The Eyes Have It: 2010

two black cats

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.

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