Cats are notoriously disagreeable creatures. From asking for attention to sitting still for a photo, they do everything on their own terms. Capturing a good cat photo is always going to be somewhat of a challenge, but here are a few tips to help you get the best possible feline images.
Choose the right perspective
The most basic and probably the most important thing to do when photographing cats is to get down to their level, even if that means lying flat on the floor in an undignified manner. Shooting from above the cat will give you ordinary photos. After all that’s the way humans usually see cats and it’s not a very interesting perspective. Photos taken from cat's eye view, on the other hand, are going to be more compelling and more personal than those taken from a human perspective.
Depending on the cat's personality, you may also have an easier time engaging him from an eye-to-eye viewpoint; tempt him with treats or favorite toys and he may reward you with up-close action shots. There are also plenty of opportunities to shoot a cat from below - if he’s perched on a tree, fence or even on the sofa, for example. Shooting him from below will give you a prey’s eye view, which will give your photograph an entirely different feel.
Think about lighting and avoid using a flash
There are a couple of reasons why flashes and cats don’t mix: first, indoor photos shot with your camera’s built-in flash are almost always going to come out poorly. Flash lighting is harsh, it makes ugly shadows and it creates weird reflections in the eyes of most animals. Second, most cats dislike flashes. Firing off a bunch of bright lights at a cat will at best make him squint or put him in a dour mood and at worst scare him off entirely.
If your cat is exclusively an indoor cat, photograph him next to a window or in a very well-lit room. You can turn up the ISO or turn down your shutter speed to compensate for a low-light situation, though your compromise will be grainer photographs or a need to photograph the subject at rest, since action shots may be too blurry at slower shutter speeds.
Know your Cat
If you're photographing someone else's cat, find out what his or her personality quirks and favorite games are. Here's where it can help to have an assistant - if your cat is playful, your assistant can entertain him with a laser pointer, a toy on a string or even a stupid dance, which actually does work as well on cats as it does on small children. If your cat is sullen or morose, your assistant can still get his attention by holding an object up to redirect his attention.
If your cat is stubborn or aloof, you can try photographing him while sleeping, and cats sleep a lot - sometimes in beautiful patches of light, in funny positions or with other animals. If the thought of photographing a sleeping cat seems dull to you, a little patience will reward you with the yawn or sleepy blinking that comes at the end of a nap. If your cat is a hunter, you can lie in wait while he stakes out a gopher hole. If you’re lucky, you might even get a picture of him pouncing. Just like children, cats will act more natural if they don’t know you’re there, so be stealthy.
Cats - especially kittens - look great when surrounded by stuffed toys or things that are larger than them (think coffee cups, shoes or large flowers with very small kittens). Cats are naturally curious, too, so a vase of flowers or a goldfish bowl will often prompt them into some amusing behaviors that will make for great photographs.
This is another technique that requires an assistant; most cats won’t sit still or stay engaged long enough for you to arrange a prop, step back and snap a photo. A second person can help you get set up and capture the shot quickly before it disappears. It may also help if you can wait until just after your cat’s nap to try photographing your cat posed or with props. A groggy cat is going to be much more agreeable than an active, ready-to-play (or ready to shun-all-humans) cat will be.
Mix it up: zoom in and go long
Zooming in is a basic tip for photographing a lot of different subjects, but it is especially useful when taking pictures of a cat. Filling the frame with your subject will cut out distracting objects in the background, and will create a more personal-looking photograph. When zooming in on a cat’s face, though, make sure to keep the eyes in focus and make doubly sure that you’ve cleaned up the cat’s face a little prior to shooting. Cats are clean animals, but their eyes tend to attract debris that you won’t enjoy having to get rid of later in Photoshop Elements.
When shooting your cat in action, zoom out and make sure to include the tail right down to the tip. The tail is one of the most expressive parts of a cat, and cutting it out can make an otherwise great photo look incomplete. The same goes for the feet and the tips of ears.
Be patient, and don’t be afraid of do-overs
In short, be willing to do it again. And again. Cats have short attention spans, and are easily irritated. You may quickly reach a point where your cat just stalks off and curls up under a bed somewhere. When this happens, don’t try to coerce him back into action because he probably won’t respond well. Just set your camera aside and wait until the end of his next nap, or until he comes out wanting to play. And make sure to take a lot of photos. You may only get two or three great shots for every 100 photos you take, but those three shots will make all the effort worthwhile.
With a lot of patience and some willingness to subject yourself a small amount of frustration, you may find cat photography to be just as rewarding as taking pictures of a disagreeable child. The challenge is great, which just makes success that much more satisfying.
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