Rudyard Kipling wrote, “I am the cat who walks by himself and all places are alike to me.” A cat also has definite opinions about who he knows and doesn’t want to get to know, how much sun he’ll tolerate in his eyes, and whether he’ll just plain “wanna” or not. Multiply that cat by two, and it’s a considerable challenge to shoot a paintable composition in a single photograph.
For this commission, the two cats, Boots and Bandit, could not be persuaded to sit together in the sunlit chair that had been placed for the purpose. Bandit, who had never met me before, didn’t trust strangers, so sat, haughty and uncooperative, glaring at me … when he deigned to sit at all. Boots took off on his own to lie down between two other chairs, in the shade. Not that I could blame him.
When being held/posed/manhandled in the blinding sunlight, both cats kept their eyes closed. Yet their owner requested that I show the characteristic eye color of each of them. I knew it would be hopeless if we continued the photo shoot in the sun, so we changed tactics and allowed the cats to run around in the open shade of the enclosed lanai. I tried to position myself in one location from which I could capture their antics, wherever they moved. And I took shot after shot after shot. (What a cost savings digital photography is over film in such circumstances!)
Eventually I managed to get a good photograph of each of the cats individually. Selecting the best photos of each cat, I repositioned them in relation to each other, through digital magic, to create my primary reference.
Aside from ensuring that their relative sizes were appropriate, my main concern in matching up the animals’ photos was that they should be lit from the same direction. Fortunately, I had two good photos that were lit from the right, though Boots was largely in semi-shade and Bandit was sidelit by brilliant sunlight. Degree of light can be altered in the painting process, but the contouring that directional light and resulting shadow creates on a subject is considerably harder to adjust.
I chose a few back-up photos of each cat to use as supplemental reference material, not only for color, lighting adjustments, and variations on pose, but also for that important and telling detail, their eyes.
This is when I really appreciate Adobe for having created that powerful photo-manipulation program called Photoshop. It took me a while to learn; I still use cheat-sheets and refer to how-to books, but the program allows me to set up and adjust compositions on my computer screen that were unobtainable in life.