DC has some mad talented lady bosses, and Siobhan Young is no exception. You've probably seen her multi-hued hair in the DC cat cafe, or had your picture taken by her as you came to adopt your new purrbaby, but did you know that Siobhan is our in-house DC photographer extraordinaire?! Like, WHAAAT?!
When did you start working for C&W? What drew you to the cafe? (and what keeps you there in this cah-razy Crumbs and Whiskers life?)
I started working for C&W about 6 months after it opened. I had been following it since the Kickstarter and was a fan from the beginning, I basically stalked them online. I was in the bath after a rough day, and saw the Instagram post that they were hiring. I jumped out of the bath and didn’t even grab a towel.
I sat on the couch dripping wet and naked as the day I was born and told myself that I would not even review my application after I wrote it. My heart and personality was going to go into it, and the rest was out of my hands. I was certain I would either connect with the person reviewing the applications, or scare them away. I’m glad it was the former!
Sooo...are the C&W cats the ONLY cats in your life?
Are you kidding?! Of COURSE not. Currently, I have 3 cats. They are all from a feral colony I am taking care of and TNVR (Trap, Neuter, Vaccinate, Release). They are all special needs!
Leliana is the oldest, and the one who got me into this rescue mission. She is a 4-year-old Torbie. I worked on socializing her for months before she would even let me near her. I would feed her and sit down beside her food bowls with my morning coffee and talk to her. She is my heart! Her nickname is the Budderlamb and when she wants attention especially during my dinnertime, she will roll on the ground and “get buttery”. She began my love of socializing feral and hard to adopt cats. I love seeing them blossom into their personalities!
Penélope is a Russian Blue who came to us while Leliana was weaning her kittens. I was taking my husband out on a fancy date because he had been SO patient with me turning our place and lives upside down to rescue Leliana and her kittens. Standing by his car was a young girl crying and holding a tiny, grey 3-week-old kitten. She found the kitten but her mom wouldn’t let her keep it. I looked at my husband and he knew what I had to do, so our fancy date ended up being us at PetSmart picking up supplies dressed to the nines! Penelope has a double coat and when she wants attention we say she is “getting stormy” because she looks like a little storm cloud all puffed up.
Neville Lincoln was born on Easter Sunday 2016. He was born outside into the feral colony with two other siblings. He is the only surviving one of his litter. For Nev, we worked closely with Meow Stories Rescue to TNVR him, but since I had socialized him in the colony we ended up fostering him until he was healthy enough to be adopted out.
That day… never came. Plagued with repeat URIs and random debilitating illness to his system, he never got healthy enough to go to an adoption event. Neville was diagnosed with eosinophilic granuloma complex and is on steroids every other day.
My husband fell in love with this sad little cuddle bug and is often caught spooning with him instead of me (totally not jealous, whatever…) and on Christmas morning I surprised him with the adoption papers and a Gryffindor collar complete with Swarovski crystal Philosophers stone. (Fancy Neville!) He does NOT appreciate you showering without him so now every day we go to the “salon” and he gets in the sink for his hair brushes.
Soooo… obviously, I can talk a LOT about my cats… if you ever visit me at C&W, I will be more than happy to regale you in stories!
When did you become interested in photography?
I became interested in photography when I was about 12. My friends and I would buy disposable cameras and do “model fashion” shoots at the playground. Thank goodness the internet was not a common thing back then, and all the evidence of our awkward selves has been destroyed! I eventually graduated to owning my own Nikon FG film camera at 14 years old and my love for capturing moments around me grew.
Do you have your own photography business? What inspired you to make the move from hobby to business?
Yes! I have my own photography business – Siobhan Young Photography. I shoot weddings, events and portraits.
I was kind of forced into taking it from a hobby to a business when I moved from Canada to the USA. I moved during the recession and had a very hard time finding a job in the middle of small town Virginia.The only way for me to control income was by taking a risk!
Photography was truly my passion and it’s what I pursued in college, but I had a hard time valuing myself. Eventually I learned that my time, education and experience was worth taking the leap into full time!
What are some challenges in photographing animals? The cats at C&W?
You work on their schedule! As models, they choose when they want to be awake, eating, playing etc! So, you work with what they give you! You also must have a fast lens and good understanding of your equipment and photography. You must never use a direct flash in their sensitive eyes; I work with natural light and every so often a bounce flash that is not directed at them.
For Crumbs and Whiskers, we are constantly doing more fun out of the box photo shoots with our fosters! Sometimes we go in with a concept of what we want to do for shoots and the cats just aren’t on board so you must be flexible and work with that. In the end – we are photographing cats so what can be better!
What are typical photo shoots like?
So, a typical photo shoot at Crumbs and Whiskers IS CHA-OS.
We do one model shoot a month where models can come for a 4 hour reservation when we are closed and have me flutter around them taking photos of them drinking coffee with the kitties! (By the way, if you want to apply to be a model for CW send your head shot to firstname.lastname@example.org!)
This is the best way to get the cats and humans comfortable by basically giving them space and time to play and snuggle! Myself, on the other hand, will be a sweaty mess and you will definitely hear me swear a lot while someone from the staff makes sure I don’t fall to my death while trying to balance one-legged on a stool.
I generally work with an assistant by my side who carries around a fanny pack of toys and treats to get the cats’ attention. Since my assistant is usually staff, they also know the cats very well and know their favorite toys and treats!
If we need something very specific or unusual we will bribe them with a treat. Those cute yoga downward dog kissing photos? They were at the expense of the models actually sticking a treat in their mouth in exchange for kitty kisses!
Do any of the C&W cats loooove costumes? Love to mug for the camera?
Well, we never dress a cat in a costume if it is going to stress them out. The only cats we have dressed in costumes are ones that genuinely don’t care. It’s not that they looooove it, they just DGAF.
We have some super chill cats that let us do stupid things that amuse us and help promote events to get them exposure and adopted! We had an ugly sweater Christmas party and I think the cats thought it was a super snuggle sweater party since they were all so warm and cozy.
Yes, the rumors are true, there has, in fact, been super top secret cat fashion shows that happen between 2-4 am when staff is pulling all-nighters and things get weird. (Real weird.)
Do you have tips for those of us at home wanting to take good pictures of our pets?
Other than investing in equipment and education, a few simple things that can help change your pet photos are:
1. Get on their level.
2. Get that beautiful window light for softness and depth.
3. Get them to look towards the light to get a beautiful reflection in their eyes.
4. Focus on the eyes, not the nose (unless you are going to a nose photo which is also very cute!)
5. Photograph the things you want to remember about them. The details of their little jelly bean feet, the way the sun hits their beautiful whiskers, etc.
Do you have a favorite photoshoot?
Every photo shoot is so different that they each have their moments. Favorite shots can range from hilarious times where cats jump on someone’s booty during the yoga shoots or a quiet moment where a cat boops noses with someone.
My favorite photos are usually ones where a cat is bleppin’.
For those who don’t know: a blep is when a cat sticks their tongue out. I make some crazy squeals when I get a blep shot. Someone told me that they found one of my photos on the subreddit r/blep and it was probably the highlight of my career.
You're Canadian. Do Canadians and Americans have different relationships with their pets?
Yes. For instance, in Canada we feed our cats a strict diet of maple syrup and beer. If your cat doesn’t watch hockey playoffs with you, you trade it in for a moose. Moose love hockey.
You can catch Siobhan behind the lens at Crumbs and Whiskers DC.