Who doesn’t love pictures of cats? Some people say that the internet itself exists to share pics of cats, and going by how many there are, they might be right. However, cats are notoriously uncooperative, so taking a great cat picture requires more than just aiming your camera. Here are some cat photography tips to turn you into a master photographer of our feline friends.
1. Be Prepared with Cat Like Reflexes
Cats can move suddenly, darting across the house faster than you can move. In fact, the average house cat (with no training) can suddenly run at about 30 miles per hour, which is faster than any human has ever run. In other words, in cat photography, you need to be ready to take cat pictures on a moment’s notice, rather than waiting to get everything set up just right.
While a quick shutter finger is essential in cat photography, don’t forget the rest of your setup. We’ll discuss that more below, but the short version is that cats operate on their own timetable, and they’ll get skittish if they see you acting strangely.
2. Good Photos Come to Those Who Wait
It’s also important to be patient when you want to take a picture of cats in any position or activity. That may seem to conflict with the idea above, but as I said, cats will follow their own schedule and don’t particularly care what you think about it.
If your cat isn’t ready for pictures, you probably can’t tempt them into it. Wait until they’re more relaxed and try again then.
3. What’s Your Style? Set Yourself Apart from Others
Cat photography comes in all sorts of forms, but it helps if you decide on a cat photography style before you start trying to shoot cat pictures. Many of the best photographers try for photos of a specific type, such as cats lying in the sun or eating food. Once you have a cat photography style in mind, it’s easier to start creating cat photography plans and setting things up to make taking pictures easier.
If you’re not sure what sort of cat photography style you want to go for, look up some photos on the internet and see which photos are the most appealing to you. Once you have a cat photography style in your mind, you can focus on taking real cat photos.
4. Showcase Your Cat’s Personality
All cat owners know that cats have their own personalities, and these can come across in their photos. Analyzing your cat’s personality will do more than improve your cat photos, though.
It will also help you learn when and where you can start photographing cats. For example, if your cat loves lounging in the sun every morning, chances are they’ll be in certain rooms at certain times.
Cats also sleep about fifteen hours a day (or more), so it’s easy to get cat photos of them when they’re sleeping regardless of their personality. Just try to avoid making too much noise while you’re taking those cat photos. The best cat photos are often candid images, and cat photos of sleepy kitties can help you get enough cat photography practice.
5. Planning Gives You More Time to Take Great Shots
Planning things is key to a successful cat photography photoshoot, and that holds true even when your models aren’t cooperative. Write down the types of pictures you want to take while photographing cats, then plan the best way to make that happen. This may involve an extended photoshoot where you take cat photos throughout the day, rather than a single session of photographing cats that’s over and done with.
Be sure to write down all cat photography details like the angle and any lighting considerations. Natural lighting can and will change throughout the day, so chances are you’ll need to adjust your camera to compensate.
6. Tell a Story
The best photos tell a story of some kind. For example, a picture of a cat sleeping together with a friend is generally more compelling than cat photos that just show a cat sleeping normally. In cat photography, context is key for taking great photos, and the more time you spend helping create context, the better. This is where things get tricky, though.
Cats simply don’t care about being photographed, and if you try to put them at a specific angle or position, chances are they’ll get up and move because they don’t like it as much as they could. You may need to help set up the environment for your cat photography, then wait for the cat to move into it.
7. Consider a Photo Assistant
Sometimes it’s better to have someone else help you with your photos. This could range from having someone else take the pictures while you set up the scenes to getting another pet involved. Dogs in multiple-pet households are particularly willing to take commands and pose, and that can encourage cats to go along with things.
Helpers can also hold up reflectors, flip light switches, grab equipment, or perform other assorted tasks as needed. It’s always better to have a helper when possible.
8. Ditch Any Camera Sounds
Did you know that most cameras don’t need to make a sound when they take pictures? The only reason that sound still exists is to help you know that the camera actually took the photo, but most digital cameras let you disable it. Sudden noises can startle or irritate cats, so disable the shutter sound before you start taking pictures.
If you really need a signal that the camera is working, see if it can flash light instead. Many cameras can display a brief light or a sequence of blinks to indicate success, and this is unlikely to bother a cat too much. Check your camera’s manual for additional tips on using signals and changing the settings.
9. There’s No Such Thing as Too Many Cat Photos
Many photographers throw away over 90% of the pictures they take. In fact, I’ve seen some professionals throw away more than 99% of their pics, and they’re entirely right to do so. Between cats moving around, looking away, and generally being uncooperative, chances are most of your pictures will end up looking bad no matter how long you spend preparing.
The only real way to get around this is to take a bunch of pics. Taking dozens or hundreds of photos is essentially playing the numbers and betting that through luck, circumstances will align to produce a couple of good results.
I wish it was easier, but taking pics of cats isn’t like taking photos of a human model in a professional studio. You can’t control every variable when taking pictures of cats, so luck is genuinely vital to this process.
10. Flash is a No-No for Felines
Flash is terrible for cat photos, and we’ll talk more about that later. However, losing the ability to use the flash has a significant impact on your ability to control the overall lighting and exposure when you’re taking pictures. In other words, you may need to make do with some combination of room and natural lighting, rather than setting the flash to make things perfect.
Some digital cameras can compensate for the lack of light better than others. Alternatively, if you have an outdoor pet, you can use natural lighting instead of taking photos with your flash unit.
11. Macro Photos are a Must for Cats
Macro photos are one of the best ways of taking photos of cats. The main reason for this is that you don’t have to worry as much about your cat’s pose or position. Even better, you don’t need to get close to your cat if you have a good zoom lens. The combination of distance and focus makes it easy to take reasonably good photos on a schedule that matches your needs.
Remember to adjust the settings on your camera. Ideally, your cat will be entirely in-focus for the photo, while the background will be blurry. To get this effect, set your aperture to f/5.6 or lower, then adjust as needed.
12. Keep the Sun at Your Back
Keeping the sun behind you helps ensure you get the best quality of light for your photographs. In this case, however, “behind” isn’t always the right word. If you cast a shadow over your cat, chances are your picture won’t get nearly as much light as it should. Accordingly, you may need to take your pictures at a slight angle in order to get the best result.
Note that lighting angles can also affect your photos. For example, my cat’s fur looked black most of the time but could turn a brownish hue in bright sunlight. It was always brown, but the sun revealed it better. The camera can only compensate so much, so keep this sort of thing in mind.
13. Daylight is a Photographer’s Friend
I touched on this earlier, but use daylight whenever you can. Bright daylight is more than adequate for taking great pictures, especially if you’re outside. Sunlight can also compensate for the lack of a flash unit indoors.
The other reason to use natural daylight is that artificial light sources can create reflections in your cat’s eyes. If you want to take a great photo, you need to avoid these all-too-common laser eyes. Remember that you can further adjust things with a fast shutter speed and a low aperture.
14. Eliminate the Blur: Focus on the Eyes
Specifically, your eyes should be sharp. That your pet’s eyes should be sharp in the final picture is a given; people tend to look at eyes in photos, and blurry eyes will ruin practically any photo. The reason to keep your eyes sharp is so you can spot opportunities for taking pictures.
15. Find Common Ground with Your Cat
We’re used to standing up while taking pictures, but cats can get skittish when creatures many times their size start behaving (in their view) strangely. Dropping down to your cat’s height before you take a photo can help them stay calm and relaxed during the photoshoot. Keep in mind that the lower elevation can affect the lighting, so plan your pictures with that in mind.
Note that you don’t have to start crawling on the ground to get a good photo with your camera. You can also tempt your cat to sit in an elevated area, which makes it significantly easier to take photos of them.
16. Follow the Leader: Keeping Your Cat in Charge
I can’t spend too much time stressing how independent cats are. Regardless of what you want to do with your camera, cats will do what they want, and you can only take pictures when they let you. Thus, instead of trying to force your cat to sit in a certain place, try following them around. This can help you shoot the most natural-looking photos of your cat.
If you want to get a good shot, try to predict what your cat is going to do and set your camera accordingly. For example, if you know that they like to play at a certain time, you can set out some toys and wait for them to approach.
17. Anticipate Actions and Behavior
We just touched on this, but predicting your cat’s behavior during a photoshoot is essential to getting a great photo. This isn’t limited to trying to catch them in a fun pose, either. Predicting their behavior will also affect the best shutter speed, aperture, and general exposure settings for the picture.
Taking a pic of a cat leaping through the air is quite different from taking a photo of a sleeping kitty. If you want to get the best photograph of any given activity, figuring out how your cat will behave is most of the challenge.
18. Recruit a Couple of Human Friends
This is different from using helpers. A helper is there to perform photography-related tasks, such as managing tools or holding reflectors. Other people, in contrast, are subjects for you to work with in the photo. Who to use depends entirely on your cat’s personality.
Put bluntly, some cats are friendlier than others. For example, some cats are completely willing to hop onto a favored human’s lap and nap there for a while, which offers plenty of opportunities to take photos with a digital camera. However, other cats want little or no human contact.
19. Play Around with Zoom to Get in Focus
Fixed-zoom lenses produce better photographs than variable-zoom options on cameras. Even high-quality lenses, the type that cost more than most cameras, suffer from a slight loss in quality. However, zoom lenses are still better because cats can move around so much.
The trick with focal length is figuring out how to get the right parts of the picture in focus. Sometimes it’s good to have a clear background, while other times, you may want to blur that out and focus the photograph entirely on the cat.
Zoom lenses are also good for taking pictures from a distance, which can be considerably easier than getting up close and personal. Cats tend to wake up and look at anyone who gets too close to them, and that can throw off your camera’s focus. Even the best lenses may have difficulty compensating for a suddenly-running cat.
20. Warm Up Your Photo Shoot with Play Time
For some pictures, you can actively try to get their attention by doing something you know they love. For example, one of our family’s cats absolutely loves eating wheatgrass. She’s normally rather aloof, but she’ll go as far as jumping up and pawing someone’s leg with an eager expression when she knows she’s about to get her favorite treat.
When a cat’s in the right mood, you can take certain sorts of pictures much easier. Food and treats help with this, as does establishing a daily routine. If your cat expects to do something each day for a reward, it will be much easier to get them to behave how you want.
21. Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Alternatively, try to be totally invisible when you take a picture of your cat. Most cats don’t pay too much attention to you if you’re not up close to them, so just having a little distance makes it easier to take good photos. This is particularly useful when you want to take candid photos of their natural behavior, rather than how they behave while interacting with people.
Take your cat’s sleep schedule into account when deciding how to take photos. You can tweak details like the shutter speed or the background all you want, but only your cat can decide when to get up and move around. Remember that cats tend to ignore things they’re used to, so acclimating them to the presence of your camera can help you be invisible.
22. Create Contrast Between Your Cat’s Fur and Your Background
Creating a contrast between the fur of your cat and the background of a shot is essential for working as a cat photographer. Many cats have dark fur that blends in well with many backgrounds, and that can make it harder to take an image that looks good. Having plenty of contrast highlights your cat’s shape and personality.
You can also try to go in the opposite direction. Having a background that matches the cat’s fur can make their eyes or other details even more vivid.
23. Don’t Forget to Capture a Yawn or Two
Yawning pets tend to make for great photographs, and they’re even easier to achieve than most other candid shots. The key to taking photos of yawning pets is patience and knowing their schedule. They could sleep for hours at a time, so you may be waiting to get the right shot.
If you want to speed things up, you can even try gently waking your cat up. This is easiest when you use something that doesn’t make them instantly alert. For example, if you quietly move food under their nose, they could smell it and yawn as they wake up.
24. Sleeping Subjects Makes for Good Practice
You don’t need to spend hours waiting for your cat to yawn, either. Taking photos of sleeping cats is arguably the easiest way to get pics of them, and it certainly helps pass the time if you also want other shots. Even if you don’t plan to focus your photography on sleeping pictures, taking these can help you get a better understanding of how a cat looks against different backgrounds.
25. Highlight Characteristics
Cats have personalities, and cat photography is always at its best when it helps convey these personalities. Showing an aggressive, playful, or sleepy expression is inherently more interesting.
Pay particularly close attention to the eyes when trying to show character. If you focus your camera on their eyes, chances are you can show their personality better. Factors, like how wide or narrow their pupils are, as well as subtle shifts in their expression, can all show different character traits.
26. Zoom in for a Stunning Portrait
Portraits are also a good way to perform cat photography. Note that close-up refers to the final image, not your original location. In general, portraits are much easier to take with a zoom lens, especially if your cat is calm and sitting still for a few moments. There are a few different styles of portraits to consider, but many people start with a forward shot or a side shot.
For better pictures, try to entice your cat to stand in front of a high-contrast background. Lighting can be tricky here, especially if you have a bright background that reflects a lot of light towards the camera, so experiment a little and see what you can do to improve your photography.
27. Add Some Elements of Fun
No, this doesn’t mean to suddenly jump out and scare your cat. That can damage your long-term relationship with them, and cats are so fast that chances are they’ll be out of sight before you take a picture. Instead, the best types of surprises for cat photography include new toys, treats, or playmates.
These sorts of surprises can trigger excited, positive reactions from a cat and help you take better photos.
28. Swap Your Perspective
In photography, perspective is the spatial relationship between everything in the photo relative to the camera itself and to the other subjects. Most photos have a very close perspective. For example, if you’re taking a picture of mountains, they may seem close to each other even if they’re distant.
As far as cat photography goes, changing perspective means changing the background somehow. For example, you can take a picture of a cat sitting on top of a railing. However, if you move above them and capture the long distance to the floor, you suddenly have a far more interesting perspective for your photography.
29. Short and Sweet
Brevity is the soul of wit, said William Shakespeare in one of his plays, and the same holds true in photography. Cats are a subject unto themselves, and you don’t need to complicate pictures by adding in too many details. The best types of cat photography often have just the cat and a blurred background, or at most two other details for people to consider.
To support brevity, try to remove all the extra things from the picture. If you can’t do this manually, try editing out any distractions in post-processing.
30. Avoid Multi-Color Shots
Cat photography usually works best with one-color domination in the photo, usually the color of the cat’s fur. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have other colors in the photo. In fact, given the hue of a cat’s eyes, it’s pretty hard to have a totally one-color image. However, if your cat is the focus, try to avoid distracting the audience with any other colors.
31. Faces Tell a Story
This tip is two-fold. First, capturing the cat’s face with your photography produces inherently better works. As humans, we like seeing a cat’s face, rather than just its curled-up body. However, snapshots with a person’s face are also good. Seeing how someone reacts to a cat can help tell a story, and that ultimately makes for better images.
32. Play with Shadows and Silhouettes
Cats can make interesting silhouettes, especially if you have enough light to create a sharp contrast between them and whatever else is in the picture. Similarly, shadows and shades of gray can produce a variety of interesting and compelling results. I once saw my cat’s shadow on the wall after the light bounced off the floor, and it was certainly an unusual result.
Sadly, I didn’t have my camera ready, which just goes to show that I should have followed my own advice.
33. Change Up Your Image with a Wide-Angle Lens
Try changing up your photography by using something like a wide-angle lens or attaching a GoPro to something. This can make for unique, compelling photographs. For example, you could get a picture of your cat looking at themselves in a mirror, or you could have an unusual focus that distorts the image.
Tricks like this can make your photography better by helping highlight different situations. For example, the curves on a wide-angle lens used for close-up photography can highlight the artificial existence of the lens while also demonstrating a cat’s curiosity and willingness to get close to things.
34. On the Outside Shooting In
Shooting from the other side of a window can also work for your photography. When done correctly, this can create a story of looking in at a cat from the outside. Most cats also pay little or no attention to what’s going on outside of a window, aside from meowing at the occasional bird, so this is a great way to be invisible.
The trick here is mastering lighting. If the inside of a house is too dark compared to the outside, you won’t be able to see the cat in the final picture. Accordingly, consider taking a picture from outside during evening or night, with the house itself well-lit.
You can go the other way around for your photography, too, and take a picture of a cat that’s
35. Have Fun with Cat Selfies
Cat’s can’t easily take selfies, although they might accidentally do so if they paw the screen on a tablet or a smartphone. Instead, you can integrate selfies into your cat photography by getting them to interact with the camera at certain angles. This is easier with some cats than others, so don’t worry too much if you can’t do this type of photography.
36. Keep it Simple
Don’t bother trying to use special settings or advanced programs on your camera when doing photography with these animals. While you may want to tweak the shutter speed and other details, the normal settings on a camera are good enough for most pictures.
The main exception to this is taking pictures of these animals in motion, which usually requires a particularly fast shutter speed. You may even need to rig up a motion sensor, rather than trying to take the picture yourself.
37. Stick to Horizontal Photos
Humans have a wider horizontal view than their vertical view – it’s how our bodies interpret vision with two forward-facing eyes placed horizontally from each other. That’s why horizontal photos of these animals generally look better than vertical ones. Tall, portrait-style photographs often look chopped off and can distract people from your camera work.
38. Don’t Hesitate to Try Filters
Don’t hesitate to apply filters to your cat photography, either during the initial snapshot or later, during post-processing. Filters can help you blur out unwanted parts of the background, get rid of odd-colored bits of fur, and otherwise help the final image look the way you want it to.
Remember, photography isn’t about how something really looks. It’s about how something looks when photographed, and it’s okay to use filters and editors to make a better picture.
39. Monopods are Stable and Stealthy
Why not a tripod? That’s simple. Tripods are larger and more distracting. They also take more time to set up. These animals are skittish by nature, so a monopod offers you the opportunity to stabilize your camera quickly and start taking pictures.
40. Take Several Shots
We touched on this in the very first tip, but it bears repeating and emphasis: be ready to shoot. If the cat decides your session is over, then it’s over, and you can’t force them to comply. Instead, keep your camera at the ready and be ready to take photos anytime you even think there might be a good shot to take.
Remember, you should be throwing out most of the pictures you take. Don’t wait for everything to be perfect; take pictures frequently even while setting things up.
41. Capture Crisp Shots with Semi-Automatic Shooting Mode
Semi-automatic shooting modes allow you to adjust your camera so you can manually control one aspect of the shooting while the camera does the rest. I recommend using the Shutter Priority Mode (normally marked Tv or S), with the shutter set to at least 1/250 speed. These animals can move quickly, so emphasizing a high shutter speed helps ensure you can get a sharp image.
Be sure to test your semi-automatic shooting modes on other items in similar conditions. This can help you determine the precise settings to use and save you from a set of totally wasted pictures.
42. Keep Flash Away From Kittens
Flash is just straight-up bad for taking these photos. Aside from the fact that the sudden bright lights can scare or even hurt them, these animals have infamously reflective eyes. If you give too much light to them, you’ll get those bright laser eyes instead of a sharp, clear image.
The only time where flash might be appropriate is when your cat isn’t looking at the camera. Even then, it’s better to avoid using it.
43. Review Your Photos with an Open Mind
You may not get exactly the shot you wanted after a photoshoot with a cat. That’s okay! They will do what they want, and while you can try for a specific shot, don’t worry too much if you couldn’t get it. Instead, keep an open mind and evaluate each of your pictures fairly. You might find that some of them are a lot better than you expected.
44. Challenge Yourself with Black and White Cats
Black cats and white cats are extremely different subjects for photography. Black cats often blend in so well that you can’t spot the details in their fur without outstanding lighting and a high-quality camera. White cats, in contrast, tend to come across vividly and with great detail in their fur.
If possible, practice taking pictures of both so you can get some hands-on experience managing the differences.
45. A Curious Cat is an Excellent Subject
These animals are naturally curious animals and, better yet, predators. They won’t stay focused forever, but if you can catch their attention and curiosity, you can take photographs of all sorts of interesting behavior. This is part of why it’s so important to keep your camera ready to take shots.
46. Keep Kitty’s Claws Trimmed
These animals may attack something they’re not familiar with. Unless you want to get photos of sharp claws, be sure to trim their claws before the session starts. This will help ensure that they can’t harm you or your equipment if startled. Remember, lenses can cost upwards of a thousand dollars, and it only takes one scratch from a cat to ruin them forever.
47. Remember the Rule of Thirds
This is one of the tips that apply to all photography, but it bears repeating. The rule of thirds simply works for photographs, and many cameras have a grid to help you place things using it. Manufacturers don’t add features without reason to. Follow your camera manufacturer’s tips for using this rule with their device.
48. Play with Props
Props are a great way to create more-interesting pictures, especially if you can get the cat to interact with them. Consider implementing a few tips for getting the cat to do so, such as using catnip or laser pointers to catch their attention.
49. De-Clutter Your Photo Session
Clutter is a problem in many photographs. While a cat sitting amidst things can be interesting, it usually just distracts from the focus of the picture and leads people’s eyes in different directions. Look up some clutter-removal tips that make sense for your living situation and implement those well before your photoshoot. (Doing it early gives your cat time to get used to the changes.)
50. Stretch Out Before You Shoot
You may be hunching over a lot during the photoshoot, or even crawling on the floor. If you listen to any of our tips, make sure you listen to this one and do some stretching before you start the photo session. Better yet, make stretching part of your daily routine. It can only help.
51. Praise Your Feline Friend
More specifically, pay your cat in treats. If you have multiple photo sessions and reward them after each one, chances are they’ll become more compliant over time. Training a cat takes time, but it is possible, and giving them tips in the form of food makes it significantly easier.
52. Don’t Move Too Quickly
These animals are expert predators and will probably notice you regardless of how fast you’re moving unless you stay well away from them. However, moving slowly and calmly will help convince them that you’re not doing anything too interesting, and they can basically ignore you.
As some extra tips, try to wear socks instead of hard shoes. Moving slowly is important, but the right footwear can make all the difference.
53. A Few Tips About Camera Settings
Here are some camera settings to consider.
Adjust Your Exposure to Your Environment
Choosing the correct exposure mode is the key to getting a great pic. Evaluate your environment, then select the mode that works the best. In most cases for cat photos, the shutter speed should get the highest priority, then the aperture.
Widen Your Aperture
The aperture should usually be wide when taking these photos. This helps to get a larger, clearer field of view, and that’s helpful when you’re getting images of them interacting with their environment.
Find the Right Shutter Speed
Faster shutter speeds are generally better unless your cat isn’t moving much. However, fast shutters tend to shrink the aperture, so experiment a little to find the right balance for your picture environment.
Metering is a Must
Metering is extremely useful because it can evaluate the light in a potential picture and adjust settings to match. Given the problems with additional lighting, setting this can help you determine what other settings are appropriate.
Consider Automatic Focus
Automatic focus modes can help you zoom in on just your cat or take shots that include the surroundings. This is relatively easy to change, but make sure you check it before taking your picture.
54. The Power of Background Music
Music is great for your shots because it can help calm and relax the animals. However, kittens don’t always respond to human music. Instead, you may want to play some music designed specifically for them, which has a different octave and speed.
They can have personal preferences in music, so see which music calms them down the most before you take your shots.
55. Spontaneity is Essential as a Photographer
Some people picture photographers as overly serious people obsessed with getting the perfect shots, but things tend to work out better when you’re fun and spontaneous. Since getting great shots requires luck as well as skill, don’t be afraid to try for some unexpected things.
56. You Can Change Your Composition
Think about the kinds of photos you want to share with other people. It often takes more than just a basic image, right? Composition includes every aspect of a picture, but don’t be afraid to change the composition in post-processing to suit the type of picture you’re going for.
57. Photograph and Chill
The two best moods for a cat to be in are relaxed (where they don’t really mind what you’re doing around them) and playful (where they’re willing to interact with you or items in your vicinity). Other moods are more likely to result in your cat running off or being generally uncooperative, so try to avoid them.
58. Keep Your Home Studio Small and Cat-Friendly
Home studios are awkward for taking these photos, especially if you want to share them. This is because it’s so difficult to get these animals into them to start with. However, if you want to share such images, make sure you us a relatively small area where you can control the lighting as much as possible, then lure your cat in.
Consider using a box for this. Many cats love sitting in boxes, and that can make it far easier to keep them in one place long enough to get some good shots.