It seems to be that you are either more of a dog person or a cat person… I am actually fascinated by both. But in this guide, I’ve got 6 cat photography tips I want to share with you based on my experience of shooting animal portraits for years.
Cats have many interesting and intricate behaviours and amazing reflexes. So how do you go about capturing domestic cats in a photograph? Here are my top 6 tips for photographing cats.
Yes, as soon as you walk in on a cat’s territory (home) they will make their mind up about you. The first few moments are key. Try and keep calm and be quiet, don’t move suddenly or erratically.
Take a seat on a sofa or even the floor and wait for the cat to approach you. It may be friendly and sniff you and rub up against you or it may be weary and stay some distance away.
Don’t let this put you off just stay calm and relaxed. Ask the owner to shut all the doors and any other escape routes from the room you are in and then slowly get your camera out.
You may need to ask the owner to keep getting the cat out from behind the sofa but hopefully it will stop hiding away soon enough if you keep calm and talk to it in a very soft and low voice. Once you have gained the cat’s confidence and it seems relatively ok in your presence, it’s time to start taking those cat portraits.
Cats are divas so let them be. Start by photographing the cat wherever it is. At this stage don’t worry too much about the background or angle, just let the cat get used to you, your camera and your movements. This is the time to get your settings right, so you are ready for when the cat is in the right position.
Use those wide apertures to blur the background and make the cat really stand out and don’t forget to use a slightly faster shutter speed just in case the cat moves as you press the shutter.
If you are photographing a black cat you may also like to try spot metering so the camera takes its exposure reading from the black fur rather than the whole scene. Try to get eye level with the cat if possible and get the cat’s eyes lovely and sharp.
Don’t be afraid to try close up shots with cat photography but remember your framing, don’t clip ears and tails, rather purposefully compose your photos to include those body parts or exclude them.
You may have to ask the owner to put the cat near a big window, patio doors or even a conservatory, wherever there is the most amount of light. Try not to use flash as this can freak some cats out and it very rarely looks natural unless it is done really, really well.
If the room is on the dark side, turn all the lights and lamps on and then use your white balance to control the colour cast. Try and always position the cat or indeed yourself so the light is falling on the cat’s chest and at least half of its face.
You may need to become an amateur contortionist to get on the floor in the right position and keep enough distance so as not to scare the cat. Your efforts will pay off though.
Cats often have a favourite spot on the sofa so why not photograph the cat there too. If the sofa needs moving, move it closer to the light source (window) and then let the cat get comfy.
Some cats love jumping on TV stands and sideboards. If you can get the cat in front of the TV this can provide you with an instant black background, providing the TV is turned off of course.
Cats’ eyes can often look amazing against black backgrounds so hone in on those and use some editing software to really make them pop.
It’s not only dogs that will do things for treats. If you are struggling to get the cat to cooperate, get some treats out and use them in your cat photographs to add interest to your shot. Close, wide angle shots can often look very interesting and show the cat from a lower angle.
Just a word of caution though, cats love catnip but it can send some cats crazy and hyper which may or may not help your cat photography process.
If the owner has a nice garden and the cat usually sticks around then why not try a few shots outside. Look for some nice plants and position the cat amongst the greenery and other colours. You could also try more urban looking shots if the garden is more like a yard. Look for interesting things, colours and textures that you could include in your cat portraits. Don’t forget to still consider your background, angle and of course your camera settings.
Being honest, domestic cats are not the easiest animals to photograph but when you nail them you will feel so proud. So, get out there and practise on your cat or a friends cat and don’t forget to post your cat photography in the iPhotography gallery, if you’re a course member, so we can all take a look. Happy snapping!