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Should I trap this cat? When? - Page 3

post #61 of 67

I have been wanting to film the secret lives of feral cats. I have different people build the 21 cat shelters I have placed and each one has a little different twist as everyone thinks they can go one better than the plans. Which ones do the cats prefer? Do the cats bunk down with groundhogs? Do the groundhogs, skunks, coons, etc drive the cats out of their homes? Are the newbies settling into the shelters or are they freezing their butts off? What do the cats do for fun? Who hangs out with who -- and what DO those stick-out-like-a-neon-light-white cats do all day while they are laying low? How many cats really fit in those shelters after all the space taken up by insulation? I'd like to answer these and many other burning questions in order to be a better caregiver to my colony.

They sell motion-sensitive cameras you can mount to trees for hunters. However, these use a flash. Your pictures were probably taken with a flash too. Doesn't that scare the cats? Do you have some camera you would recommend for outdoor use to accomplish the sleuthing I have in mind? Any ideas where I could rent such a camera or would I have to shell out to buy one? Thanks!
post #62 of 67
I posted the banner on my site...I even linked your site within the banner.


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post #63 of 67
Hi Susan,

Wow, when I first read your post I thought you were asking ME for the answer to questions like "where do those white cats go"... darned if I know!

As for photo tips, everyone who gets into photographing cats has their own way of doing it so I can only say what's worked for me. For my part, the first lesson I had to learn was to quit referring to it as "shooting cats" though I do still slip from time to time.

First, about lighting. When it's possible, I take photos without flash. Natural light almost always makes for a more pleasing photo. If you are far enough away and stay pretty still, often the cat will also stay still, just because they are little cautious about a human being nearby. The trick is to use a long lens and keep the camera rock steady by using a tripod.

Here is an example of a natural light shot done with a tripod. I was at least 25 feet away. I seldom get any closer than that.


If I do need to use flash, I try to use my strobe unit on a six foot cord. I hold the camera in one hand and the strobe in the other or lie the strobe on the ground next to me while I'm on my belly. Exact postioning is dependant on the shot, but basically the idea is to put enough distance between the lens and the light source to keep the strobe from bouncing off the back of the cat's eye and right back into the camera. That "deer in the headlights" look can be a little freaky, y'know. Basically any camera that has a built-in flash is likely to cause this problem to some degree, so even a flash mounted on top using a hot-shoe will take care of it most of the time. Oh, there are digitals that promote "red-eye reduction" I don't care for the feature because most of the time it's just one or a series of quick flashes right before the camera takes the shot. Wastes batteries, can disturb the subject and really doesn't address the problem correctly.

Here is an example of a shot using the flash on a hot-shoe.


With the excepttion of the "red eye reduction" pre flash scenario, In my experience flashes really don't often frighten the cats. In fact, in some cases by taking two shots in quick succession, the first one makes the cat look at the camera, and the second one gets the shot. Again, invest in a long lens. If the camera is a 35mm, I'd recommend anything longer than a 210mm. A 300 or 400 fixed works well, but a zoom that will go that long may work better for you. I also use a small tripod. It is so small I can carry it in my pocket, but I can set it on the ground and lie on my belly to get a shot, or set it on top of a trash can, car top or if I squat, even my knee. It steadies the camera quite well.

That said, for me it's easy to fall into the trap of worrying about getting a technically correct shot. Sometimes you can't get a tripod where you want, can't get the light you want, and the resulting photo isn't optimal but still gets the message across. In this example, I was lying on my stomach on top of some railroad ties (I think) sticking the camera down into an opening without being able to even see the subject. The cats were totally still but I wasn't. So it's a little dark, a little blurry, but the message it conveys may actually be stronger because of that.


And here's one where I fill-flashed, got the deer in the headlights look, but was happy I did. The black cat would have just been a dark blob otherwise.


Really, there are no rules that aren't meant to be broken. A good photo is one that people look at and remember. This is one of my favorites.


Many digital cameras work great for cat photos. I recommend ignoring mentions of "digital zoom" when making a buying decision. Look for something that says 4x or 6x optical zoom. Look for ones that have a 2x or 4x extender in their accessory line. The combination of those two features will keep you a good distance from the subject.

Look for something in the 5-6 megapixel range if you are planning on printing photos 8 x 10 or larger or using the photos for a high quality brochure (something you're investing a lot of money to have a printer do for you).

There's another reason to invest in a 5-6 MP camera. You may not be able to fill the image area with the subject, but when you drop it into Photoshop and crop, you'll have a lot more detail to work with. I'll attach a sample 5MP image to this message. The top is the original shot. The bottom is a cropped closeup from the same image. OK, I admit it, I'm fascinated by cats' eyes!

Also look for cameras that support RAW mode or TIFF mode if you plan on photographic quality printing. If you will only use the photos on the web these features aren't necessary and may only complicate things, since most people who use RAW and TIFF are also going to drop the image into PhotoShop and work on it.

If shooting in JPG mode, always use the least compression or "fine" mode. Invest in a larger compact flash card (or whatever medium the camera supports). What they give you with the camera often holds very few pictures if you shoot in a high quality setting so find out what the file size is for your high quality setting and get a card that will hold at least 24-36 images. Buy as much as storage medium as you can afford.

Get a camera with a rechargable battery, get a charger and get a second battery so you don't end up dead in the field. Besides, anyone who shoots a lot of digital pretty quickly tires of shelling out for all those batteries.

The better digitals often have a hot shoe so consider this and invest in a flash. In addition to the reason I've already mentioned, separate flashes have more power and will light those distant subjects better.

Look at the quality of the lens and avoid those that use cheap plastic. Some of the better consumer digitals do use glass. You just have to look for it.

As for brands, well that's all a matter of preference. I look more at ease of use. If you find you can make changes to your settings quickly even in dark situations, have a good sized viewfinder that lets you trash those blurry shots quickly so you can free up space, then if the camera has the features to do the job, then it's probably the camera for you!

Happy shooting (er, photographing).

Hope this helps!

post #64 of 67
Thread Starter 
We've had a bunch of camera questions, so there's quite a bit of information floating around in the archive as well.

There are some additional camera questions and commentary HERE

I actually provide some links to digital camera sites that might be helpful, on my site: HERE

There are general photography links HERE

And I'm always looking for people to ask camera questions in the photography forums, which are HERE. (They're quite new, so there aren't many posts yet).

Hopefully, that will add to what was posted up above.
post #65 of 67
I wasn't asking about photography as art but more as sleuth. I want to mount a camera and leave it to photo the shy cats who come out at 2 am after I've gone. I'm interested in the art though and maybe someday I'll have time to look into it. Meanwhile your photos are awesome! I especially like the first one. The cat looks just like my foster Perry Bear.

Thanks for relieving my mind about the flash and whether it scares ferals.
post #66 of 67

Thanks for pointing out that there is a photography forum. It's all to easy to get off topic and I'm afraid that's what happened here.

Susan, it sounds like you're looking for a special setup that uses a motion sensor or a timer set to trigger the camera every 15-30 minutes or so. I know such gear exists, but I have no familiarity with it.

post #67 of 67
Thread Starter 
Thanks for pointing out that there is a photography forum. It's all to easy to get off topic and I'm afraid that's what happened here.
Just to say - I'm not worried about getting off-topic; I just wanted to post a link to the forums on my site because we've had a lot of camera questions floating into different threads and in Private Messages, and it would be a good place for people to ask questions and have all of the information together in one place.

It would probably be useful to have a FAQ or some other resource on-site for this info, since many people seem to have camera questions.
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