The young French girl placed her most precious items in an elaborately decorated antique box — among them a personal letter, old coins, a sea shell, a compass and two glass negatives.
French photographer Matheiu Stern, who discovered the accidental time capsule earlier this year, used a vintage technique to develop the plates and reveal the images they contained: A photo of a small tabby cat posing on a door step, and another of the same tabby with a kitten and a gentle-looking dog.
The process Matheiu used is called cyanotype, and as its name implies, it renders everything in a blueish scale rather than grayscale or color. The process was popular for most of the 19th century before it gave way to newer and more accurate photography methods, but it was used long after that as a cheap method of reproducing architectural schematics, thus the name “blueprints.”
The photographs have the unmistakable hue of the process used to develop them, and show the people of the 19th century bonded with their cats just as we do.
They also prove that people have always loved taking photos of cats, and the ubiquity of cat images on the Internet was inevitable. Resistance always was futile:
As some of our readers know, I spent the first years of my professional career as a crime reporter, covering everything from murders to mall shooters, plane crashes and freak accidents.
One of the perks of the job — aside from seeing some truly crazy and bizarre things up close — was getting to work side-by-side with amazing photojournalists.
I watched how they handled themselves, what they were willing to do to get their shots and how they captured the essence of a story in just one or two frames.
It turns out photographing cats isn’t much different from capturing random moments of life. Our furry friends are unpredictable, they tend to shy away from the camera and they won’t wait for you to get the shot.
Some of this advice is general and some of it is cat-specific. I’m certainly no professional and I’m always learning, but I hope you can put some of the lessons I’ve learned to good use getting better shots of your own little buddies:
Let kitty forget about the camera
Cats are famously curious, and a shiny new thing must be investigated. As far as kitty is concerned, the best way to investigate is to pad right up to it, rub her cheeks against it, maybe bite the camera strap. You know, the standard stuff.
Let your cat do what she needs to do. If you don’t let her do her thing, the camera could become an item of intrigue, but let her sniff and bunt it a few times and she’ll quickly forget about it. A camera, after all, is clearly not as awesome as a cardboard box, a milk bottle cap or a treat.
When your cat decides to ignore your camera, you can start taking pictures. Which brings us to our next tip…
Distract the little ones with toys
Cats won’t pose for us, but that doesn’t mean we can’t nudge them toward particular actions or postures. Dangling a good wand toy or ball is a great way to get your cat to look at the camera or reach out. Want an action shot? Set a fast shutter speed and toss a ball or a bottle cap.
Catnip and treats, when used strategically, can also help you get the shot you want.
Use your smartphone for shots of opportunity
We’ve all been there: You’re sitting on your couch reading a book or watching a movie when you look over and realize your kitten looks adorable sleeping on his back, or your adult cat is striking a majestic pose…but you don’t have your camera.
The second you get up your cat is going to shift or get up to follow you, and the shot is gone.
For those fleeting opportunities keep your smartphone to hand and configure it so you can pull up the camera with a single button push: No passwords, no navigating to the app. Both iOS and Android can be configured to reach the camera quickly. (In most versions of iOS, for example, simply swipe from right to left on the lock screen to get the camera. In Android, double tap the power or home button.)
Below is one of my favorite photos of Buddy taken in a moment of opportunity with an iPhone. It may not be the kind of ultra-sharp image captured by a pro camera, but as one commenter put it, Buddy looks like he’s “radiating love.” I’d rather have a smartphone shot than no shot any day:
Choose the right setting
Unless they’re sprawled out in an ecstatic nip haze or curling up for a post-dinner nap, cats are usually moving. Unfortunately, your cat is not going to hold a pose for you while you fumble with the settings.
Whether you’re photographing a kitten with limitless energy or an adult who’s just doing his thing, you’re going to want a fast shutter speed — something in the neighborhood of 1/1,000 of a second to avoid blur and capture crisp images of motion.
If you’re not comfortable changing the settings manually, use the sports/motion preset on your camera.
Get up close, on the floor and use a proper zoom lens
Too many cat photos look like they could double as interior home photos that just happen to have a cat in them. If you’re shooting from eye height and your cat is a tiny smudge of fur in the center of the shot, you can do so much better.
Bring yourself down to your cat’s level and either shoot up close or use your zoom.
If you’re using a smartphone or a point-and-click, you’re going to want to get close because digital zoom is worthless: The camera doesn’t actually zoom, it simply displays the view at a larger size. You’re not capturing more detail. That’s why the quality decreases the more you “zoom” and the image becomes pixelated.
If you’re using a Canon, a Nikon or some other brand of dedicated camera, you have the advantage of a true optical zoom that does capture more detail. It can be useful for keeping your distance — and thus avoiding potentially distracting the cat — and for playing with perspective.
Shooting in ultra-HD JPG or RAW means you’re capturing more detail with each shot, giving you the option of heavily cropping photographs so your subject dominates the scene without degrading the image quality.
Here’s a raw photograph of Bud on my balcony with clutter in the background and uneaten treats on the ground that could be mistaken for turds or something, and the same image cropped close:
The cropped version puts the focus squarely on His Grace and cuts out most of the distracting junk. Along with a simple tweak to the color levels — giving definition to the shadows and creating better contrast — the photo is improved and its subject appear more vivid.
Don’t sweat imperfections
You may have noticed Buddy almost always has gunk in the corner of his eyes. (Just like humans, some cats produce more of it. It’s not a threat to his health.) He’s not fond of me trying to remove it. Early on I attempted to Photoshop the eye gunk out of his shots. Not only was it a lot of work, but it was very difficult to remove it without the photo looking wrong.
I decided to just let it go, thinking people would see it right away, but I’ve never even gotten a single question or comment about it. Nobody’s perfect, not even the Budster. (Shocking, I know.)
Avoid the temptation to go all Instagram-y with filters
There isn’t a camera app these days that doesn’t come loaded with Instagram-style filters to “improve” your photos. I strongly recommend resisting the urge to use them and instead take the time to learn how to filter your photos manually with Photoshop or a free alternative like the browser-based Photoshop clone, Pixlr.
The vast majority of Instagram-style filters are simply presets of the most extreme color, contrast and saturation sliders available. They degrade the image, stripping it of detail and making it look like every other photo on that platform, like autotune for images.
That’s all for now. Next time we’ll take a look at how to apply some basic filters to your photos to emphasize shadow and light, and make colors pop the way they should. Check back for part two in the weeks ahead, and thanks for reading!
Because we never miss an opportunity to do spectacularly stupid things here in good old ‘Merica, we’ve politicized the act of wearing a mask, the simplest and most effective way to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus.
Since mask-wearing has become a meme as well, a historical photo that apparently shows a cat wearing a mask has been making the rounds. It shows a California family — mom, dad, two boys, two girls and a cat — standing together for a group photo, with each of them wearing a facial covering.
It’s become something of a go-to on social media, used in response to those who believe the virus is a hoax, a minor threat overblown by the US media, or an invention of evil Big Pharma who infected the world — while cackling evilly, presumably — in order to rake in enormous profits from selling the vaccine. (How “Big Pharma” is making billions off a vaccine that doesn’t exist is never explained by the conspiracy theorists.)
The photo was archived by the Dublin (CA) Heritage Park and Museum, and it’s dated from 1920, the third and last year the Spanish Flu spread to every corner of the globe. Between 50 and 100 million people lost their lives to that virus, historians estimate, and it wasn’t until several decades later that scientists understood what they were dealing with.
Snopes spoke to Tyler Phillips, who coordinates the archival material for the Dublin Heritage Park and Museum. Unfortunately, Phillips said, not much is known about the photograph other than that it was taken around 1920.
“The fun thing about this photo is that it does appear that even the cat is wearing a mask, but unfortunately we cannot prove that. The staff here at our museum go back and forth on that same question,” Phillips said. “My personal belief is that it is an optical illusion. I cant imagine any cat staying that calm with a tight fitting mask on their face. Also if you zoom in real close you can start to see the faint features of the cats face (nose and mouth). Since the original photo is pretty small and very old its not much easier to tell looking at it.”
So Snopes says the claim that the cat is wearing a mask is “unproven,” and Phillips thinks it’s an optical illusion.
We here at PITB think it’s a legit mask: We don’t see whiskers or even visual artifacts that would result from pixelated or blurred whiskers at the low resolution of the photo. In addition, it’s perfectly normal for a mask to follow the contours of a face, so that doesn’t rule out a mask. A coat pattern that happens to look exactly like a cloth mask, however, isn’t common.
Lastly, cats are individuals. Some will tolerate masks, some won’t. Buddy would probably try to claw me to death if I made him wear a mask, but your average Maine Coon would probably think, “Yeah whatever is cool, bro!”
One thing’s for sure, though: You won’t see any cats confusing the small inconvenience of wearing a mask with “tyranny” or “oppression,” and you won’t see Kitty Karens pulling the snowflake card in grocery stores, insisting the rules don’t apply to them. Those are uniquely human behaviors.
Sad news, gentlemen: A new study from a team at Colorado State University claims men who love cats are perceived as “less masculine” and are less likely to score dates with single women.
The study surveyed 708 women between the ages of 18 and 24, showing them photos of men photographed alone and with cats. The women were asked whether they’d agree to a date with each man they viewed, and whether they’d consider a long-term relationship with each man.
When those same men were shown with cats, the number of women who said they’d date them dropped by five percent, while the number who said they’d consider a serious relationship dropped by four percent.
The women who took the survey also rated men “on masculinity and personality” according to their appearance in the photos. In addition, the participants answered questions like: “Is he reserved?”, “Is he generally trusting?” and “Is he lazy?”, and asked the women whether they believed the men were outgoing, sociable, kind and considerate.
“Men holding cats were viewed as less masculine; more neurotic, agreeable, and open; and less dateable,” wrote authors Lori Kogan and Shelly Vosche, who titled their paper “Not the Cat’s Meow? The Impact of Posing With Cats on Female Perceptions of Male Dateability.”
The researchers also asked the women if they viewed the men as dominant, gentle, sympathetic, affectionate, warm, decisive and possessed of leadership abilities.
The presence of cats hurt men across the board with the female respondents, who found the cat men “ultimately less datable in the short or long term,” Vosche and Kogan concluded.
That begs the question: Why?
Women want manly men, Vosche and Kogan argue.
“Women prefer men with ‘good genes,’ often defined as more masculine traits,” they wrote. “Clearly, the presence of a cat diminishes that perception.”
The results, they said, indicate “women are more likely to seek masculinity first, then consider other components of the potential mate.”
The findings were “influenced by” whether the women self-identified “as a dog or a cat person,” although it wasn’t clear just how much that impacted their responses.
Vosche and Kogan speculate “that American culture has distinguished ‘cat men’ as less masculine, perhaps creating a cultural preference for ‘dog men’ among most heterosexual women in the studied age group.”
The authors didn’t say why they concentrated on the 18 to 24 range, nor did they speculate on how women in older age cohorts might respond.
We would be remiss, of course, if we didn’t run this by Buddy the Cat. This is his blog, after all.
The outspoken tabby cat dismissed the study as “fake mews” and said it’s well-known that cats are “spectacular wing-men.”
In addition Buddy — who holds doctorates in being a cat and being handsome — argued that, while some cats may indeed make their human male servants seem less masculine, other cats — like Buddy — amplified masculine and desirable traits by several orders of magnitude.
“If a man is pictured with a scowling, flabby Persian, then sure, maybe women are less likely to view that man as masculine,” Buddy said. “But if a man is pictured with a ripped, dashingly handsome cat such as myself, women are 96 percent more likely to want to date him.”
Asked where he arrived at that figure, Buddy replied: “I made it up. But obviously it’s true.”