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How To: Chinchilla Holiday Photography

One of our favorite ways to get festive during the holiday season is with winter-themed chinchilla photo shoots! This guide will go through my process with photographing LY Chinchillas on my own with no strobes or flash (basically, nothing fancy)! Be sure to have a fast camera (I use the Fujifilm X-T10 Camera because of the super-fast continuous shooting mode) and light sources ready to go!Koko Warm Posing XmasThe very first thing to check prior to starting the shoot is the chin-proof factor. Admittedly, the actual time on set is very short – and the rest of the time is spent coaxing your little one back on set or sending them back to their cage to nap off a hard 10 seconds of work! In those off-set moments, you’ll need to make sure that everything is completely chin-proofed to prevent any accidents, fur loss, or injury.Muff Sideways HolidaysThe next thing you’ll want to check are your ambient light sources – that means your natural light, ceiling lights, desk lights, lamps, floor lamps, whatever other illuminating tools you may have in the shooting area. This will help capture your chinchilla by allowing you to have a faster shutter speed due to more available light. Normally, I prefer a clean white light, but for the holidays, there’s nothing wrong with a warmer glow that comes standard in most home lighting.
Grab a portable spotlight if your natural lighting is low – ideally, this will be somehow diffused. You can do this by using a strong flashlight or adjustable desk lamp covered and tied down with a very sheer scarf. This will make sure that your light is not too harsh and capture your chinchillas in all their softness.Set design holidays 2016 The third step is to create your set: start out with a fun, safe idea and execute! Fleece is always great, but other textures can be visually pleasing too. For my holiday shoot this year, I went with simple silver and white tree decorations, along with a chunky knit sweater. It’s important to note that these decorations are obviously not safe for consumption, so I would not suggest this for anyone who is starting out with shoots; managing the talent on set is a huge part of the multitasking these types of productions require!Lulu Munching Warm HolidaysThe final step is to shoot away! I like to set up the scene, get the lights on, take a few test shots, and then plop them in one by one to see how they react. Normally, my chins are very confused at the new environment, so they’ll take 10 seconds to look around before dashing off. Those 10 seconds are crucial! With a fast continuous shooting mode, you can grab up to 8 images per second – more than enough to finalize at least one adorable final shot.Mitty HolidaysKnowing your chinchillas, staying very patient, and setting realistic expectations is key: after shooting for years with them, I know that Fifi will be tough to contain (she has a strong dislike for unfamiliar environments) – so during this year’s shoot, she slipped out of the roster by her own sheer determination. Remember, it’s your own selfish cute-loving self who happens to be encouraging them to pose for adorable photos, so never get frustrated if things aren’t working out. If someone is being a diva, simply save the shoot for another day. Or, if you know a shoot is coming up, hold off on safe chews and treats for the week prior and let them munch on set. If difficulties arise, the rule is: better safe than sorry, always! It’s not worth straining your relationship with your beloved chin over some images.Muff Holiday Warm EatingDon’t be apprehensive to reinvent the concept if needed. Sometimes, simple is better. A fleece backdrop and a chew stick can yield incredibly cute shots, too! Staying basic is an awesome way to start learning how your chins will behave in front of the lights and camera. It’s always truly just a buildup of trust, anyhow. We all wish you a very warm and happy holidays with tons of bonding and photography, sweet friends! Koko Cute Head Warm Holidays

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Ferret Nation Cages: Pros and Cons

These past few weeks have been busy! As we slowly emerge from a long winter, a few major changes have come to LY Chinchillas too: we switched from our custom-built digs over to Ferret Nation 182 cages! Admittedly, I went a little crazy with the purchasing process because we ended up with 3 full double units, but after much deliberation on space and convenience, I’ve decided to keep the third double unit boxed up and in storage until more space allows for it in the future.

To start, I’ll speak a little about the emotional change that comes with a major cage change. We had built our custom cages with time, energy, and great care, and they turned out great. They were a little less spacious than I had hoped given the constraints of finding a convertible wardrobe unit, but the larger cages had a lot of vertical space for the two mosaic girls Lulu & Fifi, as well as my standard firstborn son Mittenmaus. Koko resided in the top cage partition, as she has never (to this day) displayed an iota of jumping capability. Separately, Muff had a custom cage built out of two smaller unit cages that he simply loved, including a climbing wall and lots of space for his jellybean self to roam and chirp. There were some downsides to the custom cages, but overall, they were built with great love and care with safety and personalities in mind.

Ferret Nation Cages

And then, before I knew it, the Ferret Nations were on their way. Honestly, it was a spur of the moment order. I had been thinking about new cages for a while, and after researching options on the market, opted for the 182 model. And then, before I knew it, the Ferret Nations had arrived. The cages have a ton of positive points, but the first few nights were actually filled with anxiety for both me and some of the chins.

The girls didn’t mind at all. They are seemingly more independent and less attached to the comfort of any one place, as if peace of mind is something already engrained in their brains, bringing a sense of ease and calm to their transition. Mitty is an (unsuccessful) escape artist, that’s just how he rolls. He explored his cage to the fullest, memorized each jump and leap and corner, and settled in. Of course, he’s still going forward with his master plan of eventually escaping, and I do wish I could give him a full double unit to himself, but the space is adequate for him and I’m confident that he will adjust over time. Muff, on the other hand, was as nervous as I was. He missed his old cage! Truthfully, this space was a little bit of a downgrade for him, height-wise. The way Muff was acting, I was really starting to doubt my decision. There was a noticeable increase in stress: nervous squeaking, an unwillingness to talk to me or meet my hands, weight loss, and agitated jumping for several days. Part of me wanted to turn back and give him back his old everything, but I made the executive decision to wait and let the new cages settle in – for both me, and the chins.

Muff FN

Ladies FN

Mitty FN

Koko FN

I knew that I purchased these cages for a particular reason: in the hopes that they are the very best, safest, and cleanest option for our living situation right now. Residing in a NYC apartment is not exactly spacious, and every square foot counts. The same day the cages were set up and before I had the chance to reconsider turning back, I had already dismantled the old cages and re-purposed any salvageable kiln-dried pine for ledges and platforms in the new cages. This made it tough, because the moment I started taking parts down, I knew that I wasn’t going to reconstruct the old cages. I had some restless sleep (yes, I’m seriously in tune with my kids) but I lived with it. It was time to move forward. In the following week, all of Muff’s weight loss had been regained, and attitudes from all parties were perking up.

So, that brings me to this very lengthy post – a post which, in many ways, is a formulation of my opinions that are still in infancy. I’ve had the new cages for under a month, and have had some time to modify their interiors to my liking. While I have yet to make any definitive emotional connection with Ferret Nation, I’ve also been forced to put my custom cages in my past. I figured that places me in a unique position to evenly critique the pros and cons of Ferret Nation.

Mitty FN2

PROS

  • User-Friendly, Lots of Control: This is a huge pro! These cages are truly designed for the pet owner, many thanks to Ferret Nation for that. All the points below will simply highlight and point back to this one major pro.
  • Reliable Doors: Two self-locking doors that swing open as far as possible? Yes, please! The doors swing open a lovely 225 degrees. This means you can deal with one chinchilla at a time with all the elbow space you need, without having to worry about another chin’s escape.
  • Mobility: Smooth wheels do the trick. Rolling the cages from room to room or rotating 360 degrees is totally manageable with one person. I should note that although the wheels have worked fabulously for these first few weeks, a double unit cage is pretty heavy and could cause some wear and tear on the wheel function over time. As mobile as these cages can be, they are more suitable for a stationary situation.
  • Light and Ventilation: Nothing sucks more than not being able to see your super cute chinchilla. These cages are awesome for that! Light passes through really easily, making it a little easier to catch the cuteness on camera (which, as chin owners know, is part of the struggle). Bottom levels have a little less light than desired, but such is the payoff for separated top and bottom units. An added bonus of light passage is also air passage, which helps ventilation and improves overall living conditions.
  • Universal Nature: So easy to use and self-explanatory, I would consider trusting a pet sitter to handle these cages – and for me, that says a lot.
  • Longevity: These cages will last for years. They may get scratched up, but these cages will stay relevant and get the job done.
  • Professional Look: The design is simple and sleek.
  • Safe and Sturdy: The bars and overall structure is pretty heavy duty, easing the weight of worry on neurotic owners.
  • Easy to Clean: A simple structural design makes cleaning as easy as could possibly be! Double unit cages have corners that are easy to reach with (almost) no hidden areas for grime to build up in.
  • Resale Value: Hand-in-hand with the “Cost” bullet point in the Cons section, these cages maintain their value pretty well in comparison with other cages.
  • Brand Recognition: The commercial value of this product and presence in the industry is pretty solid. This at least means the brand has been somewhat successful long enough to be oft recommended and widely distributed.

CONS

  • Customization/Inability to Prorate Space: As customizable as the inside space of the cage may be, the size of each cage is fixed. That means there are three choices: 1, 2, or 3 unit cages. I can’t, for example, give a little more height to the boys or a little more width to my girls without adding another overwhelming unit to their existing spaces.
  • More Width Than Height: This might seem like a weird point for some people because most cages are wider than they are high, but with custom cages we had the luxury of being able to customize a safe cage with more height than width, which the chins seemed to love and have more fun with. Of course, you could add on that additional unit and make the height appear, but the overwhelming presence! I would like to point out that this Con is also a Pro, limiting falls and height-related injuries.
  • Presence: These cages command attention and space, and definitely carry a presence. A three unit cage would be a little daunting to run into at a friend’s apartment (unless you love chinchillas, which I’m sure most of you do).
  • Loud: FN cages consist largely of bars, and these bars reverberate sound against any connected point, such as hammock hangers, washers, and attached ledges. Any jump or leap will produce more sound than wood, which better absorbs vibrations and sounds.
  • Bars and Biting: Bar biting is really annoying. Not only is it noisy, but it also leaves a mark – yes, chin chewing can easily create indents and grooves in the cage bars’ powder coating. Behaviorally, it’s a bummer to see your chin trying so hard to escape. Wire mesh in custom cages completely prevents this type of behavior.
  • Cleaning Between the Bars: Tough! Dust is the main contender against a totally clean cage situation. Residual dust settles between the bars, and those little nooks are pretty tough to reach and stubborn to clean, even with a high-powered vac.
  • Ferret Nation Quality Control: Leaves a bit to be desired. Some details are offset, door locks aren’t symmetrical, plastic panels that I didn’t use arrived shattered and broken, and there were minor scuffs on nearly every piece of metal. Part of these problems are due to their shipping practices (one large cardboard box and no reinforcement) but must also be due to manufacturing practices and company quality control. To be fair, there’s a limited one-year warranty and FN will replace broken parts, but if there was a higher standard across the board, there would be no need to go through a time-consuming warranty shakedown.
  • Plastic Bottoms and Platforms: I know there’s a profit to be made, but I could never understand why high-volume national suppliers don’t switch to metal instead of providing their customer’s pets with low quality edible plastic, which can cause blockage or worse. From a caring owner’s standpoint, I’d have hoped for a better industry standard by now. Anyhow, I had to order custom metal pans at an additional cost (which were a great investment, and I’m very happy with).
  • Shaking: Although somewhat subtle, the cages will shake from side to side if your chins are running on their wheels.
  • Cost: The cost is relatively high, but as would be a custom cage of a similar size.

Fifi New Cage

The takeaway? These cages are great for our status quo. Make no mistake about it: when the time comes to buy a house in the country, I have grand plans to painstakingly build fully customized cage mansions for each of the chins (blueprints are already on hand). For now, Ferret Nations will do the job, and do the job relatively well. Stay tuned for future posts about FN cage customization! 🙂

Angled Ferret Nation

Chinchilla Thanksgiving

After spending a lovely evening on Fifth Ave with my adorable sister, we sit down for a slice of cake and a spot of tea. The lights shimmer on the streets outside, heavy with a festive sparkle. The window displays drip with gaudy exuberance, enticing tourists and shoppers alike. Year after year, the decor outdoes itself, the budgets double, and the holiday mania ensues in the same deliberate fashion. This is the center of commerce, New York City – encapsulating the dreams, hopes, and desires of each and every generation. We try our best to avoid it, but every year the glitz of ‘Christmas before Thanksgiving’ jolts us into the holiday spirit, regardless of its true monetary intentions.

NYC Xmas

We find a place in the plaza, settling in with our 20-layer crepe cake and strawberry tea. She’s so bright, and the conversation follows suit. We discuss the upcoming holidays, the changing weather, and the state of the union. During our chit-chat, the soft blur of Thanksgiving appears like a warm veil over my eyes. I hug her, and tell her I love her.

Sis and Me

In honor of this year’s Thanksgiving, I’ll be sharing a little bit of what I’m thankful for. And as a preface, it won’t be the city lights, the bustling crowds, and the freezing temperatures – although, sure, that’s all a part of it. It’s about my babies – the five little souls that fill mine with such thanks and appreciation for the present moments; the inevitable ‘growing up’ of it all, and the ‘do your best’ attitude that has become increasingly more profound as the years pass.

Koko bear – As the youngest and darkest ball of fluff in our ‘Haus of Maus’, I’m thankful that Koko is sweet. She’s incredible – bouncing about from corner to corner, accepting our scratches, and smiling happily with her little overbite. Definitely functioning with a glaze over her little teddybear eyes, Koko is a warm, fluffy cuddle monster! The only chinchilla I know that will allow true cuddles and sleep right in my arms.

Fifi – I’m thankful that Fifi is a wildchild. She’s uncontrollable and inconsolable at nearly all times – darting around and constantly speeding through life. It’s as if in every situation, Fifi truly believes she is constantly escaping death. She keeps us balanced, patient, and forces us to slow down and appreciate the calmer moments in life.

Lulu – Lulu is an adorable sweetheart. Keeping her sister Fifi in check, she has a cool head and a curious, lovely demeanor. With her eyes close together and a fat butt, watching Lulu is a smile waiting to happen! When times get tough, I look to Lulu for a quick pick-me-up – and for that, I’m thankful.

Mufftoneous – I’m so thankful for Muff! What a gumdrop jelly bean teardrop! How much jolliness and joy can one confused chinchilla bring a person? INFINITE! He is such a vocal, silly, adorable little guy! He is not a brilliant chinchilla so to say, but he always gives us a big laugh!

Mittenmaus – As the firstborn, Mitty has a special place in our hearts. He opened the door for all the other babies, and we couldn’t be more thankful. On top of the happy change he has led to, he remains the most intelligent chinchilla we have. Known as ‘the engineer’, he’s always searching for a way into the ‘real world’ – I swear, if it were up to him, he’d rock a suit and tie and sit at the head of our dinner table, nibbling a shredded wheatie, directing conversations and speaking on politics.

Thanks for stopping by today and we’re all wishing you a VERY Happy Thanksgiving! 😀

How To: Chinchilla Photography

As a professional photographer in New York City, I’ve had my share of dramatic clients – fussing over hair and makeup, complaining about angles, and throwing out last-minute conceptual changes. Yeah, sometimes high fashion and editorial work can be extremely particular, but if great minds come together to accomplish the task, beautiful imagery can result.

Chinchillas, on the other hand – well, where to begin? They are inherently adorable (to me, they are the cutest animals on this planet) and can do no wrong visually. However, they won’t come together with you on a photo shoot. They won’t say – oh sure, I’ll swipe my tail 45 degrees to the left and wink at you while holding up an apple stick with my right paw. If only! Chins are hard to get ahold of, and even if you have a non-reactive chinchilla (like my Koko), photographing them can be tough. They’re drama queens in their own right!

Flash photography is the easiest and most practical type of photography to use when snapping an image of a high-speed, high-energy animal. It freezes them in frame instantly, and most of the time won’t have blur. That means you can capture them jumping, twirling, turning, or performing any onslaught of energetic feats – but the image won’t be soft or cuddly, like we know our chinchillas to be. Along with diminishing their furry details and barraging their colors with an unsightly whitewash, flash photography will likely cause you to put in some post-processing time; you should expect to use a photo-editing program to get those tiny red eyes out of your photo.

Chins look best when photographed without flash, as most standard non-diffused flash units will be too harsh on their fluffy details. The problem with studio photography is that it typically requires more setup time, careful planning, and safe treats on hand! As far as camera settings go, you’ll need a slower shutter speed (or a super-bright lighting system). I like to maintain a low ISO on all my photographs to keep images less noisy, meaning my settings will slow down overall processing speeds even more.

As far as personal photographic tastes go, I’m ALL about natural lighting. Give me the morning sun, sulking half-light, or a heavy sunset. I love it all: the emotive depth, the searing contrast, the daring illusory effects. For all my clients, I suggest going natural. It’s more challenging (so to say, more interesting) than a studio shoot and lends a level of professionalism that supersedes the senseless ‘pro ideal’ of a $20,000 camera set and a 3,000 square ft NYC studio (although wouldn’t we all love to bathe in such fanciness ~ as the chins love to bathe in dust). I believe strongly in natural lighting, it shows in my work.

As far as chinchilla photography goes, I’m ALL about just surviving the shoot! Natural light is still the best for beautiful images, but studio photography accomplishes what natural lighting can’t – being able to be done at any time of the day. I’ll still grab my Nikon for the playtime sessions with the kids, but if I’m looking for some high-quality commercial-level imagery, I’ll overwhelmingly choose a studio set.  That means I’m gonna put in 20 minutes to get the lighting right but only end up shooting for a minute or two. Sets should be simple and clean, allowing the focus to be on the chins – adding in a colorful fleece background or sprinkling marigolds can brighten up the scene without detracting from the furry spectacle.

It’s imperative to prepare for the skittishness of the babies. Since chinchillas are nocturnal, their eyes perform better in low light, so I’m sure the brightness of the set becomes irritating very quickly. Chins have such little patience when it comes to waiting for human error to correct itself, so it’s best to be ready with a tripod and set your camera to high-speed continuous shooting mode, and give it your best!

Remember, patience and effort are the main components to great chinchilla photos. It doesn’t hurt to have a photo assistant to collect escaping chins or a chinchilla-safe treat on set to coax them into staying still – if only for a moment! 😀