I have been photographing Sparkle and my other two non-blogging cats, Binga and Boodie, for 11 years now. If you think it has gotten easier over time, you would be dead wrong! Sparkle especially has gotten camera-jaded, and when she hears the whirr of the lens as I turn on my point-and-shoot, I can almost see her rolling her eyes.
Since I update Sparkle’s blog every day, and most posts involve at least one photo of her or the other two cats, I have had to figure out how to urge them out of their grouchiness so I can get a decent enough photo to post. Some days, I do just let it go and pick it up again when the cats are feeling more agreeable, but if I waited on them all the time, I’d rarely get photos. So I have come up with some sure-fire ways to make them want to pose. All of them involve what marketing people refer to as the “ethical bribe.”
Cats are a lot like shoppers or prospective customers: they want to know, “What’s in it for me?” They don’t care about the angle of the light, time of day or your deadline. If they are not going to benefit from it, they are not going to play your game. If you want your cat to turn on the charm, figure out the things she likes best and have them ready before you even pick up the camera. And yes, I do mean things, as in multiple ideas and items. Some will work some days and then fall flat on others. You need to have backup.
Here are some examples of what have worked for my cats:
Treats are the logical go-to for most cats. With something edible, “What’s in it for me?” is already obvious to them. I start off by letting Sparkle have one treat so she knows what she’s getting. She’s familiar with the routine by now, so she will sit still while I wave or rattle the bag by the camera lens, and look right at the camera (she’s actually looking at the treats, but it’s close enough).
My highly food-motivated tortie, Binga, is more difficult because she goes crazy if she thinks she’s getting something to eat. But repeatedly placing her on her spot will eventually get her to sit still enough for a couple of photos — after which she gets her reward, of course.
Binga is also a notorious photo bomber, so I use the treats in another way — I toss one into the hallway or far across the room while surreptitiously handing another to Sparkle or Boodie to keep their attention on me. That temporarily gets Binga out of the shot.
When I’m using treats for a photo session, I always use their low-calorie favorites because I know they will be getting several over the course of the 5 or 10 minutes I am photographing them. And I always end the session with a treat so they go off with a good feeling about the experience.
If I want the cats to show interest in something, I will rub a little catnip or silver vine on it. The secret here is to place the nip on the part of the item that will have them facing the light. The biggest problem, especially if you don’t have Photoshop and are not proficient in a free photo editor like Gimp is to also make sure the nip isn’t visible to the camera lens. I do have Photoshop, so I edit out the flakes, but it is easier to use silver vine powder because you can rub it in so it can’t be seen and it will still have a powerful effect on the cats.
Catnip spray also works, but it needs to be made from the real essential oil and not cheap artificial ingredients. Cats can tell the difference.
The biggest problem with using nip or silver vine? You have to make sure you don’t overdo it and send your cat into a stupor.
Sparkle loves to be brushed. If she sees me waving the slicker brush she comes running. She usually gets brushed before a photo session anyway, and the promise of more brushing will usually inspire her to sit still while I get my clicks in.
If your cat happens to hate getting brushed (some do), then don’t brush her right before a photo shoot or it will leave her with a negative impression about modeling. If your cat has long hair or needs to be brushed to be presentable, do it an hour before the photo shoot, if possible, so she does not connect the two.
If your cat has favorite toys, it is always a good idea to integrate them into your photo session. The key is to remember that he will always look in the direction of the toy, so position it where you want the cat to look. Sparkle and Binga both love pipe cleaners and I save them for special occasions, so when I pull one out for a photo shoot, it makes them happy.
Anything crinkly or noisy is a great attention getter. Most cats love crinkly balls, so I often have a few on hand (or in hand) to get them to look in my direction. But don’t just wave the toy by the camera lens, shoot away and then dump the toy as soon as you got what you wanted. That is cheating. You have to actually integrate a play session into your photo session. In fact, if you can make the photography part seem like an aside to playtime, the cats may barely notice the camera.
If you have enough light so that you can use a quick shutter speed (your camera phone speed will automatically adjust to the amount of light), you can also get some good action shots during a play session. The light and camera speed are important because if they aren’t there, you’ll just get a bunch of blurry photos. You can use flash, of course, but the results won’t look as nice and if the cat looks at the camera when the flash goes off, you will get the dreaded “laser eyes” effect.
These kitty magnets will make many photo sessions go smoothly. The majority of cats love playing in bags, and will sit in a box long enough for you to snap some nice shots. If you don’t want the box in the shot, you can still shoot some nice close up shots so you don’t see it. If I want to shoot a close up of one of my cats, I put a box in an area with the type of lighting I want, put the cat in the box (sometimes they will jump in on their own) and snap a few photos.
If you can figure out how to keep your cat entertained for just 10 minutes, you’ll get some great photos. And if you find that sweet spot — that thing that they especially enjoy — they may actually cooperate on a regular basis!
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