One is silver and the other's gold
June 27, 2010 11:43 AM   Subscribe

Is there an easy, magic (i.e. cheap) way to photograph eyeshine?

I have an odd-eyed cat. When he sits in the dark they shine different colors which is a very eerie effect. Is it possible to catch this with a cheap digital camera, and without expertise in photoshop? Using a flash would just get redeye from his blue one and nothing from his yellow one.

Back before many photogs knew the word pixel, I would have known the answer, fast film and long exposure, but I have done very little picture taking for years and own no equipment any more. I'm hoping there is some tech-magic I don't know about.
posted by Some1 to Pets & Animals (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Well, um, high ISO and long exposure. Digital didn't change everything.
posted by theichibun at 11:53 AM on June 27, 2010

Your first instinct is right - fast film and long exposure. If you can get him to sit still, that is.

Depending on your camera, there may be options for manual control. If so, you're set. Stick it on a tripod/chair/bean bag, set it to a high ISO (say, 1600) and a relatively long exposure. Hope your cat sits still. Take lots and lots and lots of shots.

Turning up the ISO on your camera is akin to using a faster film. It should be labelled with the ISO numbers. The highest is normally ISO 1600, which is ridiculously sensitive in film terms, but is probably not be sensitive enough for a handheld photograph in the dark.

If your camera only has scene modes, then have a look through for one which does long exposures without flash. You may have to consult the manual.

Good luck, and let us know the results!
posted by Magnakai at 11:55 AM on June 27, 2010

You mean cameras still need light?! Drats.

He sits still for hours it seems to me, but maybe won't to a camera. Probably not going to happen with a camera from the drug store, huh?
posted by Some1 at 12:29 PM on June 27, 2010

Probably not going to happen with a camera from the drug store, huh?

Nope, but some of the super-DSLRs out there, like the Nikon D3s, are so sensitive that they are basically night vision devices. Put an ad out on Craigslist and see if you can't get someone with 3-5K of gear to take one shot for some price.
posted by fake at 1:40 PM on June 27, 2010

The trouble with that, fake, is that he is an antisocial recluse (making him a perfect match for his person); it wasn't only his color and weird eyes that gave him the name Ghost Cat. Though he has begun to trust me since this post, I still only get to see him at certain times, and no one else would believe I had a cat if it weren't for the ectoplamic residue he leaves all over. The photographer would have to move in for two weeks before he came out from his tunnels.

I might be able to borrow something, not something near that good though. Then I'll need a class in downloading pictures and have to get a flicker account, but this is my second cat thread without a picture, and that violates the guidelines, right?
posted by Some1 at 3:00 PM on June 27, 2010

Depends on which camera and which drug store. Disposable cameras would definitely not suffice, as they won't be capable of metering for a long exposure properly.

I imagine you'd need something semi-decent, though most compact digital cameras and definitely all digital SLRs would work. A Nikon D3S, while an astounding piece of engineering, is definitely overkill.

Another option is to hit up eBay, buy an old film SLR (a Pentax Spotmatic, for example) and revert back to what you know. You can get a cable release for next to nothing. You can get film developed and scanned at many places, like Target and Costco (which is meant to be especially good) for quite a reasonable price.
posted by Magnakai at 7:50 AM on June 28, 2010

Red eye is the light from the flash bouncing off the back of the eye & hitting the lens. The problem isn't the camera, the problem is the flash.

Photography 101 - take a small light source that's near the lens & make it a large light source that's further away from the lens.

Find something that's translucent, but without a color to it - a glass with an interesting pattern, a bottle of water with a lot of ridges, a bottle of glass cleaner. Anything that will take the small light source that's immediately next to the lens that will turn it into a large light source that's a bit distant from the lens.

Put this in front of the flash whenever you take a picture of the cat. Experiment with different materials. You want something that won't just let the light through, but will refract it in all sorts of different ways. Some crumpled up clear plastic bags, anything that has the right properties can be used, but a lot of things won't work because they'll just let the light through without really spreading it in a meaningful way. I suspect some crumpled up saran wrap in a ziploc or sandwich bag may work, but I've never tried this particular combination myself.

You'll have to experiment a bit to find something that really works.

Enlarging the light source & pushing it out away from the lens should cut down on, if not eliminate red eye.

This makes for a great party trick too - take a glass of water (or other clearish liquid) and put it in front of the flash to soften the light on your subjects.
posted by MesoFilter at 9:54 PM on July 5, 2010

Oh, then there's the most obvious answer - do it in daylight or near daylight. Indirect light from a window is best.
posted by MesoFilter at 11:18 PM on July 5, 2010

Well, here are the first pictures of The Ghost Cat. It's not really a resolution to this question though, just some digital images with a flash. (But the flash reflection is still interesting - well different than most anyway. (Please ignore the dirty window, it didn't look so bad without the ectoplasmic imaging instrument.))

I've taken a roll of pictures with a non-digital (that was still more electronic and bossy than I'd have liked), but I'm not very optimistic about that, and the flash reflection in some of these does give a bit of the effect I was after -- sitting in the dark his eyes do look silver (bluish-white) and gold (orange-ish) but that might be because of the 'daylight' bulb in my reading lamp, and due to perception due to the contrast, right?
posted by Some1 at 10:45 AM on July 7, 2010

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