Washington Whisker Whisperers [Janesville, WI ROCKSTARS!]

I’ve always said, “if you can read, you can do anything.”  I’m dead serious when I say this.  Learning anything involves reading.  If someone says to me, “I don’t know how…” [to do something], my first response is, you know how to read correct?  Yes, then you can figure it out.  Just about every single thing you’d ever want to do is in print somewhere.  And with the internet and all its resources at your fingertips…and the ability to read…………..you are unstoppable.  And you can do anything and everything.

When I was little, the single most important thing to me, in being “grown up” was to be able to read.  It wasn’t money, or being able to stay up late or drive a car.  It was knowing how to read.  So when it came time to learn, I took that very seriously.

Well the kids at Washington Elementary school here in Janesville are taking reading to a whole new level.  And man if I could have done this when I was little………….well I think that would have been even cooler than being grown up FOR CERTAIN.


Let me introduce you to the Washington Whisker Whisperers.  This is a fantastic reading program developed by teacher Kim Hayward to empower kid’s reading abilities by reading to non-judgemental audiences, shelter cats!


These kids come down to the Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin and read to the cats on Wednesday afternoons.  People, this is a HUGE win/win for the kids AND the cats.  (And the bystanders [me]!!!)  The kids are stoked about the cats, the cats are stoked about the kids (and the attention) and the kids hone their reading skills and the cats reward them with purrs, and licks and snuggles.  There is so much love flying around that shelter when those kids are there you can’t help but get caught up in it!  Seriously, its like cartoon love.  Birds and streamers and hearts floating through the air.



Anyone who knows me knows I’m a giant softie for animals.  Little people run a close second.  Put the two together?  Oh man.  I braced myself to cry (happy tears) the whole time I was there.  I didn’t.  I was so focused on capturing and witnessing the experience between the animals and the kids.  It was the most rewarding photography project I’ve worked on in a long time.  I am so honored to be a teeny little part of that day.


Share this blog post.  Share these pictures.  Share the experience of the Washington Whisker Whisperers!!!  You “3Dubs” (get it?….Washington (1) Whisker (2) Whisperers (3)) are well on your way of being able to do ANNNNNYYYYYYTHIIIIIING you want in the whole wide world!  Life is so much easier when you can read, and read well.  Keep up the good work and keep on loving and sharing your time with the animals at the shelter!!!  Spread the word and help get funding for this program!  The bussing to and from the shelter is the biggest hurdle right now.  Its very expensive.  Lets put our heads together and see what we can come up with to help!  You can post your ideas here, or email me directly at mduerr@olivephotographics.com or if you’d like to get in touch with the leader of this fine program Kim Hayward, email her at khayward@janesville.k12.wi.us

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Pinteresty Christmas Set

And an absolutely perfect baby girl.

DISCLAIMER!!! I do not photograph babies anymore. One exception…my friend’s perfect little peanut. So in this post I will share how to recreate this set so that others can take care of all the baby photographing that needs to be done. Because this set is so beautiful and elegant I literally wanted to leave it up through the holidays. Its GORGEOUS.

Remember in my last post I explained how to get a blurry background. You are going to need to have that down pat to recreate this shot (if you choose. You can always just sit back and enjoy the breathtaking beauty of this child’s eyes.)

You’ll need white Christmas lights on white wire. What kind is up to you. I used a “curtain” and an extra 100 light string. A white wall, or white backdrop. An ottoman with white faux fur (sort of) fabric. The image below is the pull back (phone pic).


Of course you’ll need light.  I had tons with a patio door camera right and a big window directly behind me.  I also brought in a reflector to pop some light in on the left.

Like I always say, practice on inanimate objects until you get the look you desire and then bring in some human or live subjects.


Thank you for being so patient Mr. Ruggles.  He’s a great subject. There is about 4′ from the back of the ottoman to the backdrop.  I needed to get it out of the window light a little so that we could create some dreamy bokeh.  My camera settings for this shoot are as follows, ISO 400, f2.5 with my 50mm 1.2 L lens and my shutter speed ranged from 1/320 to 1/1000 since clouds were moving and changing my light.  I used the “shade” white balance setting since we are inside and in fact…in the shade.

I put a big 6′ scrim over my window behind me.  When the sun was out it cast harsh shadows into my shooting area and we can’t have that.  I didn’t take a picture of it.  You can diffuse your light any way you like.  Just watch for harsh shadows and hotspots in your images.

Now on to the GOOD STUFF!!  Look at this sweet little girl!  She is so good and so beautiful she makes my heart hurt.


The ornaments are plastic and the hangers don’t come out.  We had three adults on hand keeping an eye on her movements and the condition of the ornaments since they spent a lot of time in her mouth.  I even rinsed them off first.  We used the smaller ornaments (choking hazards) behind with the lights to add a teeny bit of color.  Safety first.  ALWAYS.

We decided that the next image (well all of them really) could be a magazine cover.


Except that I missed my focus on one of her eyes.  But the emotion in this shot, completely overrides the technical miss.


Come on people are you kidding me?   LOOK AT HER EYES!!!!!!  Just unbelievable!  Am I biased because she’s my friend’s baby?  Maybe…..but seriously, I doubt it.


She’s looking for Santa don’t you think?

So this is the set up for a super gorgeous Christmas-y set.  Tweak your set and make it your own or copy this one.  It is really just so perfect for holiday images.  You’ll have to get your own amazingly beautiful baby to photograph.  🙂

Once the little peanut was done with her shoot, in came Oscar to pose in his usual manner.


Click here for the Pinspiration.  I hope you all enjoyed this post as much as I did shooting it and sharing it with you all.  Keep on snapping!!

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FAQ – How do you get that blurry background?

This post is for DSLRs only.

If you google this question, you’ll get a lot of hits that tell you that you must get a “fast” lens.  What that mean is a lens with a big honkin’ aperture (f#).  This is somewhat true.  A fast lens will get you a blurrier background.  But its not required.  I wish I would have known that when I was just starting out.  It would have saved me a BUNCH of money.

I shot some demo images for this post.  I used a sh*tty old kit lens my first 35mm FILM camera and my favorite (one of) lens the 70-200mm L.

In order to get a blurry background in any situation, you need space between your subject and the background.  How much is subjective.  Experiment and see the difference.  ***Tip!!  Experiment with an OBJECT not a child or a human, until you understand what is happening.  Then try your new found technique on a live subject.  You’ll be much more relaxed and able to take your time with an inanimate object.

Ok, place your subject (something with some contrast like a colorful toy?) in some nice light.  Not harsh sunlight, but maybe pretty window light.  Clear the area.  You want distance between your subject and stuff in the background.  How much, depends.  Clear your area and later on when you are experimenting, add things in at different distances to see how it affects what is in or out of focus.  Practicing is KEY.

Flip your camera dial over to “M” (easy….it will be ok!!) if you have a kit lens on your camera (the one you got when you bought your camera) turn your lens to the shortest focal length.  In my image it was 35mm.  Open your aperture as wide as it will go (smaller number).    If you don’t know how to do this, refer to your user manual.  Every camera is different.  Don’t know where your manual is…google your camera brand and model.  With my crappy old kit lens the farthest I could open my aperture is 4.0.  Press your shutter button halfway to wake your camera up and take a meter reading.  Adjust your shutter speed by turning the dial right by your trigger finger (typically) until your in camera meter needle is in the center.  **Notice your shutter speed if its lower than your focal length (in my case 35mm) increase your ISO (check your manual!!) until you can get a decent shutter speed (my personal preference is 3x my focal length…I can’t hand hold very still depending on what lens I’m using).  Otherwise you’ll get a blurry image due to camera shake.  Or put your camera on a tripod and have at it.  Focus on your subject, and take your picture.  (Use your center focus point for this exercise, it is typically sharpest.)




Notice the background is blurry!  WINNING!  Now, don’t move….and zoom your lens in, focus on your subject and snap another picture.  You shouldn’t have to mess with your shutter speed once its exposed properly.  How’s that look?  Even blurrier?!  YAY!



Look at you!!  Shooting in manual and getting the images you want!  Woooot!!  Give yourself a high 5!!  I swear I high 5 myself all the time.  Not even kidding.

Ok, now to see the difference with a fast lens check out the next images.  I had to move my subject a bit because I couldn’t get back far enough to lock focus.  I’m in my office, its small.  You can see the metadata in the corner.  This was with my 70-200mm L lens at a focal length of 70mm.



The next image is at the focal length of 200mm (haven’t changed my position, just zoomed in).  Looky THAT blurry bokeh (background blur).   Mmmmmmmmm love it.



So you see, a “fast” lens gives you the best bokeh.  But its NOT required.  Get good at using what you have and then work your way to some sweet glass.  Practice, practice, practice.  I’m a professional.  I STILL to this day practice all.the.time.  My cats hate me, so I use a teddy bear a lot.  Once I figure out what I’m trying to achieve…then I bring in a human subject.

Note:  the images in this post are for training purposes only and do not represent my typical shooting style.  😉

Snap on people!


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Hey-o!!! Remember me?

I’m still here!  Still going strong, still shooting…just sucking at blogging.  So I thought I’d toss an image of my own sweet little girl on this blog.  She doesn’t usually sit still long for pictures.  At least not with her eyes open.  But at sheet changing time, well…she’s not getting off that bed for ANY reason.  Its like her very own Great America fun park.


Monorail cat.  Just a long tube of kitty.



Showing off her gorgeous coat.  (She just barfed HUGE as I typed this.  <sigh>)

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Every guy needs a wingman.  A guy is SURE to succeed with Bubba as his wingman.



Seriously  tho.  Man’s best friend comes in any shape or size.  This little guy, tho a mere 10 pounds has the confidence and charm of a dog 10 times his size.  He’s personable, affectionate and quite the conversationalist when the time is right.  He had plenty to say to the butterflies around him.



He wasn’t a huge fan of heights, so his human was just inches out of the picture.  We kept these to a minimum.  No need to stress the little guy out.  He was up for trying anything, but safety is always number one.



Taking a little snuggle break to hang with his human.  Modeling is brutal work.  Exhausting.

Bubba_2306I seriously cannot take the CUTENESS!



Bubba, you are one handsome dude.  It was a pleasure hanging out with you this afternoon.  Quite the little charmer you are.  Hope to see you again real soon little man!!!



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