How to Photograph Cats - It's Easier Than You Think!

Peggy Farren 2014-08-11

by Amanda Rattigan

For most people, photographing Dogs will be a bit easier than Cats…and I understand why. Cats don’t care. LOL They simply don’t care that you are making funny little noises and whistles to get them to turn their head. They are sophisticated. They are regal. And quite honestly, they think you are making a complete fool out of yourself.

Now, a Dog on the other hand is right there with you, jumping up and down, making noises back at you…loving every moment.

So then how do you get that adorable kitten face tilting their head at you? How do you get that grumpy old 10 year old cat to look right in the lens and allow you to capture a photo that makes the viewer feel like they are looking into the cat’s soul?

Simple. You have to love cats.

You have to understand that they are different. That you need to have a bit more patience with them than a dog. That you have to understand you might be hanging out with them for quite a while before you snap that perfect photo.

And that’s okay. If you love cats.

Because if you are a true cat lover, you already know that feeling of being patient, and calm, and quiet. You already know that bond you have with your special four-legged best friend. And once you feel that, once you come to accept a cat for being a cat…you can capture those moments that make the people who are “Dog lover only” change their mind slightly and say “wow, now that’s a beautiful animal!”

Ok, so, how do you do it? Here are some of my tips – try them out, they just might work for you.

Always remember…FOCUS on the EYES – cats have amazingly beautiful eyes –show them off!!

  1. Don’t “Go At Them With The Camera”. Cats don’t like things coming “at” them. They are very skittish if they feel they are being “attacked” or “threatened”. And if you use a professional sized camera, they will feel like a large black monster is coming to eat them up. Ease into it. Let them smell your hand first, pet them, rub under their chin…get them to feel relaxed before you stick that large camera in their face.photographing cats

  1. Trust. This is the only way you will get that relaxed face and calm eyes look captured. If they don’t trust you, you won’t get a good photo. Period. They will have their ears back, their eyes big and black, and even their posture will not be what you want to capture. Just hang out with them a bit, they will trust you and open up. This is how you get the adorable “rolling upside down on their back” shots, or even the “Cheshire Cat” smile when you shoot a profile – eyes closed, possibly purring. All that calmness they are feeling will come through the lens. photographing cats

  1. Don’t have a “shot list”. I learned this as soon as I started to shoot the cat photos for the Humane Society of Naples. I thought I would bring props, I would have a backdrop…NOPE! Again, cats have their own mind! You aren’t “posing” them like you could a dog…well, not all of them anyway. Some, like my Rocket J Squirrel, yes! He loves it when Mommy brings out his bowtie and he sees the camera. But rule of thumb is, throw your “I am going to pose the cat like this” ideas and shot list out the window. Just go with it. And again, by taking your time, that’s when you get the most natural “poses” a cat will do. You won’t be disappointed in the outcome if you just let them “do their thing”. How to photograph cats bowtie

  1. Kittens. Ok…playful, running around, spaz, short attention span…yep. Most difficult and yet cutest to photograph. The key here is to be sure they SEE your shutter move! They are fascinated! Take a couple of photos – don’t worry about proper focusing – just get them to see that movement inside the lens. Once they see it, generally, they are hooked! That’s where I get the best tilted head photos! Then, once their attention span does disintegrate …that’s fine! Let them play. Let them chase each other. Set your camera to multiple shots, fast shutter speed, and snap away! how to photograph kittens

  1. Older cats. These are the ones that tend to be easy to take photos of. Mostly because they aren’t moving too fast. However, they are also the ones that tend to show the “grumpier” face. LOL. They are the ones that look at you as if to say, “ Why?” I have found with older cats, it goes back to the trust thing. If they are your own cat, that trust is there already. So, just hang out with them, pet them, get them purring!! That’s the best, that’s when you get them so relaxed, they are rolling their head upside down, head bumping your arm. Then – STOP! (Have your camera already set up for the lighting you are dealing with in your home) When you stop the petting, snap away. Some of them look at you with these eyes of “wait…you stopped…why??” And you can get the sweetest face pics  I like to hold my camera where I can keep my left hand up towards the external flash and run my fingernail over the small attached diffuser. The rough texture makes the right amount of noise to get their attention. If this isn’t an option for you, have a crinkle toy ready in one hand; just enough to get them to perk up – not so scare them. How to photograph cats Odie

  1. Natural Routines. Always have your camera handy – just capture their everyday routines; for a unique photo challenge, do one photo a day for a month. This will give you practice time and also at the end of a month, you can look back and see a nice timeline of their daily routines. If it’s a kitten, you can see how they change daily! Photographing cats calico cat
    Photographing cats calico cat

  1. Editing. I do all my editing in Lightroom 5. I love the presets you can find online for free and for purchase. Now, the fluffier the cat, the softer I edit. Especially if you are in a room with great light coming in. It just makes the whole photo feel warm and cozy. If you are doing more of a head shot with a cat, you will want to show off those details – like the designs you can see in a cat’s eye, or their unique markings. fluffy cat Photograph cats

For these photos, I like to edit with a slight HDR preset. Not a deep HDR like you would do with a building or metal or anything else hard. You want to keep the cat looking soft and fluffy, but the more you can sharpen or add clarity to those eyes and head features, the results can be amazing! Fumbles Cat close up

~Amanda Rattigan has been a professional photographer with a very diverse portfolio for five years. Her work can been see at www.rattiganphoto.com

Rattigan Photography Group, LLC

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