is placed.  I’ve seen this at a lot of UK cat shows and assumed that it was the norm as it means the cat has nowhere to escape and can be easily controlled. ]A:  No, he doesn’t use a light box.  (I’m not a technical person, but my understanding of his explanation was that to shoot with a light box means he would have to stand closer to get at arm’s length to the cat and that would mean using a camera with a wide-angle lens or if he stood back, he would need a telephoto lens which would make for a heavy camera.  He prefers to shoot single-handed (for reasons which are explained later).   

He also prefers using a table because it allows the cat to move naturally and pose itself.  Q:  But what if the cat jumps off the table and tries to run away?
A:  If the cat jumps off the table as sometimes happens, it usually jumps
back up because it knows that Tetsu would play with it on the table.

Q:  What sort of toys did he use to play with the cats?

A:  At most of the UK cat shows I’ve been to, all the cat photographers use cat wands to get the cat’s attention and direct the gaze – these are standard shop-bought wands of about 2 feet long with a lure at the end.

Tetsu's cat wands

 Tetsu had customised his own wands.  He had taken 3 Japanese fishing rods made of bamboo of approximately six feet.  At the end of each rod was a lure.  One had some sparkly bits, the second a long feather, and the third a piece of paper.  Their extra long length allowed him to stand well back from the table and hold it up very high to pulll the cat’s gaze upwards.   And because the rods were telescopic, they retracted to about a foot long and could be easily packed for travel.  

The fishing rods were very thin and whippy so that when he flicked his wrist sharply, the feather made a sound that was very like the clap of a bird’s wing taking off.  I was very impressed – this was a cat magician in action! 

Close-up of the lures on Tetsu's cat wands

 Q:  So did his assistant hold the rods while Tetsu took the photos?

A:  No, Tetsu held the rod in his left hand. In is right hand he held his camera.  He was both cat wrangler and photographer.  Again, this was very different from a lot of cat photographers I’ve observed where they depend on having an assistant to direct the cat while the photographer composed the picture.  It made sense though – rather than rely on an assistant, by doing both, Tetsu was able to play and direct the cat into poses he wanted.  It gave him more control over the subject and the photo. 

(Later, I read that this method of photographing a cat by holding the camera in the right hand is recognised as Tetsu’s trademark – “to photograph Tetsu-style” it’s called!)  Q:  What sort of camera does he use? A:  Because of his technique of being both wrangler and photographer, he needs a camera that is light enough to be held in his right hand.  The camera he currently uses is a Canon EOS 50D. When he first started out in cat photography 34 years ago (and remember this was before digital photography had been invented) his camera was a roll-film camera, the Bronica. The Bronica was like a Hasselblad, with an overhead viewfinder, so that the user could hold the camera at waist height and still be able to see the subject on the screen. Tetsu actually preferred this old-style camera as it meant that he could film a cat on a table while standing up, whereas with modern-day cameras with viewfinders on the back, he sometimes has to kneel to get on the same level as the cat.  ********

What struck me throughout the interview was Tetsu’s joy in his work, and sense of going with the flow.  He prefers to play with the cat and let it express itself naturally.  There was no straining for effect.  This was a kind of Zen magician of cat photography. 

I asked if he had a website or was on Facebook or Flickr, and he told me that he didn’t have any of these public presences.  I found that very refreshing in an age where people believe that if you’re not on a social media site you don’t exist!  But Tetsu explained that he preferred to keep a low profile, enjoying his life on the outskirts of Tokyo, away from the frenzy of the city and letting his jobs take him where they did, all over the world.Tetsu does have an e-mail address though and you can contact him on catography@sky.so-net.jp.  He also recently signed up with image library Animal Photography.  Please check out Tetsu’s page for some wonderful photos of cats.

Advertisements
h1

Snow in April – some photos

6 April, 2008

I woke up this morning to feed the cats, and this was the scene in the back garden at 6am.  It was the first, real snow of the season with flakes that didn’t melt immediately, but settled into a pretty Christmas-card scene.

DSCN2436

I opened the door to the garden and Teddy and Maya decided to investigate:

DSCN2440

Er, mum … what’s that white stuff falling from the sky?

DSCN2446

 Bengal Snow Dance!

DSCN2454

 Teddy makes his mark too.

Teddy took to the snow pretty well.  You can see here why Maine Coons with their thick shaggy coats are made for snow and winters.

DSCN2441

Teddy decided to have a pee in his usual spot (ssh … don’t let him know we’re peeking!).

DSCN2443DSCN2444

DSCN2445

Hmm … this white stuff works quite well.

DSCN2448

Ananda tests the snow.

DSCN2452

But I’m a Bengal … we don’t do snow.

DSCN2450

Tulip buds in the snow.

By noon the snow had melted.  Pity because I’d planned on making a snowman for the cats.

h1

In a (cat) flap

8 February, 2007

I had to replace the door of the cat flap today.

When we first moved into our house many years ago, we only had one cat, Sophie, a tortie girl. There was a kitchen door that led to the back garden and for a long time we contemplated getting a cat flap to save on the hassle and expense of the litter tray. But the door was double-glazed and we didn’t dare tamper with it in case something awful happened to the glass and it stopped being double-glazed.

After several years we contacted a local double-glazing firm and they put in a cat flap. This required installing a new panel of glass that had been specially-cut at their factory to maintain the integrity of the double-glazing thingy. In short, we now had a cat flap.

The cat flap we had installed was a Staywell 30. Then (and we’re talking say 10 years ago) it was a top-of-the-range model with some sort of battery-powered wizardry that meant you could restrict access to the house/garden for your cat only. The flap mechanism was magnetic and was released when a little gizmo on your cat’s collar triggered it.

I remember attaching the little gizmo to Sophie’s collar and putting the batteries into the cat flap. It took 4 AA batteries, and I was shocked when the batteries ran out almost the next day. I think it had something to do with the magnet on the flap not quite meeting the magnet on the seal of the flap. Anyway, short of wiring the flap up to the mains, it would have cost a fortune in AA batteries, so I quite quickly decided that we didn’t need all that high-tech stuff.

Fast forward ten years and a litter of kittens.

My, those kittens were an advanced bunch. By the age of 6 weeks, they had discovered the joys of the kitchen, and I remember one of them standing, its cute little head cocked as Teddy went in and out of the cat flap. I could almost see the cartoon thought bubble above its little head: hmm … Uncle Teddy push door … Uncle Teddy vanish … Uncle Teddy come back … where did Uncle Teddy go?

Before I could squash that precocious line of thought, those kittens had psychically transferred to each other the Way of the Cat Flap and worked out how to get into the garden.

Why did I get in such a flap about them using the Cat Flap, you may ask?

I didn’t know if any of the potential kitten owners who were going to buy the kittens had gardens, or indeed, were going to let their cats out into their gardens. Yes, we’re back to the indoor or outdoor cat question.

The fact was, if I let a kitten out into the garden and it got used to the joys of outdoor spaces, and it then went to a home without a garden, would it feel psychologically stifled?

So I had to keep all the kittens indoors.

Easier said then done of course – have you ever tried catching a kitten in a large garden who didn’t want to be caught? Can you crawl under a garden shed? So I decided to reactivate the electronics of the cat flap, never mind the fortune to be spent on AA batteries. I searched the house for the collar gizmos, so that I could restrict access to the adult cats only. I couldn’t find any.

I went on the web and found a company that (praise!) still maintained stocks of the collar gizmos for the Staywell 30, and ordered 3 sets, not realising that each set came as a pair, so I ended up with 6.

Came the day the collar gizmos arrived, and I opened a brand new 12-pack of AA batteries and inserted four into the cat flap. The tricky bit was programming the gizmos so that they responded to the electronics of the Cat Flap. Reader, I followed the instructions to the letter but the Cat Flap suddenly went into beep overload. What was wrong? Did the Cat Flap not like my technique? Was the brand of batteries not to its satisfaction?

In the end, I gave up and took the batteries out.

Later, I checked on the web, and discovered on dooyoo.co.uk a series of reviews on the Staywell 30. Let’s just say that it wasn’t one of the company’s more successful models. I also called the company that had sent me the collar gizmos, and implicit in the conversation was the suggestion that I would have been better off getting a more up-to-date model.

The recommendation was for a cat flap that utilised the latest in cat flap technology … infra-red rays (whizz bang hooray).

The problem is, in order to install a more modern cat flap I would have to find out the diameter of the cut-out portion, and for the life of me, I can’t work out how to dismantle the cat flap. Plus, if I did manage to upgrade, what would I do with the multi-pack of AA batteries and 6 superfluous collar gizmos?

So I’m stuck with a cat flap that was probably used on Noah’s Ark.

So why did I have to replace the door of the cat flap?

Well, to come back to the litter of kittens with Great Escape tendencies, in order to stop them from going out, I locked the cat flap. When the adult cats wanted to go out, I had to make sure there were no kittens in the kitchen before letting the grown-ups out.

One day I let Teddy out and forgot he was out. He wanted to get back in but of course the cat flap was locked. When I finally got home, there was the flap bit lying on the kitchen floor. He had pushed his way through the flap and broken it.

I managed to mend it with some sticky-tape, but it flapped horribly, and I knew it was only a matter of time before a replacement would be necessary.

CatFlap1

(The old cat flap – broken in half by big Ted)

So, today was new cat flap door day, and again there’s no simple ending. I bought a new magnetic seal as well, and it doesn’t fit as snugly as the previous one, so that the flap sticks. Poor Maya found that out when she went out in the snow and couldn’t get back in. I saw her little face peering through the flap – not a happy Bengal at all.

I tried shaving off bits of the seal, but it didn’t work.  In the end it was Teddy to the rescue – he must have forced himself through the flap and dragged the seal off which I haven’t replaced – it gets a bit draughty in the kitchen when the wind is blowing:

CatFlap2

(The new cat flap, with the seal pulled off by Teddy)

Anyway, because this blog is supposed to be instructional, here are a few tips:

1. Cat flaps are great – don’t be put off if you have double-glazing. It cost us £100 plus to get the flap professionally-installed (not including the cost of the cat flap!), but it was worth it in terms of freedom for the cat. And if your cat learns to use the garden as its litter tray, then think of the savings in terms of cat litter! (unfortunately, only 1 of my 3 cats shares this view)

2. Think twice before buying a Staywell 30. Read the reviews on dooyoo.co.uk and you’ll see why (if you can stop laughing to read them!). Actually, Staywell 30s are probably no longer manufactured, so hey! I have the equivalent of an antique (always look on the bright side of … wheewhew … wheewhew-wheewhew-wheewhew).CatFlap3

3. Always read reviews before you buy anything. But they didn’t have the internet in those days when I bought the Staywell 30, so at least I have an excuse.

4. Never buy multi-packs of anything. It’s like with cat food. One day they can’t get enough of Supreme Cat Best Fillets of Chicken, so you go out and buy a case of it and the next meal they turn their noses up and walk away.

5. A hungry Maine Coon cat is a powerful cat, capable of breaking through locked cat flaps in a single bound. *

6. Kittens have ESP. Never teach one anything that you don’t want the rest of the litter to learn.

__________

* Apparently, a stud cat can do the same.  A breeder who used a cat flap to separate the stud cat from her queens blamed her children for leaving the cat flap unlocked when several unplanned pregnancies occurred.  Then one day she saw it for herself: her stud cat was turning the lock himself, using one prehensile claw!  Talk about smart!

h1

Wishing you a Merry Teddy Christmas and New Year!

23 December, 2006

TeddyChristmas1

h1

The tale of Teddy’s tail

17 September, 2006

Teddy has a greasy tail. It used to be like a bushy pennant when he held it up, the epitome of what a Maine Coon’s tail should be, but some months ago, the fur on it started going lanky and getting matted.

I thought at first it was stud tail, which is a condition that affects both un-neutered and neutered cats (both male and female). In stud tail, sebaceous glands located at the base of the tail go into overdrive (possibly due to hormones) and produce waxy secretions. These secretions are used to mark their territory. Sometimes stud tail secretions can clog up the hair follicles, giving the cat a case of blackheads … on the tail!

I did peek, but I could see nothing waxy about Teddy’s tail. Nor were there any blackheads. It was just oily.

I managed to cut off some of the mats, and I did try washing his tail with a bit of dishwashing liquid and water on a kitchen towel, but got as far as rubbing it on the oily spot before calling it a day: Teddy is very proud of his tail and was prepared to defend it with tooth-and-claw. Hey, I would be protective of my rear end too if some human sidled up to me with a hand behind her and grabbed my bum.

I thought I would ignore the problem, hoping it would go away. Needless to say, the oily patch spread, down the tail and next thing I knew, Teddy must have overgroomed and pulled hanks out.

Something would have to be done. I’d read about a product from the US, called “Goop” which was a stain remover and hand-cleanser. Breeders swear by it as the no.1 product for greasy coats and STUD TAIL. So I bought some.

Today, the sun was shining, and the BBC said that it was 25 degrees C outside. Ah … the perfect day to wash a cat’s tail.

I volunteered hubby to help out. It would be quick, I told him. And he had the easy job. All he had to do was hold Teddy in the bath while I covered his tail with Goop, and then rinse it off. Five minutes max.

As usual, the plan looked better on paper.

Teddy went trustingly into my husband’s arms and he purred at us while we talked soothingly to him.

Then he saw the bathtub and the look on his face! Quickly, hubby put Teddy down on the towel at the bottom of the bathtub and caught hold of Teddy’s scruff but Teddy started getting out. In the end, hubby had to hold Teddy’s front paws while I held on to his scruff. At the same time, by some feat of prestidigitation I managed to smear a huge dollop of Goop into his tail and started working it in. I turned on the water and started to rinse, but Teddy tucked his tail under him, so I ended up washing most of his rear end.

I think the part that got to both hubby and me was when Teddy started howling. Yes, cats can howl too. “Ahroooooo … ahrooooo” is the closest I can come to describing it, delivered on an ascending scale, amplified by the amazing concert-hall acoustics of the bathroom. After that I couldn’t finish washing him fast enough.

Teddy only managed to scratch hubby once. In case you’re thinking hubby was a bit of a wimp, Teddy weighs about 13 lbs and is large and powerful, the size of a small dog.

“Armour” and “next time you take charge of the end with the teeth” were heard muttered as I dried Teddy, or attempted to.

goop1 Hubby is now recovering on the sofa, exhausted. Teddy has been given a catnip cigar and is similarly zonked out. I’m writing this as a substitute G&T.