Pretty Pittie

Johnnie Cash here. I’m on the blog to show off my pretty furs. Why, you ask? Well because Foster Mama has been putting up all these stoopid iPhoney pictures lately, and those just don’t do me justice. I know that I have beautiful furs and pretty brown eyes and not to mention a sparkly new collar – and I want to make sure you all know that too! So here are some real photos from a real camera. Finally!

01 02 03 04Foster Mama says she promises to try and be better about putting real pictures on here. Though I know while they don’t always capture how beautiful I am, they are better at showing what life is like with me, so a little mix of both is good sometimes!

Happy Friday!

To adopt your very own pretty pittie named Johnnie Cash, email peacelovefoster@gmail.com.


Nothing Says It’s Almost Valentine’s Day Like. . .

. . . a fabulous love-tastic photo shoot of adoptable animals!

I had the pleasure of working with the extremely talented photographer Virgil Ocampo again last night (the same volunteer that took these amazing shots of adoptables a few weeks ago). We were taking pictures for an exciting upcoming Valentine’s Day event at the shelter, and we took the opportunity to go all out with cute pink and red props.

I absolutely love Valentine’s Day. I love the chance to celebrate love and to show the people I love in my life a little bit of extra appreciation for a day.  That meant that I had a total blast with this shoot. I can’t wait to show you all the photos! Here’s a little behind the scenes action. . . stay tuned!

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Photography Week: Get Creative

Welcome to Photography Week where we’re covering all things photography! We’re wrapping up after discussing the basics to capturing a good photo, manual settings for a DSLR camera, tips for improving your photos, and post-processing pointers. Thanks for stopping by this week, and I hope you’ve had as much fun learning as I did writing!

We all love having pictures of our pets, right? Sure, you can snap some when there are family gatherings or when you and your friends go out for a hike or maybe even when you’re out in the yard with them. But have you ever considered having your own little in-home studio shoot with them? Let me guess: you’re thinking, “Oh, I can’t do that, I don’t have the gear for that set up.” Think again. Some of my favorite photos have come from using nothing but my pet and a solid colored bed sheet!

I grabbed this old comforter at work and put it up in front of a desk, and voilà! You have a backdrop. I mentioned Monday that you should try to use clutter-free, non-distracting backgrounds. Well here is the perfect way to create that! It’s easy and it results in some unique photos compared to what you might be used to taking.

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Bobbi02Sure, sometimes it doesn’t always go as planned (like everything else involving dogs) but I love the look of a backdrop. Take a big sheet and put it in front of table, keep it secured with a few piles of books and then arm yourself with lots and lots of treats.

Photography is all about letting your creativity come through in a photo. Even within one simple setting there are hundreds of ways to alter it; to try something a bit different. I think the most fun I’ve had while learning my way around my Canon is getting to put my own personal perspective into my work, both through what and how I photograph subjects.  Things like trying backdrops and messing with composition and playing with different depths of field and even dressing up my dogs are all avenues that have helped to shape my preferences as a photographer.  You too will see your own creative strengths shine through your photos the more and more you practice.

Can’t get much more creative than this (I know it’s a little premature for Valentine’s Day but we were talking about backdrops and I couldn’t help but think about Baxter’s little hiney in these shorts!):

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Happy Friday, everyone!


Photography Week: Post-processing

Welcome to Photography Week where we’re covering all things photography! So far we’ve discussed the basics to capturing a good photo, manual settings for a DSLR camera, and other tips for improving your photos. Today we’re going to discuss how to improve your photos after you’ve taken them. Thanks for stopping by (or bearing with me if you’re not into photography!).

Some people swear against it, and some people swear by it – but the truth is that post-processing is becoming a standard practice for all levels of photographers these days. Post-processing refers to the editing of photos using computer software. Some popular programs include Photoshop CS, Photoshop Elements, Lightroom, Aperture, iPhoto and many others. I use Photoshop Elements, which is a more affordable version of Photoshop CS. I’ve heard really great things about Lightroom as well, which is also pretty affordable, and maybe slightly more user friendly than Photoshop. I don’t have much experience with the other programs. If you’re shopping around, I’d recommend reading user reviews and doing your research before settling on a certain software.  Also, a free online website you can use is picmonkey.com – very limited capabilities, but I used it for months before I got Photoshop!

Just like all the other photography subjects I’ve touched on this week, post-processing can be totally daunting when you first start, especially when you get a new program.  I’ll go through some basics here today, but I highly recommend you take a class or two on your specific program, even if only for the sake of knowing more of its full capabilities.  I opened my PS Elements, took one look and said, “Nope, no way” – then didn’t touch it for four months until Aleksandra gave me a quick one on one tutorial that changed everything.

Sometimes I feel guilty that my photos don’t come straight out of the camera perfect so I have to alter them afterwards, and right now I feel like I’m confessing to cheating by explaining this all to you. But the truth is that most, if not all, professional photographers do some sort of tweaking and editing of their photos on the computer, so I try not to feel too bad about it. Plus, it makes my photos end up so much better!

The way I’ll do this is use one photo and explain each step of editing that I generally do to my pictures. Unfortunately, because I use PS Elements, that is the only way I can describe some of the things I do. Hopefully they will translate at least a little bit to other programs!  Because Aleks is the one who helped me navigate the world of post-processing, I’ll use one of the photos I took of Chickerdoodle while we were in Austin.

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First things first, I crop the photo. I don’t need to crop this one too much, but I’ll take off a bit of unnecessary empty space on the top and right side.  Because the subject (the two dogs) take up most of the frame, I won’t worry too much about the rule of thirds. I could crop it a bit tighter on the left, but I want to leave in as much of Chick’s paw as I can. Also, because there is that awkward bit of light on the right side, I tried to crop inside of that so it didn’t interrupt my right edge in a distracting way.

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Then, I adjust some of the colors. A lot of this is just your own preference for how you want your photos to look. This picture is a little dull, which I’ll address later with lighting – but for now I do want to bring out some specific colors. In PS Elements, you can adjust the saturation level of colors separately.  I’m going to bump up the saturation of the reds a little bit to brighten Dude and the spots on Chick, and I’m also going to take back the yellows a bit to make Chick look a little more white.

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It’s subtle, but the color change does make a difference. Next, I work on lighting. I try to get rid of the film-like cover on this photo and make it seem more glossy. You can do this a few ways, and one of those ways is adjusting the brightness and contrast. The way I do it in Photoshop (and this won’t make sense to you unless you know a little bit about PS) is by creating two layers above the one I’m working with (which is one above the original) and making one of them a soft light layer, and one a screen layer.

The soft light layer increases contrast in your photo, and you can adjust the opacity of it to what you think looks best in combination with the screen layer. The soft light layer can accentuate an under-exposed photo, which is why it’s good to have the screen layer as well. The screen layer brightens up the whites of your photo. The perfect opacity combination of the two can make your photo look ten times better.

This is what setting the layers looks like in Photoshop:

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And here is the altered photo, at about 30% soft light and 80 % screen. Since the photo was already sort of dark, I didn’t need to use soft light all that much to darken it, but I used it to keep a nice contrast when I apply the screen. The 80% screen really brightened up the photo and helped get rid of that film-ish layer.

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Next I will do other minor touch ups using just my burn (darken) and dodge (brighten) tools. I’ll often brighten up someones face, or a black dog’s body using the dodge tool, pictured here at the lower left. I don’t need to brighten anything on this photo, except maybe Doodlebug’s eyes a bit, just to make them stand out more.

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My final step for many of my photos is vignetting.  This means darkening the edges of your photo to emphasize your subject. Vignetting is a big preference thing as well. Some people significantly blacken the edges, and some don’t do it at all (like Kate with a Camera mentions in a lens review post).  I like to darken the edges enough so it does emphasize the subject, but so that without looking for it you wouldn’t really notice it.

When I first decided I wanted to vignette my photos, I tried to look up how to do it in PS and found a hundred different ways, but none of them seemed to work for/make sense to me (mostly the second one).  Aleks finally clued me into using my burn tool, the same tool I mentioned before.  The burn tool darkens your photo, so instead of coloring black over top of your photo, it just darkens the existing colors. It achieves the same effect, but in a slightly more subtle way.

An important thing here is that I set the opacity of my burn tool to only 13% to help keep it subtle. I usually go over the edges of my photo multiple times to whatever level of darkness I think looks the best. I’m sure there are some rules out there for where you’re supposed to vignette your photos (as opposed to around the entire perimeter) but I haven’t found them yet so I don’t follow them. That’s up to your discretion!  You just want to make sure you don’t vignette over one of your subjects.

This is the photo with vignetting, meaning it’s the final product:

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Here are the before and afters next to each other.

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Now I think when I attempted to put these two photos together in Photoshop (something I’ve never done before) I messed up the quality, in case you’re thinking the second one looks less clear than the first. Not sure why that is, which shows how many millions of things I still need to learn about Photoshop and editing. Hell, I don’t even know how to put text on my pictures, let alone create a watermark, which is one of the most basic things a photographer can do.  Everyone’s got something to learn!

I’m sorry if this post made absolutely no sense to you or you couldn’t relate to it at all because you don’t have post-processing software. But if it makes you feel any better, that’s about as far as my PS comfort zone/knowledge extends, and I’ve been using it for about eight months now (if I didn’t make that clear in the last paragraph).  I need to follow my own advice and go take a class – which, actually, I would absolutely love to do. The more you know, the better your photos become!

Who else has some post-processing tips they swear by? I would so love to hear!


Photography Week: Improving Your Photos

Welcome to Photography Week where we’re covering all things photography! So far we’ve discussed the basics to capturing a good photo and then manual settings for a DSLR camera. Today we’re going to discuss some more advanced ways to improve your photos other than what we already mentioned in the basics post. Thanks for stopping by (or bearing with me if you’re not into photography!).

Once you’ve gotten a feel for how your camera works – perhaps you’ve started to understand your manual settings or you’ve just gotten more comfortable with the way it operates – you can start adjusting other aspects of your photograph. While exposure can make a huge difference in the quality of your photo, there are also other areas to pay attention to if you want to enhance your pictures.

Composition.  I discussed this a bit when I wrote about Instagram last month, which shows how you can use composition to your advantage no matter what gear you’re photographing with (phone, point and shoot camera, DSLR).  There are no fixed rules for composition of a photo, and a lot of it is personal preference, so I’ll just share some of the tips that I keep in mind. The more you research on your own and practice, the more you’ll discover what your individual composition preferences are.

Rule of Thirds is a way to make your photograph more interesting.  Basically you divide your photo into nine equal parts using two horizontal and two vertical lines and then position your main subject along one of the lines or points of intersections.  I don’t always do this exactly – I usually just crop my photos so the subject is on the side instead of the middle, but the end result is pretty much the same.

This photo of Charlie is cute, but imagine if the frame was wider and he was in the left third of the photo – it would be more balanced and interesting than here where he is awkwardly in the middle.

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The composition of the below photo is better (in my opinion) and creates a more interesting and visually appealing photo. Ideally he would be even a bit more to the left, but I didn’t want to crop out his tail – which brings me to my next aspect of composition.

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Cropping can make all the difference in your photos! You can crop out all sorts of distractions, you can crop to the rule of thirds, and you can crop to create a close up of your subject. It’s likely there is always something in the background you can crop out to put more emphasis on your subject.  This is where another preference of mine comes up: I will always crop using the same aspect ratio (which is 4×6) of the original photo. I don’t like to crop into squares or odd rectangles, but that’s just me.

Here is a photo of Seamus in the snow that I cropped to make it into the photo I wanted. Not only did I get rid of that big structure in the back right, I was able to put him on the right side of the frame to keep the photo interesting. (You’ll notice how dark the first one is versus the second. I was shooting with a different camera than my own and had to stick to auto, so I couldn’t control any lighting settings. The snow made the camera think it was WAY brighter than it actually was outside, so the photos came out dark. I adjusted that in post-processing, which we’ll discuss tomorrow.)

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Miscellaneous composition tip: Try not to cut off limbs. This tip was told to me early in my photography life, and ever since then I’ve noticed if a picture has chopped off someone’s hand or a dog’s paws. Obviously sometimes this is intentional for a closer crop, but the trimming of limbs can be done tactfully. If you end the frame awkwardly right below the elbow, consider moving the crop higher up the arm or giving them their hands back.

I absolutely love this photo of Joanie, but I wish she had front paws! It was impossible to avoid because I was shooting on stairs with a fixed lens length and that was as far away as I could get, but it still bugs me.  As often as possible I try to include the full limb or body of my subject, or I crop it in a way that doesn’t look so awkward.

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There are many other aspects of composition like framing, leading lines, symmetry etc. and I highly recommend you read up on it if you’re interested. Like I said, so much of it is personal preference, and even within one aspect of composition there can be many ways to do it well.

Point of Focus. Every photographer’s worst nightmare: you take what you think is the best photo of all time only to realize at your computer that your camera focused on the wrong thing. Many of you know the comforting beep that occurs when you press down half-way on the shutter button, meaning your camera has auto-focused. You line your subject’s face up right behind that clump of red dots you see through the view finder and click, yet the trees in the background end up sharper than the subject – UGH.

What changed my entire world as a photographer was discovering that I have control over that little red dot I see through the view finder that decides what the camera focuses on. I had no idea that the multiple red dots I saw meant my camera was picking what to focus on because I had multiple auto-focus points engaged. All I needed to do was turn off each auto-focus point (I think there are eight total) except for the one in the middle. Fixing this will be different for each individual camera so you’ll have to refer to your owner’s manual for how to do this on your own model.

By having only one auto-focus point activated, YOU can decide where your camera focuses. With that being said, shooting at a low f-stop with a shallow depth of field will mean you’ll still need to be very precise to get exactly what you want in focus.  If you’re photographing a dog, there’s still not very much space between their nose and their eyes, and it’s easy to get that awful say-it-ain’t-so nose in focus, eyes blurry shot – even with the single auto-focus point. Perfecting this takes a lot of practice so you get good at quickly focusing on the eyes before snapping the picture.

My neighbor Rojo shows us the difference between one photo where the focus has gone wrong and one where the focus has gone right.  These photos were literally taken seconds way from each other.  Every time I click the shutter button I try to refocus on the eyes – sometimes my camera listens, sometimes it doesn’t.

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I know I only covered two main areas of improvement in this post, but as you can see there is a lot of versatility and room for growth within both. Example: think a dog’s eyes will be the only thing you will ever want to accentuate in a photo by manipulating your focus point and depth of field? Think again.

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As usual, the more you practice with these creative pointers, the more comfortable you will get with them. You will also quickly learn which ones are important to you and which aren’t.  It’s really a lot of fun, and can give you an individual style to your photos.  Enjoy!


Photography Week: Your DSLR Settings in Manual Mode

Welcome to Photography Week where we’re covering all things photography! Yesterday we started with the basics for anyone with a camera, including you iPhoners out there. Today, we’re getting more specific with DSLR cameras, but later this week we’ll be back to camera-generic tips when we talk about things like post-processing. Thanks for stopping by (or bearing with me if you’re not into photography!).

When I first started using my Canon EOS 40D about a year and a half ago, the buttons and different options looked like they were codes from Mars. I shot in automatic for a good eight months because I had no clue how to work any other setting. Every time I tried to look it up online I got even more confused, until I found a website that broke it down for me in the most simple terms I’d found since beginning my search. I can’t remember which website it was, but they actually explained things to me, in what seemed like for the first time, English. It was a game changer for me, so I’m hoping to maybe help a few of you like that today!  Please forgive me, those of you who know what you’re talking about, if I get something wrong. I think I’ve figured most of it out, but I could be wrong on a thing or two (or three), so hopefully you will be able to excuse any mistakes!

With a DSLR camera, you have three different settings to mess with: shutter speed, aperture/f-stop and ISO. These three settings work together to determine how much light shows up in your photo, known as the exposure level.  An over exposed photo has too much light and often has a washed out look, shown in the photo below. An underexposed photo is too dark because either there was not enough light in the room or because your camera’s settings were set to not let enough light in (or both).

An over exposed photo.

An over exposed photo.

These three settings all control different things which is what makes them tricky to keep track of.  When you first learn them you’ll always have to remind yourself, “Okay, if I put this number higher, am I letting light in or keeping it out?” But before you know it, adjusting your settings will become second nature and as soon as you see the area you’re taking pictures in you will have a guess as to what setting to put each option on.

Shutter speed:  This is the amount of time your shutter is open when you take a photo, meaning how long the light has an opportunity to get into your camera.  If you’re in a dark area, you need more light to be able to get in so you want your shutter open for longer. If you’re in a bright area, like outdoors, you don’t want excess light going in so you’re only going to have your shutter open very briefly.

Shutter speed (SS) is measured (for the most part, unless you’re taking pictures of stars) in fractions of a second. Most cameras have a number, maybe 15 – 4,000 (or something, beats me what the actual range is), when referring to the shutter speed, but what that actually means is 1/15 seconds or 1/4,000 seconds (unless you see ” by the number, which means actual seconds – but you probably won’t have to use those levels unless, like I mentioned, you’re shooting star photos). So when you increase your shutter speed number – like going from 15 to 200 – you’re increasing the speed at which it moves, and therefore decreasing the amount of time it’s open for light to get through. Make sense?

The lower the shutter speed, the more sensitive to movement your camera becomes, which can cause blurry photos. I’ve heard a few rules about what shutter speed should be the minimum for your photos before it starts causing problems. The best advice I heard is that you shouldn’t go below the equivalent to the lens distance you’re shooting with. So, when I’m shooting with my 30 mm lens (that’s the length of the lens), I shouldn’t go slower than the shutter speed 1/30 or else my photo becomes blurry. To combat this, many people use tripods when shooting at extremely low shutter speeds. If you’re down around 15 or 30, simply leaning on a wall or holding your breath can sometimes help.

Quick review.  A shutter speed of 50 (so, 1/50 seconds) is going to allow more time to let light in than 200 (1/200 seconds).  You’ll want to use a SS of 60 or so in an area of low light, and maybe 200 when perhaps you’re in a room with lots of natural light. If you’re outside in bright sunlight – which, by the way, I would try to avoid for photos – you might have your SS all the way up at 2,000 or 4,000.

Aperture/F-stop: The aperture is the hole that lets light into the camera, sort of like your pupil.  Aperture is also what controls depth of field and what can help you capture that fabulous fuzzy background look.  The size of the aperture is marked by what is called an f-stop (or f-number, I’ll use them interchangeably here).  The lower the f-number, the larger the size of the aperture hole (I know, they just had to, right?). A camera set at f/2.8 will be able to let in more light than a camera set at f/8. Different lenses have different capabilities when it comes to aperture – most can only go down to a certain f-stop. Darker shooting locations need a lower f-number, but. . .

. . . the lower the f-stop number, the more shallow the depth of field becomes. F/1.4 is only going to be able to have a small area in focus, where as f/22 can probably capture a whole group of people in focus at varying distances.  This means you have to be aware of your subject if you’re using aperture to adjust exposure – a lower f-number might let more light in, but it will limit your depth of field significantly.

Quick review. The lower the f-number, the larger the aperture hole and the more light can get in, but the depth of field is shallower. The higher the f-number, the deeper the depth of field, but the darker the image. 

The aperture is set at a low f-number, seen by the shallow depth of field (very blurry background).

The aperture is set at a low f-stop, seen by the shallow depth of field (very blurry background, pretty much only Otie’s eyes are in focus).

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A photo taken at a higher f-stop, as seen by the fact that the ground behind them is also basically in focus. It would have been tricky to set the f-stop too much lower because Baxter and Bella’s faces were likely at different distances from the camera, and one of them would have probably ended up out of focus. Plus, I was using my standard issue lens, which does not have the ability to go lower than I believe f/5.6 anyway.

ISO: The ability for your camera to bring in light (in technical terms, the sensitivity of your image sensor). The way I that I finally understood it was the following analogy: ISO is like an army of little light-men who retrieve light and bring it into your camera. The higher your ISO, the more little light-men you have available to retrieve light. ISO ranges most commonly from 100 – 1,600, though many cameras are different. A smaller ISO (so, a smaller number of light-men retrieving light for you) is ideal for well lit shooting conditions. A higher ISO is needed for – you guessed it – situations with low light (you need a lot of light-men out retrieving light for you!).

But, just like with aperture, ISO comes with a catch. The higher the ISO, the more “noise” or grain shows up in your photo. It’s like you had so many light-men out there collecting light for you that they couldn’t all fit back in your photo and now they’re crammed in there as a big cranky, bustling crowd.  If possible, you want to adjust your shutter speed and aperture for low light before increasing your ISO too much, or else you’ll end up with grainy photos. Sometimes it’s a last resort though, and you just can’t help it.

Quick review. ISO means how much light your camera will bring in when taking a photo.  A lower ISO will bring in less light, but will create a sharper, richer image. A higher ISO will allow you to shoot in low-light settings, but your image will come out “noisy.”

This photo was taken inside a pet supplies store where the lighting wasn't all that great. I was forced to set my ISO all the way up to 1600, which is why Rosalie looks sort of grainy if you look closely. The untrained eye might not notice it, but it drives me as a photographer crazy!

This photo was taken inside a pet supplies store where the lighting wasn’t all that great. I was forced to set my ISO all the way up to 1600, which is why Rosalie is sort of grainy if you look closely (the floor on the right side shows it best I think). The untrained eye might not notice it, but it drives me as a photographer crazy!

WHEW. Information overload yet? I know it’s a lot, but once you get the basics learned and you practice (and practice and practice and practice) it will make a lot more sense to you. I recommend just sitting around your house and messing with each setting to see how it affects your photos. Then slowly you will realize how they work together to create the best exposure setting for your photos.

If you’ve just started, don’t be intimidated. Even the best photographers began knowing nothing about cameras, and learned the basics first thing. I’ve only been in my manual setting for about nine months now, and I already feel very comfortable with it to the point that I can predict settings when I go to take a photo – so it’s not hard. Practice makes perfect (along with maybe a class or two because even though I covered the basics today, there are still a lot more basics out there you could learn).

If you’ve got questions about any of this, leave them in the comments! I’ll try my best to answer, or at least point you to somewhere that might have the answer.

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Cats: Giving You a Run for Your Money

I know what you’re thinking… more cats? Seriously!? But when you’re not fostering and you’re traveling and the only four legged subjects you have to take photos of are cats, then cats are going to have to take up some time on the blog.  I don’t mind it actually – taking pictures of kitties is a nice change of pace from photographing dogs.

Cats are notorious for being a big pain in the you know what to photograph. They’re usually not like dogs in that they’re not particularly inclined to give you their attention for more than about .06 seconds. You have to get seriously creative to capture their attention for long enough to take those dreamy eye shots. For dogs, you can often just use a treat or a squeaker toy. For cats, you have to pull out all the stops – toys, weird noises, sparkly ribbon, cat nip. . . you name it, I’m sure a photographer somewhere has tried it.

I’m lucky with my Aunt’s rescued kitties, Cosmo and Angus, because they’re actually pretty food motivated and a few pieces of kitty candy can sort of hold their attention. It’s brief though, because once they realize you’re not going to give them the candy every time you hold it in front of their face, they pretty much tell you to f-off. Such characters.

Their love for food helped me capture a few decent shots, though you can tell I was working as fast as possible because some faces aren’t quite as crisp as I want them – but they were the best I ended up with.  In the end, Cosmo (the grey one) vomited because I gave him too much kitty candy and Angus (the black one) fell into a deep food coma, but it was a fun photo shoot and a deeper introduction into kitty photography. Enjoy!

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