Editor’s note: Have you seen the new Catster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting area of your vet’s office? This article appeared in our September/October 2016 issue. Click here to subscribe to Catster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.
Meanie was not so sure about having her picture taken. Cautiously venturing out of her carrier in Furtographs’ Los Angeles studio, the handsome tabby cat only agreed to sit still for a few shots before proclaiming, “I’m outta here!” and darting out of the light.
Unfazed, pet handler Joy Nash and photographer Andy Stolarek convinced Meanie to sit for a few more shots. Then a few more. Then a few more. Though Meanie’s patience was wearing thin, Joy and Andy’s never did.
Photos courtesy Furtographs Pet Portraiture
The session was all about Meanie. Capturing her personality, celebrating her story.
“Each one of these little creatures is so individual and so particular, like a snowflake. As an artist and photographer I hope to glamorize them, tell the unique story between them and their owner,” Andy said.
Using more cat toys than I knew existed (the old “feathers on a stick” being a favorite), snacks, and creative noisemaking (anything can be a noisemaker!), the Furtographs team was able to steer Meanie into numerous striking poses.
Watching Andy, the founder, owner, and photographer behind Furtographs Pet Portraiture, was like watching a gripping drama unfold: Would Meanie turn her gaze just so? Would Joy be able to get out of the shot just in time? Would Andy be able to snap the shot?
Andy did every time. With the swift, soft snap, snap, snap of his camera, Andy seemed to have a sixth sense about where to be and when to shoot.
“I’m staring into an unspeaking creature’s eyes for an hour at least; it’s like getting to know their true personality, their history. I hope to create something an owner cherishes, a piece of art — more than just a picture of your cat on your wall.”
“We share a special moment,” Joy said. “We hope to elevate them.”
And after watching Andy and Joy work, I can attest that a session with Furtographs is full of such moments.
But how can cat lovers take great photos of their own cat at home?
“Observe where your cat seems most comfortable,” Andy said, giving the simplest, but smartest piece of advice. “In the bed, maybe waiting for dinner; you can half trick your cat by opening a can of food near a blank wall or some cabinetry. Even a downward perspective on a clean floor can be great. You’re not necessarily going for a portrait but a clean look.”
What about lighting? “Choose a time of day where the lighting is nice and natural. Make sure you’re front lit, and try to avoid flash. Especially with older cats, you’ll start to see cloudiness in their eyes. If you must use flash, sometimes changing the photo to black and white will give it a nice look.”
Basically it’s about catching your cat being the most authentic version of himself in the most captivating way. Sometimes cats even do the work for you.
“Cats in the ‘weirdest spots’ are kind of the most fun”, Andy said. “In the sink, in a bowl, doing weird ‘cat things.’ Instead of chasing your cat around with a camera, just see where they go.”
Once your cat or cats are in a good spot to be photographed, Andy recommended getting the camera down on their eye level. “That will undistort their body. You also get to see what they see, work with their personality.”
“It’s an interesting perspective,” Joy added.
What about directing their gaze? “There’s a whole gamut of sounds, treats, toys,” Joy said. “Go through them, and when you find one, stick with it — for a little while — and then when they get sick of it, move on. Holding food or a toy behind what you want them to look at is key.”
“Having a helper hide a treat or noisemaking toy behind your head so your cat is looking for it will create a look of curiosity, which makes for a more attractive photograph,” Andy said. “There will be specificity to their gaze. Sometimes opening a door really slowly will catch their eye, too.”
If I learned anything from watching Andy and Joy work, is that it’s all about catching a cat’s eye. They can’t be forced, they can’t be bullied, you have to work with them on their terms. But if a cat is willing to look your way, you might just get a glimpse of the unique story behind his eyes.
For more information on Furtographs Pet Portraiture, visit furtographs.com, or follow Furtographs on Instagram at /furtographs, Twitter at @furtographs, or on Facebook.
About the author: Louise Hung is a Texan- Los Angeleno writer currently living in Hong Kong. You may remember her from Catster.com, xoJane, Matador Network, or Dogster.com. When she’s away from her computer, Louise can most likely be found talking to any cat who will listen.