In photography, the smallest thing can be a great subject. The little, human detail can become a Leitmotiv. —Henri Cartier-Bresson
[one_half padding=”4px 10px 0 4px”]Remember that warning about not working with animals or children? This cat is a good example of why animal photography is difficult. The shot was taken in March, 2007, long before that whole grumpy cat meme took over the Internet, but he easily could have served as the inspiration. The model, whom we had shot before, was on her way home from college for Spring Break and was, naturally enough, taking her cat with her. She stopped by just long enough for a few shots and, given that she had a hat whose coloring matched that of the feline, she wanted pictures with her dear feline. Sounds reasonable enough, doesn’t it?
The cat wasn’t nearly as enthused as was it’s human. Actually, dear cat hated being stuck in a carrier and absolutely loathed riding in the car. By the time they had made the hour trip to us, dear cat was nothing short of royally pissed. He expressed his displeasure by yowling and hissing from inside the carrier as she brought him in. Thinking it might help him settle down a bit, the model decided to let the cat out so he could roam and get acquainted with his surroundings. The problem with that thought? We were shooting from Nick Tucker’s place on the South side of Indianapolis. Nick had a dog. A very large, friendly, and slobbery Saint Bernard.
You can probably guess what happened next. Even though the poor dog was sequestered to a separate room, the cat took one whiff of dog and ran for cover. Finding and retrieving him took so long that we had to drop one of the sets planned. By the time we actually got the extremely miffed cat in the pictures, the model was exhausted, which shows. The cat scowled the entire time, I think. It can be difficult to tell with cats like this; they have a resting grumpy face that never really changes.[/one_half]
[one_half_last padding=”4px 4px 0 10px”]Our challenge in choosing a processing method for this shot lies in the fact that everything from the wall to the chair to the cat is pretty much within the same general tonal range, with the exception of the model’s jeans. Nick did a great job with the lighting, but there was still a danger of losing detail. So, I chose a method duplicating what was typically my second-favorite film: Ilford Delta 100. Ilford is an old British film company that has been around since the 1870s, started in the basement of Alfred Harman’s house in Northeast London.
What makes Ilford Delta the best choice for this image is its sharpness and such fine grain that it is nearly grain-free, even under the most severe of conditions. Given the tonal range of our image, even Kodak professional films would have difficulty matching what Ilford Delta could do with this shot. The challenge, of course, is finding a digital conversion that meets that standard. This one took a while, but what we finally came up with is this: reds- 34, yellows- 76, greens- 40, cyans- 66, blues- 25, magentas- 61. That back-and-forth approach hits just the perfect tonal balance for pulling out detail without introducing unnecessary noise. Once we had that conversion setting, we made only the slightest adjustments to contrast before closing the file.
Shots like this are difficult to convert to a good digital black and white. It’s too easy to go too low on the contrast, which leaves the photo looking flat. Take the contrast just a tweak too far, and the highlights are lost. I’ve used this conversion method on several different challenging images, though, and it has yet to fail. It even manages to make a grumpy cat look almost friendly. Don’t be fooled, though. He wasn’t. [/one_half_last]