I’m fortunate enough to be able to work from home several days a week, so I have converted our spare bedroom into an office. Bully, one of our cats, has decided that it’s his mission in life to help me with my work, so whenever I trot up to the spare bedroom with the laptop under my arm, he follows along and leaps onto a spare desk next to mine. Here he arranges himself to get maximum benefit of the warmth from the sunlight streaming through the East-facing window. As the room gets almost unberable hot in the afternoon, Bully moves forth and back between the warm desk and the even warmer window sill.
Bully is a conscientious worker. He’s there by my side first thing in the morning while I’m sipping coffee and catching up on emails, and unless called away by the sound of food being prepared downstairs, he doesn’t move from my side all day. As well as putting in a great effort in the sleeping and relaxation department, he let’s me stroke and adore him whenever I have time during a phone call. If he feels I’m neglecting my phoning-and-stroking duties, he’ll gently nudge my hand and purr softly. All in all, Bully keeps me sane and does my deep meditation for me.
Unfortunately for Bully, the Cream Machine has nothing to do with dairy milk.
I’m fortunate enough to have been invited to the launch party for local band Amoriste’s new EP next week. Previous experiences with photographing in dark pubs and clubs has taught me that in such surroundings, you need as fast a lens as you can lay your hands on. Nikon makes an 85mm f/1.4, nicknamed “the cream machine”, and I’ve been on the lookout for a used sample on eBay and 2nd hand camera dealers’ websites for a long time. Was it an omen that one came up last week? I don’t know, but since they normally sell very quickly, I made sure to grab it before it was too late.
The lens has earnt its nickname for its bokeh – the quality and uniformity of the way it renders things that are out of focus. Rather than hard-edged, blurry spots, it tends to turn everything that isn’t in focus into a nice, soft, gentle, creamy mush. Hence “the cream machine”.
My wife, Denise, will lose her patience, if I mess about taking dozens and dozens of pictures of her. But of course, cat owners always have models that will stay still and ignore whatever it is we humans do. I’m happy to report that Bully also accepted this additional responsibility, and even volunteered to put in the extra time, when I brought the cream machine into the office during a lunch break. He looked at me curiously for 20 seconds while I adjusted the camera, and then when I was ready to start photographing, he put his head down on the desk and went back to sleep again.
I prefer my models to have their eyes open in the pictures. First I tried with a high-pitched Bullyyyyyyyyyyyyy-ullly-ullllyyyyyyy sound, which made him look long enough to get at least one shot in before he also realised that this wasn’t a signal for food. I leant that opening/closing velcro makes a good sound that would attract his attention for another 10 seconds, but the most effective attention-grabbing tool seemed to be to drop my keys on the floor. This trick worked several times before he also figured that one out. At the end of the day, one cannot tell cats what to do, but with a bit of patience they will happily show off their naturally elegant poses, and it’s up to us humans to just wait for the right moment.
As well as some portraits of Bully, I got to know the lens a little. F/1.4 gives very narrow depth of field at short distances – a bit of pixel peeping shows that while the near eye, where I focused, is pin sharp, his other eye is already out of focus. I will need to bare that in mind when my subject isn’t a cat sitting still, bathed in softly diffused sunlight, but a group of energetic musicians moving between deep shadows and harsh spotlights. Whether I succeed with this somewhat more challenging subject will be revealed in another blog post next weekend!