Helmi Flick lives in Bedford, Texas with her husband, Ken, a freelance writer who also does the lighting and cat wrangling for her, plus her 4 cats. Having spent 30 years of her working life in administrative office positions in computers, medicine and law, Flick came to her new career by the route most people only dream of: by turning something she loved to do into a new profession. After years of photographing her own cats and those of friends as a hobby, Helmi was encouraged by her husband Ken to try her hand as a cat show photographer. Helmi got her first assignment from the Thunderkatz Cat Club as the show photographer for their May 2000 T. I.
C. A. show in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, U. S. A.
On the basis of her work at that show, the Thunderkatz club asked Helmi to be their ‘Official Show Photographer in Perpetuity.’ By March of 2001, Helmi had managed to secure the Show Photographer assignment at 12 shows. Helmi shoots with a digital camera. ‘Shooting digital images has been a lifesaver for me because cats are not the most cooperative subjects and there are always more throwaway shots than good ones. And because I’m not wasting film, I can afford to shoot far more images of a customer’s cat to get more keepers.
Additionally, the ‘instant’ nature of digital photography enables my customers to immediately review the shots I’ve taken and select the ones they like best to be printed. This review process is a tremendous tool for someone like me who is still learning this craft, since I’m able to discover the kinds of shots that owners of different breeds prefer. I guarantee that my customers will be satisfied with their photos and the digital approach is a great asset there, too, because if a customer does not see photos he / she likes in our post-shoot review, I can re shoot their cat on the spot.’ But getting good shots at the show is only the beginning of delivering great images to her customers. Because Helmi shoots digital images, she has the capability to color correct, crop, retouch and otherwise enhance every photo on her computer back home.
‘I can’t ignore that capability because I want every shot to be the best image it can be, so I end up spending far more time at my PC screen than behind the camera.” The ability to instantly analyze and digitally retouch her photographs does not change the skill needed to capture beautiful images of her feline subjects. “Anyone who has ever photographed their own cats knows that this is typically an elusive exercise with a very low yield of satisfying results. Their participation in the process ranges from oblivious to outright contrary and timing is everything. The cat is going to do only what it wants to do, but if you have zen-like patience and cat-like reflexes, there may be a brief moment when the cat’s pose or behavior coincides with what you want from it.” The skill of the professional cat photographer lies in her ability to consistently get successful shots. This is no small task, and requires more than one person and several pieces of equipment for desirable results.
And integral person in cat portraiture is the “cat wrangler”; a person (in Flick’s case her husband Ken) who places the subjects and tries to attract their attention with “teases” (like feathers attached to dowels, various noises, etc. ) so that they face a certain direction. It is sometimes difficult to make a cat face a certain way without actually chasing after the tease, and in some cases more wranglers are needed. In one instance where Flick attempted to photograph 18 kittens at once (she only could get 8, and digitally added the other 10), there were 2 extra wranglers at either side of the stage actually tossing the kittens back into the shot when they strayed away! Lighting is also a critical factor, and a multitude of sources is needed for an optimal shot. As shown in the diagram, Flick typically uses 4 separate sources; one from the front, another to the side for added contrast, a “hair light” to accentuate the texture of the coat, and another light from behind the stage.