an everyday photo, every day | photography • art • poetry

The Eyes Have It

photo of two black cats close-up

The Eyes Have It

Mewsette and Giuseppe awaken briefly to have their photo taken. Naps are a very important activity and not to be interrupted for light and transient reasons.

Eyes are striking no matter the species, and cats’ eyes especially because they are usually very bright colors. In a black cat’s fur, they look like gems and are often quite large in proportion to their facial features. Here they look like crescent moons in a deep night sky.

Mewsette and Giuseppe are brother and sister, two siblings of a litter of four I fostered and who still live with me. It’s a long story, but in the end they became such excellent art subjects for photography, sketches, painting and block prints. Even as adults, they are still close and tend to hang out in pairs or threes, and they sleep in a heap like kittens do, though they average 12 pounds each.

While they look identical at first glance, I have always been able to see the differences in their features. Part of the fun of working with their images is to show those differences, and their eyes are one feature unique among each of them in color, shape and angle.

The light in this photo is somewhat cool coming from a north window with a lot of reflection from snow, so their eye colors are a little muted, but Mewsette, on the left, has very light, bright green eyes, the greenest of the litter, with very little yellow. Giueseppe’s, on the other hand, are a warm yellow amber, just enough orange so the yellow doesn’t appear lemon. Mewsette’s eyes are round like all her other features—face, head, paws, rounded ears, blunt nose. Giuseppe has wide oval eyes that are pointed at the corners, and he also has an elongated face with a prominent nose, large ears and a long body, as everything seems to be stretched.

I photograph them all the time and often use their images in my own designs as well as selling their images as stock photography. This litter is only the most recent in my household—I have about 30 years of cat photos and have the last ten years of my digitals on my website. You can see them in action in almost every entry on my blog The Creative Cat, and on my Marketplace blog you can see them in my Animal Sympathy Cards. I have eight galleries of them in the photo section on my website.

Black cats can be difficult to photograph, especially if you don’t like to use a flash, as I do not; it tends to reflect off of black fur a little harshly, creating a photo that has too much contrast, highlights flashed out and missing detail, shadows saturated with black, and very little in between. A good bit of bright ambient light from more than one direction helps to capture the details without flashing highlights. My camera is a digital SLR, but I still use many of the same lenses and photo techniques I used with my film SLR in opening up the F-stop as far as I could while reducing shutter speed to avoid motion blur and ensure a sharp clarity of all those details I had worked to preserve.


4 responses

  1. Well this is my first visit and I learned a lot. I have two black cats, one of which lives in the house some of the time and I am always taking pictures of him because he is very special. I wondered why the pictures came out not looking like him . I need a better camera too. Thanks for that information about the flash on the camera. Have a great week end.

    March 5, 2010 at 11:17 am

    • Wow, what a menagerie you have! I love reading about other people’s animals. When I was growing up our housing development was built on an old farm, and the old farm couple had only their “pets” left, a few milk cows, chickens, a goat and such, of course cats and dogs, and I wanted nothing more than a life like that. But I think now they’d be begging for dinner becuase I’d be photographing and painting all the time!

      Yes, the little point-and-shoot digitals don’t balance light and dark very well as their internal metering is basic; if they meter on a shadow area then the photo is too light, or if they meter on a highlight then the animal looks like a silhouette with eyes, and the flash throws everything off. Working with daylight, even indoors, is the best way to get a balanced photo of a black animal, especially a cat because they are small, and it’s the ONLY way to get true eye color.

      Good luck! I look forward to seeing more of your megagerie!

      March 5, 2010 at 11:31 am

  2. I LOVE BLACK CATS…..THERE, I’VE SAID IT!!! I love the way, when you photograph them, they all meld together…. Great photos, as always. Love to the puddies. Kitty

    March 5, 2010 at 10:21 am

    • Having a whole family is almost overwhelming! It’s hard to get through the day, but I work on with their help…

      March 5, 2010 at 11:08 am

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