An artist streak runs in my family. My father painted and gave me an old Kodak camera when I was young. Painting frustrated me, as I was never able to put on canvas what was in my head. So I was always taking pictures. I loved animals from a very young age, having a “pet” squirrel that would follow me into the house, which would make my mother so mad. We weren’t allowed to have pets, so I made pets of any wild animal that trusted me. They were my subjects and for the most part, still are (like Masked Kitties). 

Masked Kitties - Forest Cat

I started to concentrate more on photography when I lived in Washington DC during the early 80’s. Taking photos of friends that were in bands at the time. One of my old photos being used on the back cover of “The Encyclopedia of Punk” by Barnes & Noble.

Once I retired, I devoted my time to my photography. My little Kodak has long been replaced. I now use two cameras. A Nikon d7100 & d7200. I read articles, watched videos and practiced. The feeling of seeing a subject in the wild, that you have been hoping to catch for years is indescribable. You hope that you don’t ruin the shots from shaking with excitement. When I can look at a photo still in my camera and a hundred ideas start running through my mind, then I know I got a good one!  I am surrounded by wildlife now and still get the “shakes” when I see what will make a great shot of a Black Bear or massive buck. I use a Tamron 600m lens when shooting most birds and wildlife and my “go to” 16-300m Tamron lens for closer, tamer subjects or the occasional close up.  

Masked Kitties - Ice Queen

Even satisfying the craving for good animal shots, I still could not take my photography to the level I wanted. I do love straight photography, but I wanted to take it further. Take it to the surreal, the whimsical world, mixing real life with the not-so-real. I wanted to create those images that were in my mind. As I was learning, technology was advancing at breakneck speed. I was working on a composite image of a horse. I was having a terrible time with it and posted it. A fantastic equine artist, Sherron Sheppard, with Equine Photographers Network saw it and told me about a class she was offering. It was exactly what I was looking for. Layering, masking, working with composites. That is the only class that I have ever taken. It was the perfect foundation for what I wanted to do.  

I can’t tell you how the idea for masked kitties came about, as I have no clue. It was just another idea that popped into my head. Once that happened so many ideas started to flow. Victorian, steampunk, I was writing notes as I waited in the doctor’s office or walking a grocery store aisle. I usually start with a basic style concept, a time period and go through the masks I have. The masks always come before the cat. I keep a supply along with numerous stock photos that I have found.  

Masked Kitties - Cat in Hat

My cat photo must be perfect to me. I have found without an excellent foundation photo, the whole work has to be trashed. Knowing the personalities of the cats and seeing the finished images usually always gives me a chuckle. I have ten rescued cats as my models and “no” I do not put the masks on the cats. I’ve been asked that many times.  I would be shredded.

I use natural lighting and I have large windows and the house fills with light. When shooting the cats, I try to always keep the shapes and positions of the masks in mind. I’ve found masks that I love, then taken over a hundred photos of cats to get exactly what will work. Each photo I use has to work perfectly with each other. If it is strong light, then each part has to complement that light. Same for shadows and colors. It can be a long process before I even take the photos into my editing programs. I use photoshop Elements 14. That is where the fun part for me starts. There may be a better editing program out there, but photoshop is what I’ve always used for my layering and masking. I’m actually a very electronically challenged person.   

Masked Kitties - Christmas Feline

I have used Topaz Impression and/or Simplify on every single one of my masked cats. Sometimes on numerous layers. They give me a look that I cannot accomplish any other way. Topaz has taken my images such a giant step further. These images can take me days or weeks to complete. Many times I end up with over 60 layers and 4 or 5 photos that are composited together.

I start each image with minor adjustments and cropping to the cat. Then masking and layering the mask where I want it. Detail is so important. Making sure your edges are clean and the mask fits perfectly. At this point I will try taking through a number of different Topaz presets, just to see what effect I can get that will work with the subject.

Then I move on to the backgrounds. Since I have already made the decision of what to use, it’s just a matter of layering it on and masking out the parts I want to keep. I have added different elements to many images. Using flowers, plants, sky, lace, whatever might add a little extra to the final look. One of the last things that I do is to try any number of Topaz presets again. Sometimes over the entire image and other times only on specific areas. Truly your imagination is your only limitation.

Masked Kitties - Steam Punk Cat

Masked Kitties - zadflowers

About Kathy Russell

Kathy Russell

I grew up in Fairfax VA, when it was still farm and hunt country. Then I moved to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia 13 years ago. I retired from working at the Fairfax County Circuit Court. For numerous years also worked part time for a law firm and had my own business. Think I have been a workaholic most of my life. I so love the strength and peace of the mountains that I don’t think I could live on flat land again.  

So many people influence my work. Not famous well known people, but people that I come across with incredible talent and imaginations. I see works that blow me away. I don’t want to copy or use the same ideas. Those are the people inspire me to push my own abilities even further.

It is actually difficult to sit and list the awards and accomplishments of my work. I do this because I love it and have fun completing each image. Though I am very proud and honored to receive the accolades.

I have numerous canvases and prints in the Artists in Middleburg Art Gallery, in Middleburg, Virginia.

Won second place in Light, Time and Space art contest. Coming in second in the photography category and 5th overall in all mediums. Thousands of entries were received from all over the world.

First place in the Creative Photography category of the Photographers Society of Chattanooga. Coming in ahead of hundreds of entries from all over the world and winning a gold medal.

I have received awards for 27 of my images on the photographer’s contest site, Viewbug. Numerous images have placed in the Equine Photographer’s Network photo contests. I have one image hanging in 1650 Gallery in California.  

I have had a number of images published in Virginia Wildlife Magazine and Kaleidos online magazine.

My images have placed First and Second in the Virginia Photographer’s Gallery contest.

It is a wonderful feeling when others find something in my images that they enjoy.

Kathy Russell’s Website  |  Kathy Russell Fine Art Animal Photography

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