Micah

Two rather sad blog posts in a row. Hopefully a trend that ends NOW. A week ago, one of my favorite animals at Animal Ark passed on. Micah the bobcat was born in 1995 and came to Animal Ark in 2000. In many ways he was a showcase of how having a wild animal for a pet can go wrong. He was raised as a pet, but did not get along with his owner, then was passed around to some other owners before finally coming to Animal Ark. 

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I met him three years ago and he was one of the first animals I took care of. He always came running to his stump when he heard me coming, and he was always purring and looking for love. He loved most women, but he wasn't too fond of men. He had been declawed before coming to Animal Ark, and he had a lot of trouble with his feet. They caused him some pain, and he walked more on his "ankles" than on the pads of his feet.  Most days he would be seen lounging on his log with his feet hanging down.

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But he loved to play - sometimes with a pine cone, a potato, or even a pizza box!

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What always struck me the most about Micah were his beautiful eyes. They were multicolored, with a depth in them I haven't seen in any other animal. 

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He really was a funny cat - he liked to be up high and keeping an eye on his visitors. Or, sometimes, not keeping an eye on his visitors….

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Anyway, I am going to miss him. He never failed to make me smile, and he was always the first animal I greeted as I started my day at Animal Ark. I'll end with my favorite photo of him - it's just a blurry iPhone shot, but for some reason, I really loved it. I think I just saw his personality in this photo:

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Saying Goodbye to a Good Friend

Today is a sad day for me - one of my dearest friends, Rich Shaffer, passed away yesterday in his sleep. We met Rich and his wife, Cindy, when we lived in Huntington Beach. Cindy and I met on the tennis courts, and we became fast friends. We were trying to remember when that was, but it was sometime around 1997.

 Katrinka and Mark Reception

After Gary and I moved to Reno, we remained fast friends with the Shafers - they started coming to visit us in Reno once or twice per year, soon it was three times per year. They both liked Reno and around 2006, they sold their place in Huntington Beach and moved to Reno. We were really family - Thanksgiving was at their house, Christmas was always at ours.

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At family events, Rich and Cindy were always part of the family - at Gary's daughter's wedding:

 Kirsten's Wedding

In 2010, Rich, Cindy, Gary and I made a trip to Yellowstone National Park. We had all wanted to go, and none of us had ever been. So we loaded up the Jeep and headed east.  We spent about ten days on the road, but went home early because it started snowing (my vacation curse - material for another post…).

 Yellowstone National Park
 Yellowstone National Park

During and after the trip, Rich always said he wasn't seeing the animals the way we did. He went to the eye doctor and discovered cataracts in both eyes. He had surgery which corrected the problem, so in 2012 we packed up the Jeep again and headed east. And yes, it snowed again. But Rich became our #1 spotter that trip!

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A couple of years ago, Rich's health began to deteriorate. He never complained, even after a prolonged hospital stay that started on Thanksgiving and lasted until Christmas. 

He will be missed by all…..

 Thanksgiving

Animal Ark 2012

Here are my favorite shots from Animal Ark in 2012:

Real Estate Experiment

I got a call from a fellow photographer who said he had met a real estate agent looking for a photographer and I should give her a call. I've never tried real estate photography, but willing to give it a try. So I called her - she was very insistent that I should have a  "professional" camera and lenses, and that the photography had to be done a certain way. She didn't want "point-and-shoot" photography. She said it was very important that the house be lit properly, that you could see out the windows (HDR, anyone?), that the rooms looked big and spacious…She sent me some photos from a high-end real-estate site to illustrate the point.

So, I thought - how hard could this be? She looked at my website, but said that since there were no real estate or architectural photos there, she couldn't judge. So, I offered to take some photos of my house to show her what I could do. So, I spent all day New Year's Day with this experiment. It was actually a lot of fun - I used my 5DMk3 and 16-35 mm lens and three off-camera flashes. Exposures were  bracketed, then I waited for twilight to do some exterior shots. Then, into Photoshop for HDR processing, straightening walls, etc.

I sent her the photos and waited for the assignments to roll in……In the meantime, I did a little research on-line to see what the going rate for real-estate photography is in the local area. Mostly, it looks like the range is about $150-$300 for normal sized homes, and up from there, especially in the Lake Tahoe area. There is one guy in town that charges a lot more and does really nice work. 

So here's the photos that I took: First, the front entry of our house:

The wide angle lens makes it look really huge. This is two exposures blended together in Photoshop, just so you can see outside through the windows. A couple of speed lights hidden behind the columns pointed at the ceiling. Here, I have a rather ugly shadow on the ceiling - learning point #1.

The wide angle lens makes it look really huge. This is two exposures blended together in Photoshop, just so you can see outside through the windows. A couple of speed lights hidden behind the columns pointed at the ceiling. Here, I have a rather ugly shadow on the ceiling - learning point #1.

This image is of the family room. This is a 5-exposure HDR, with three speed lights bouncing off the ceiling and at the front of the sofa.

This one I was pretty happy with. It did require some perspective corrections in post.

This one I was pretty happy with. It did require some perspective corrections in post.

The next one is the kitchen - here I had some problems with reflections and shadows. There is a speed light on the counter on the left which I didn't hide. This is a three-shot HDR.

This was my least favorite of the bunch - I definitely have some shadow problems here. I was trying to balance the ceiling lights, the under-cabinet lights, the outside light and fill in the holes with flashes.

This was my least favorite of the bunch - I definitely have some shadow problems here. I was trying to balance the ceiling lights, the under-cabinet lights, the outside light and fill in the holes with flashes.

Then the bedroom: This was funny - I originally shot five exposures, planning to also do an HDR in this room. I did not notice that during the sequence I shot, that all four cats chased each other through the room. There were cats in every exposure, in different places each time! Did not notice until I had put all the camera gear away and was working on the computer. So, I just went with the initial exposure I had done to set up, and masked in the windows with a different exposure that didn't have cats there….

The main problem here is shadows on the ceiling. The tutorial I watched had said to bounce flash off the ceiling, but it didn't account for ceiling fans. Have to figure out a better way to do this. There were two flashes bouncing off the ceiling here.

The main problem here is shadows on the ceiling. The tutorial I watched had said to bounce flash off the ceiling, but it didn't account for ceiling fans. Have to figure out a better way to do this. There were two flashes bouncing off the ceiling here.

And, finally, as the sun was going down, I parked my tripod across the road and took shots about every ten minutes as the sun was going down behind me, and as I was freezing my fingers off. There is a speed light behind each column on the front patio. I liked this one:

The sky really was more intense than it shows in the photo, so I guess I still didn't wait long enough (but I was cold..). All in all, pretty happy with the results.

The sky really was more intense than it shows in the photo, so I guess I still didn't wait long enough (but I was cold..). All in all, pretty happy with the results.

So, I send the agent the photos, and she really liked them. She was ready to hire me on the spot. She asked what I charge - I told her $150 for a house - I'm not very experienced and that is the bottom of the range locally. That's where things fell apart - she says "Well, I only pay $60 to $75 for a house so will you work for that?".  After all the grilling about equipment and how exactly she wanted it done, she wasn't willing to pay for it. I resisted the temptation to tell her "go find someone with in iPhone….", and tried to explain what all was involved.  

But she wouldn't budge, and I wouldn't budge, so this is the beginning and the end of my real estate photography career…..It was an interesting experiment and I learned quite a bit from it!

Shelter Shots - Jan. 8

This week's photo session at the Nevada Humane Society: My partner, Bria Hansen and I both photographed this week, so these are kitties that I photographed. I enjoy sharing the photography with Bria, so I get to play with the cats too! Set design and cat wrangling by Kathy Parker.

This is Cosmo - an 11 year-old male who has been at the shelter for about a month:

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This is Betty, a six year-old female that arrived at the shelter just after the first of the year. She was a very sweet kitty:

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This is Magic Mike - a three and a half year-old male. Very sweet, a little shy, beautiful cat:

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This is Snickers, a 12 year old male. He's been at the shelter for a couple of months and is really lovable. He makes some interesting sounds and has a lot of personality.

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And finally, this is Jazman, who has been at the shelter since late September. He is a sweet cat, but just did not want to look at the camera. He was much more interested in getting his ears scratched than having his portrait done.

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Cheetah Run - A Different View

Most of the cheetah run photos from Animal Ark that I have posted in the past were photographed from the photography blinds at the bottom of the course. Last year, I had the opportunity to photograph from a different vantage point, near where the cheetahs start the course. The light is not as good there, but it allowed for some different view, including the view of the cheetahs going by the spectator stands.

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Reno Air Races 2012

Still here trying to catch up on old projects. I think it was a miracle that the Air Races occurred in 2012, after the terrible crash in 2011. I've been going to see them since I was very young, and have only missed the event three times since 1964. So, I have thousands of photos from many years of races. Each year I try to focus on what is new and different. This year they had a skydiver who lost both legs to open the event..

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The usual assortment of military hardware:

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This year, since it was unsure as to whether the event would even happen, they were unable to get any of the military precision teams such as the Thunderbirds or Blue Angels. But they invited the Patriots, a private team made up of former military pilots. The Patriots fly old Czech L-29's, but they are fun to watch, with their colorful smoke and dynamic choreography. Because the planes are slower, they are able to maneuver more tightly in the airshow space and spend less time away maneuvering for position. They are getting better every year.

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The rest of the images are in the Galleries section of my website:

http://susankoppel.com/galleries/#/reno-air-races/

Fun with "Bad HDR" at American Flats

Last year, our local meet up photo group had a photo outing to American Flats, an abandoned cyanide mill near Virginia City. The 4-story concrete buildings were erected in 1920 and closed in 1926. All that remains is the concrete skeleton. Since then, it's been covered in graffiti, buried in tons of broken glass, spattered by paintball warriors, and abused as a teen-age party hangout. With all of it's eerie beauty, it was a candidate for some post-processing experiments. I used three different HDR programs: Photomatix, Nik's HDR Efex, and Photoshop's built-in function. Then I killed it further using plug-ins by Topaz and Nik. So, these are in no way meant to be "good", just fun. 

There are a few images in this post, if you want to see more, they are on the Galleries page on my website...

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Santa "Paws" Shoot for Humane Society

I was asked by the Nevada Humane Society to be the photographer for their annual "Santa Paws" event, where people can bring their pets in for a photo with Santa. Santa was awesome - he starts growing his hair and beard in the summer just to be ready to play Santa at Christmas. They set up a tree and some presents, and a big chair for Santa. People started lining up before 10:00, and it was absolutely non-stop until 4:30. Santa and I got a 15 minute break to eat a sandwich, and there was a line of people and pets the whole day.  I'd like to share a few highlights:

People were great - they dressed up their pets:

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This little girl donated her tooth fairy money to the Humane Society:

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One lady brought in her SIX Yorkies in a baby stroller - they were all dressed for the occasion, down to the bows in their hair..

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Some of the pets really liked to pose for the camera...

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We saw mostly dogs, but there were some cats, and one family even brought in three cats. This one was very festive:

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This was a cute little dog, wearing a dress….

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Followed by the biggest dog I've ever seen in my life - a 155 pound Great Pyrenees belonging to the Humane Society Director's executive assistant:

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One lady brought in four dachshunds, that were very interested in the cats….

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We had some really big family groups - lots of people, lots of pets...

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And we ended the day with these darling kittens that had just come out of the foster program:

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At the end of the day, we had photographed 110 "families" with Santa, taken over 1100 photos. It was a long weekend post-processing, and most people got their photos in a few days. I was exhausted!

Some lessons learned for next year: need a bigger, wider backdrop, need something on the floor (the green and orange tiles just didn't work…) and hopefully be able to light it a little differently. But all in all, a huge success, and for me, a huge learning experience.

Max and Kalinka

Max and Kalinka are two gorgeous Samoyed huskies that belong to my friends, Joe and Frann Horton. They are siblings, pure white, with some of the softest fur I've ever felt. Ever since I read "Call of the Wild" in fourth grade, I have wanted a husky. So it was a privilege to photograph these two:

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Joe and Frann live in the forest, so it was just natural to take them outside for some photos:

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I thought it would be cool to use the sun as a backlight and having it shine through their fur. The effect was a little more dramatic than I had thought, next time need to tone it down a bit…..

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Next, we moved indoors for a few photos by the fireplace:

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And, finally a few on one of the chairs. Initially I did not notice the plant behind their heads, way too much Photogshop time, lesson learned for next time. Thanks Joe and Frann for letting me photograph your beautiful dogs!

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Big News - Announcing: Pet Portrait Services!

I'm excited to announce that I am now offering pet portrait services! Portraits can be done in the comfort of your home; in my home studio, or at an outdoor venue such as a favorite park. Please visit the new Pet Photography section of my website, where you can get more information and see a gallery of sample images. 

Puppies and Kittens, Oh My!

Yesterday, while shooting our usual assortment of adoptable pets, we spied a staff member with a very young Chihuahua puppy. Always on the lookout for new subjects, we asked if we could photograph the puppy. Turns out, he was one of FIVE puppies, that are still too young to be adopted. They are still in the Humane Society's foster program and need to do a bit of growing before they can be offered for adoption. But we managed to get them into our "studio" for a quick shoot. Cuteness overload:

So, feeling proud of ourselves for getting the puppies in a basket, we thought "why not, let's try kittens again". So we found four darling kittens (all available for adoption) and they did not disappoint. Thanks to my assistant, Bria Hansen, and also photographer, for the third and the last shot in the series:

Kitten Catastrophe

So, I've been getting pretty confident with the shelter shots, so when we saw FOUR adorable little black kittens had just come up for adoption, we had to try. And try we did! My partner, Kathy, had designed a cute little basket of autumn cheer, so we thought it would be fun to photograph the kittens with the basket.  That didn't work - kittens everywhere! So, empty out the basket and try to put the kittens in the basket. Two helpers trying to keep all four kittens on the table, staff and volunteers at the Humane Society outside the window just laughing! As soon as one kitten got put on the table, two more jumped off! Oh well, here's the best shots of that exercise - only one shot actually captured all four kittens….

 

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Welcome to My New Website and Blog

Welcome to my NEW website! I have kind of gotten fed up with Wordpress and decided to move to Squarespace for the new site. Hopefully it will be easier to keep fresh material on here.  I've changed the name because I think TabbyCat Photography was a little restrictive, since I do photograph a variety of things. That said, I am going to focus on pet photography so I might resurrect that site at some point. For now, my pet photography will be included on this site under it's own menu item.

The Portfolio section highlights my favorite images and will be updated as I get new favorites. The Galleries pages will feature current and past projects in more detail, for example, vacations and sporting events. Those will get updated as I slog through my backlog of personal projects and travels.

The blog will be a challenge for me - I'm not really a wordy person, and writing comes hard for me. I usually can say what I want to say in a couple of sentences. But practice is good, and hopefully I'll be able to pass on interesting and entertaining information.

So enjoy, please let me know if you have constructive comments - I'm not a designer, or a coder, and this is still very much a work in progress. 

Test Post

This is a test post of new blog. 

Me with the snake!

Me with the snake!

California Photo Festival

I spent the last week in San Luis Obispo at the California Photo Festival. This is a great event put on by Hal and Victoria Schmitt and the Light Photographic Workshop. It's a great hands-on photography education experience. They keep you busy - up for sunrise shoots, classes during the day, sunset shoots, lots of other shoots.