How do you take such beautiful images of cats?
I enjoy photographing cats and have developed ways that create stunning results throughout the years. I’ve included some of my favorite cat photography techniques below, including guidance on:
- Settings for the camera
- and much more
You’ll know how to take stunning images of your feline pals by the conclusion of this article, and you’ll (hopefully!) have lots of ideas for your own cat shots.
Let’s get started.
1. For the best cat photos, be patient
First and foremost, expect a high failure rate while photographing cats. The majority of your photographs will be unusable; after all, cats don’t hold amazing stances for lengthy periods of time!
(In my experience, they’ll approach you and smell the lens just as you press the shutter button.)
Instead, you must accept the chaos and sluggish pace of a cat photography. Keep an eye on the cat, be patient, and have your camera ready.
When your cat adopts an unusual stance, you may just fire off a few shots to capture the photo.
Also, if you’re shooting a cat who lives with you (rather than performing a scheduled photoshoot with a cat), I strongly advise you to always keep a camera-ready, even if it’s just a phone. Cats have a habit of striking amusing stances, especially when they’re half-sleeping, but you must have a camera nearby or the cat will hear you searching around for your camera and shift positions.
Similarly, if you’re out with your cat, keep your camera ready to get some outside action photographs. You’ll lose out on wonderful possibilities if you have to get your gear from inside the home.
2. Use sounds and toys to get the cat’s attention
Cats, as I said in the last piece of advice, enjoy defying photographers. They’ll turn away just as you’re about to frame your photo, lie down just as you’re about to film some action, and smell the lens just as you know you’ve got the ideal composition.
Cats, thankfully, aren’t completely unexpected. You can grab your cat’s attention with a few simple approaches.
To begin, cats are drawn to rustling sounds, so if you crush a paper bag with one hand while holding the camera with the other, your cat will frequently peek over and you’ll be able to get a few photos.
Finger snapping is another option, in which you snap your fingers until the cat turns to explore. In my experience, this typically works for a short period of time before the cat realizes what’s going on and becomes bored.
Finally, if you want more animated photographs, consider using a toy. You may photograph with one hand while moving the toy with the other, and while your keeper rate will below, you’ll capture photos of your cat appearing involved.
It’s worth noting that all of these ways require one-handed shooting (unless you’re working with a helper). You’ll want to maintain your shutter speed quick enough to avoid blur, and while I’ll go through settings in more detail later, Aperture Priority is a nice option to utilize (as it keeps the camera in charge but relinquishes control as needed).
3. Get down on your cat’s level
This is a significant cat photography tip, and it goes hand in hand with a common error I see from new cat photographers.
When most cat (and dog) photographers first start out, they picture their animals from human height. And this seldom works because of two factors:
It depicts the pet from such a lofty perspective that the photo lacks intimacy.
It shortens the gap between the cat and the background. As a result, the cat is usually surrounded by a crisp floor, as opposed to (ideally) a cat in front of a hazy wall or outside backdrop.
Instead, you should get down on your cat’s level. With the camera, look them in the eyes. This style of photograph, in which you are a part of the cat’s world rather than the other way around, has a greater impact and better reflects the animal’s personality.
If you have difficulty getting down in such low places, consider utilizing a camera with a tilting or completely articulating screen. You may create eye-level images while remaining comfortably above your camera in this manner.
By the way, you don’t necessarily have to be on the ground to obtain a good outcome. What matters is that you remain on the same level as the cat, which means you may take ascending images from a standing height:
4. Frame your subject for the best compositions
Do you want to learn how to make great cat photography compositions? Then it’s a good idea to highlight your key point as much as possible.
And one simple method to accomplish this is to frame your cat with other compositional elements.
You may, for example, shoot through long grass, bushes, or tree leaves to give the cat a wonderful, natural frame:
You may even shoot through man-made items like chair legs, banister rails, towel cabinets, and even windows. It’s a fun method with countless variants; the trick is to get creative!
As you work, you should also experiment with different apertures. For example, a wide aperture – such as f/2.8 – is excellent for generating a hazy foreground frame, which is ideal for working with more natural components (like leaves). A small aperture, such as f/8, will maintain the foreground frame crisp and produce an entirely distinct appearance.
(The more you experiment with different camera settings, the more comfortable you’ll get – and the wider your creative possibilities will become!)
5. Nail focus on the eyes
Sharp eyes are required in pet photographs. This is true for cat photographs, dog photos, bird shots, and even wildlife photos, because the entire image will feel off-kilter without keen eyes.
Unfortunately, maintaining eye concentration can be difficult, especially if you’re shooting up close or your cat is highly active. Here are a few pointers:
- If your camera has Animal Eye AF, try it out and see what you think.
- Consider utilizing your camera’s AF-S setting if your cat is active for a few seconds before remaining still. Wait until the cat is motionless, then lock focus on the eyes with a single AF point, recompose, and shoot.
- If everything else fails, try manual focusing. It may appear cumbersome, but if you can learn to manually focus, you may quickly raise your keeper rate.
By the way, if you’re having trouble focusing an eye, you might try narrowing the aperture (assuming you have sufficient light). Narrowing the aperture increases the depth of field, allowing for a bigger section of the image to be sharp, giving you more discretion while focusing on the cat.
Also, if you’re photographing a cat from an angle, try to maintain the nearest eye in focus, as it appears strange to have a hazy near eye and a crisp distant eye. If, on the other hand, you’re photographing the cat from the front, as I did in the shot below, make sure both eyes are tack sharp:
6. For the finest lighting effects, use an off-camera flash.
Most novice cat photographers use natural light, which is perfectly great. In reality, natural light, especially when filtered by the gloomy sky, may look fantastic in cat photography.
But, if you want to be more versatile as a cat photographer, I recommend learning how to utilize flash; it will allow you to shoot images even when the light is poor or not cooperating, and the more flexible your approach, the better, right?
To begin started with flash, I recommend investing in an adjustable speedlight. This may be attached to your camera or used off-camera on a lighting stand, making for a versatile shooting arrangement. A speedlight also allows you to avoid the terrible red-eye effect (just make sure you’re not shooting straight into the cat’s eyes, but rather from an angle).
After you’ve purchased a speedlight, add a tiny softbox or diffuser to soften the light and minimize sharp shadows and that unappealing deer-in-the-headlights effect.
Then just experiment with different angles and methods. You might try bouncing the flash off walls to generate fascinating side lighting, or you could put the flash at a 45-degree angle on a stand to create a dramatic effect.
Of course, you’ll need to pay close attention to your compositions, and excellent lighting doesn’t always guarantee beautiful photographs – but if you can master flash cat photography, you’ll be miles ahead of the competition.
Another suggestion: photograph your cat outside when the sun is low in the sky. Place your cat between you and the sun so that the sunshine catches the cat’s hair. Also, add some fill flash to make the cat’s face stand out. (It’s fine to use flash straight here; you won’t get red-eye or reflecting effects if the flash is muted by a lot of sunshine.)
7. Use plenty of focal lengths for a variety of shots
You can shoot cats with a single prime lens, but if you want to get a range of images that truly tell a narrative, I strongly advise you to use several focal lengths.
A handful of primes is a good choice here, but a zoom – such as a 70-200mm lens – will provide you a lot of versatility and won’t need to be changed on and off your camera during the session.
Personally, I like portrait-type lenses with focal lengths ranging from 85mm to 130mm for cat photography since they allow you to shoot without getting in the cat’s face while simultaneously enabling you to go pretty near (which is important if you plan to photograph indoors).
A macro lens, such as a Canon 100mm f/2.8 or a Nikon 105mm f/2.8, is an excellent choice for a novice cat photographer. You can use it to take lovely pictures, then zoom in for close-ups of the eyes and paws:
I’d also recommend investing in a wider lens, such as a 24-70mm zoom or a 35mm prime; a wide-angle lens is wonderful for capturing full-body and environmental images of your cat, and while it won’t be used as frequently as a short telephoto lens, it’ll still be useful to have around.
A smartphone camera may also be used to picture a cat. No, it won’t provide the same degree of image quality or settings versatility as a specialized DSLR or mirrorless camera, but it’s a simple way to get started with the gear you already have. For ambient cat images, use your wide-angle lens, and for headshots and regular portraits, use your telephoto lens.
8. Use the right cat photography settings
You can try cat photography with your camera set on Auto mode, but you’ll rapidly become annoyed. Because auto mode does not allow you to alter exposure variables, you will be unable to regulate the shutter speed (which affects sharpness), aperture (which affects depth of field), and ISO (which affects noise levels).
Instead, most cameras provide a variety of superior possibilities.
To begin, you may try Aperture Priority mode, which lets you set the ISO and aperture while the camera chooses the shutter speed. I generally recommend you set the ISO to its lowest value, then select the aperture for the depth of field effect you’re after (remember, a wide aperture, such as f/2.8, will limit the depth of field to create a very blurry background, while a narrow aperture, such as f/8, will increase the depth of field to keep everything sharp). If your camera sets a shutter speed that is too slow, you may always increase the ISO or widen the aperture (this, in turn, will force the camera to increase the shutter speed).
If you’re already comfortable with basic camera settings or want to get right in, you may try shooting in Manual mode. You choose your shutter speed, aperture, and ISO here; the idea is to balance the three settings such that your exposure bar (which is usually visible in the camera viewfinder) is balanced.
Manual mode, in my opinion, is best for slower-paced photoshoots with stable lighting, but Aperture Priority mode works great when the cat is moving and/or the light is changing fast. Both alternatives are excellent, so choose one, begin studying, and stick with it!
I’d also recommend that you switch your camera to continuous shooting mode, often known as burst mode. Then, while holding down the shutter button, your camera will take a series of photos, allowing you to capture split-second moments that would otherwise go unnoticed, such as your cat running around the yard or scurrying up a tree.
(You’ll also need a quick shutter speed if you want sharp action images.) I’d recommend a minimum shutter speed of 1/500s, which you may want to adjust depending on the cat’s pace.)
9. Pay attention to cat tones and exposure
Your camera meter determines the correct exposure (i.e., brightness) for each scene, and while it normally performs a fine job, it struggles when confronted with extremely bright or extremely dark cats.
Your camera’s meter, you see, thinks that all situations should average out to a beautiful medium gray. So, if you meter off a white cat, the meter will frequently underexpose the scene (i.e., it will try to render a white cat gray). And if you meter off a black cat, the meter will frequently overexpose the scene (i.e., it will try to render the black cat gray).
Neither of these outcomes is appealing; the white cat will appear murky gray, and the black cat will lose its lustrous sheen.
So, what are you going to do?
That is determined by the shooting mode on your camera. When shooting in Aperture Priority mode, you may use positive exposure compensation to brighten a white cat and negative exposure compensation to darken a black cat. (Many cameras have a specific exposure correction button; if you’re not sure how this works, see your camera handbook!)
However, if you’re shooting in Manual mode, you’ll need to make the necessary modifications to your shutter speed, aperture, or ISO. To brighten a white cat, slow down the shutter speed, widen the aperture, or raise the ISO; to darken a black cat, increase the shutter speed, narrow the aperture, or decrease the ISO. Does that make sense?
Cat photography is a lot of fun. And if you remember just a handful of these basic strategies, your results will skyrocket.
So take your camera, pick a cat, and go to work!