Don’t wait for the “right moment”, just take the photo now, and take lots of them.
I said I had the same issue with photos provided to me for portraits, and that I actually specialize in piecing together multiple views from multiple years and adding a good bit of intuition to make a portrait work.
I remembered this out in my backyard with Cookie yesterday. A sunny spring afternoon and I had carried my lunch out to the picnic table then spent some time photographing the newly blooming forget-me-nots, violets, dandelions and various early wildflowers and ferns and birds.
Cookie was wandering around the yard at her own pace. Cookie never moved quickly being as well-rounded as she is, but now she is absolutely ambling and I think I see a little unsteadiness in her hind legs I didn’t see last year.
Not that there is anything wrong—except that Cookie is 18 this year. And not that there is anything wrong with that, except that I know our time is, well, more finite than it used to be.
So I took lots of photos of her lovely warm tortoiseshell fur in the sun and shade against the brilliant spring hues of jade and apple green, of the shadowed grass perfectly complimenting Cookie’s eyes, of her sitting among forget-me-nots, of her sitting next to our weatherfish, of her on the fallen branch, of her on the picnic table…
I’ve got photos of Cookie from all of her 18 years, more and more as I became more interested and serious about photography as an art instead of simply as a means to a painting.
But I’ve taken many of her and all the others just to have them on hand and remember them and the times they were with me.
I haven’t done portraits of all my cats, but when I plan and paint one even I need photos for reference. I discovered my sorry lack of photos when I went to paint my Kublai, the love of my life, the cat who had started it all for me, and I discovered I had about two photos I could use. This was partly his fault—he was always hanging on me, his arms around my neck and his face buried in my hair, or draped around my neck under my hair. He ended up in those positions after running toward me as I was trying to frame a good shot of him; when I looked at him, he ran to me, no photo, too bad for my inexperience.
So we come back to the first point. Especially now that we have digital cameras and don’t have to deal with film and developing and storing photos, and digitals are so tiny and easy to use, just take a few basic shots of your best friends to document the moment, then start trying for the artsy shots and posing your pets. You’ll be glad later that you have them, even if they don’t end up in a memorial item or a portrait. And don’t forget your human friends too.
Even now I make the mistake of missing a shot thinking I’ll have a chance again later…I look at the photos I took of Namir last summer and in several I see an image I really wanted to catch but didn’t take the time for some reason and now the chance is gone. Cookie doesn’t stand a chance of a private moment in the face of that.
I also think that many people are discovering a latent talent for photography, or at least a healthy enjoyment of it. I consider myself a photographer now, after about 25 years of experimentation and learning “in the field”, as it were, and lots of photos I finally figured some things out and it all started with photographing my cats—this could be your story too.
Still, every day, I take a few photographs of my cats and often I use them in design or to illustrate something I’ve written. Often they are compositional warm-ups for a day of creative output where I won’t be working with anything to do with cats or even photography, but they awaken my senses and my work is better for it.
And like everyone else I hate to face the reality, but unless something serious and unexpected happens to me, I am going to outlive this household of cats, and I want to make sure I remember them. It’s bittersweet in the weeks and months, and even the early years after I’ve lost them to encounter their images on a happy sunny morning in spring, but for all the tears that may fill my eyes I smile with the joy of remembrance as well. So I just keep photographing. And you should too.