Top Five Tips for Photographing Your Cat


This month, Skeezix was one of the winnersof Martha Stewart Pets’ Patriotic Pets Photo Contest, and I got a barrage of questions like, “Isn’t it all just Photoshop?” and “How do you get him to pose like that?”

No, it isn’t all Photoshop. We get him to pose by picking a time to photograph him when he is still a bit sleepy from his afternoon nap, and hubby does the wrangling while I shoot. Plenty of treats and toys make it a fun activity for him.

It takesabout six minutesto get a usable shot, which is about the length of Skeezy’s attention span. When he mews, “I’m outta here,” we pack up and call it a day.

Lest you think, “I could never get my cat to do that,” or “I don’t have the professional equipment to take good photos,” I’m going to share my top five tips for photographing your cat, all of which are within reach of the average camera-toting cat lover.

Before you start to shoot, engage the services of a cat wrangler to position the cat while you man the camera. (I use my hubby, who happily complies because I let him move five he-man explosion movies to the top of the Netflix queue every time he renders his services.Your bribes may vary.)Employing a cat wrangler will decrease the complexity of the shoot by about a million percent.

Once you have engaged a cat wrangler, you’re ready to shoot. Here five tips to ensure success in photographing your cat:

1) Shoot in natural light; don’t use flash.

Shooting indoors using a flash does not usually produce good photos. You’ll have to deal with red-eye and color correction, and the flash will cast unwanted shadows. In addition, once cats learn that the box you’re holding is going to flash a bright light in their face, they squint whenever you point the camera in their direction. The solution is to shoot in natural light (daylight) without a flash.

If you have large windows with indirect light, you might be able to shoot indoors. Otherwise consider shooting outside (with a “cat wrangler” to keep hold of the cat at all times) in an enclosed area from which the cat cannot escape if she gets loose.

We set up on a table on our back deck, in an area that is out of direct sunlight. Early morning, late afternoon and early evening are the optimal times to get the best light.

If you absolutely have to use flash, consider using a diffuser to soften the light. For cameras with built-in flash, just tape a bit of tissue or a white coffee filter over the flash bulb. Stand at least six feet away from your subject to avoid an overexposed nuclear glow and harsh shadows (preview each shot to determine the optimal distance). Shooting from an oblique angle will decrease the red eye problem.

2) Use a fast shutter speed.

Theres nothing worse than capturing the purrfect pose, only to discover that its blurry.

Even most point-and-shoot cameras now give you the option of shooting at a fast shutter speed. If you have “modes” on your camera, this is usually the “sports” mode. It will eliminate the inevitable blur from your cat’s movements to ensure a nice crisp shot.

If you have a drive mode on your camera which allows you to fire off 5 or more shots at a time, use that as well. It will allow you to shoot several photos in rapid succession increasing the odds of getting one good shot.

3) Shoot against an uncluttered background.

A pile of dirty laundry on the floor behind the cat will take attention away from the subject. For best results, use a backdrop.

Although I have a professional backdrop, I never use it for the cat photos. My favorite setup is very inexpensive, portable, and only requires a trip to a good office supply store.

Take two 24″X36″ pieces of foam core. One forms the base (on which the cats sits), the other forms the backdrop. Thenstaple a piece of posterboard that has a sky pattern on it to the piece of foam core that forms the backdrop. And you’re done!

Position your cat a foot or so away from the backdrop so as not to cast any shadows.

4) Hit the floor.

Get down to the cat’s level. My knees are shot, so it’s easier for me to set the subject on a table. Otherwise, get down on the floor at cat-eye-level to take your shot. It can be the difference between a good photo and a phenomenal photo.

Gordy won the World’s Coolest Cat Contest with the photo on the right. It’s a brilliant concept, purrfectly executed. Can you imagine how much less impact it would have had if it had been shot from a standing position instead of at Gordy’s level? So get down, people!

5) Be generous with treats ‘n’ toys.

Skeezix’s favorite tinsel wand toy is indispensible in getting him to look directly into the camera. We reward him with treats to ensure that he views each photo session as a pawsitive, fun experience… for all of us.

His brother, Mao, loves having his photo taken so much that the minute I start setting up he jumps up, assumes a position in the center of the scene, and puts out a paw for some treats.

Here’s How it All Comes Together

Here is an example of the setup with the “backdrop,” set up on a table on our back deck. As you can see, it’s low tech, nothing fancy. And you’ve got plenty of time to practice before you take your Christmas card or World’s Coolest Cat photos!

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