Helmi Flick and Digital Photography

Helmi Flick and digital photography go hand in hand. She makes it clear from the outset,

“I am a digital photographer. I began my current career with a digital camera and have never used film. I cannot imagine shooting cats with film. My hat is off to those who made their living in this niche business in the years before digital was an option. I currently shoot with a Canon EOS 20D and use a Tamron f2.8 28-75mm lens exclusively.” (Helmi has now upgraded to a Canon 5D)

Canon say that the EOS 5D “defines a new D-SLR category” meaning that it neatly fits in between the Canon 20D and the professional EOS 1D. A difference between the 1D and the 5D is that the 5D doesn’t have any environmental seals. It does though offer a 12.8 megapixel sensor and is more solidly built than the 20D.

Yet, the camera is the tool; it’s the photographer who makes the photograph and sometimes equipment can get in the way of capturing that fleeting moment. The fleeting moment is when the cat presents her character to the camera and when the composition formed by the shape of her body and the expression on her face are optimal.

Helmi keeps the set up similar for each shoot to take out of the equation one of the variables. There is enough variation to deal with in front of the camera. This allows her to focus on getting the picture.

Helmi says,

“Our work is almost exclusively formal portraiture, which is to say the cats are posed on our shooting stage with a limbo background of various color-coordinated fabrics and shot with studio lighting.”

The Method

For Helmi the picture is about the cat and nothing but the cat, which I think is the best method. In Helmi’s case it is essential as her clients, who are cat breeders, owners and publishers want it that way. However, if you have the technique and confidence to strip away all the gimmicks and some props (although the odd prop can of course contribute from time to time) and make the photograph “work” you will get the better photograph.

Helmi Flick and digital photography make a very effective partnership. Bearing in mind that timing is important and the moment fleeting Helmi and Ken (and the client if he or she is  owner and/or breeder) can check and correct with digital imaging.

Helmi does most of her cat photography at cat shows (or in the Flicks’ studio), so the studio stand is portable and relatively easy to set up.

The Set Up

canon 5d camera“We use a four light setup. Our key light uses a small soft box and is placed at 90 degrees from the cat and at about a 45 degree downward angle (side light). It is flagged so none of its light spills onto our background subject”….Our back light uses a 20-degree spot grid and is angled slightly downward on the cat from its position alongside and behind our background (hair light to add texture and highlight the cat’s coat). Our background light is a small battery powered slave flash”….(the background light forms a pool of light in the lower center of the background to focus the veiwer’s attention towards the center of the photograph).

The fourth light is a fill light directly in front of the cat and over the camera.

The final element in a shoot is to animate the cat as and when necessary and to this effect Helmi says, “We bring cat teases, visible and audible, for wrangling and getting the cat’s attention. Ken’s favorite visible cat tease is a long pheasant feather taped to a dowel rod. Some of the audible teases we use are squirrel calls, squeeze toys (rubber ducky), clickers, and a toy train whistle.”

You can notice the many wonderful and subtle examples of animation that Ken deftly teases out of the cat.  Once the photography is complete the work on the computer begins to remove any distracting minor defect in the image and enhance the image generally. This is something that Helmi is also very skilled at.

Helmi Flick and Digital Photography plus Ken are an excellent team.

See the actual setup here.


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