Cat photo tips - 6 ways to get better feline photos

So you've got a cat, and you want to take amazing photos of her, but she's just not cooperating and all your photos look mediocre.  Sounds familiar?  Here's what you're probably doing wrong.  

I'm Simon, among other things, I'm a cat photographer based in Preston, England. I write detailed guides and share my best tips.
If you know of someone else who could benefit from this guide, click 'share' below. 

1. My cat won't sit still for a photo.

If your cat gets too close you wont be able to get focus, let them investigate, then take your photo once they're done. 

If your cat gets too close you wont be able to get focus, let them investigate, then take your photo once they're done. 

I hear you! You're getting lots of fuzzy blurry pictures of tails, whiskers, cat's behind, and the floor. Our feline friends don't care about photos and they don't do anything on command. They live on their own terms and timetable. Either they want to investigate the camera, getting too close, weaving around you and getting fur on the lens, or they just want to be left alone. So what do you do? 

Trying to take a photo on your terms just wont work. 
Consider the timing and location you want to take a picture in.  
You've got a couple of options; 

  • Outdoors -  Wait until your cat is outside, doing her thing then go out with your camera. She'll most likely want to come to greet you and if she's in the mood want to play. Put down the camera and enjoy some play time, pet her, and let her get excited. She'll soon go off to do her thing. This is the opportunity to take some great candid photos. 

  • Indoors - Inside can be a little more tricky but works all through the year. Instead of trying to ask your cat to pose in a place of your choice, set up something nice in her favourite spot, hang a sheet, or at least tidy up. Then wait. Come back when your cat returns to this spot, let them have their time to investigate you then start taking pictures as they're getting comfortable. 

Taking your photo outside when the cat is pre-occupied with play can give you amazing results.

Taking your photo outside when the cat is pre-occupied with play can give you amazing results.


2. My Photos are out of focus and mistimed

Blurry out of focus photos, pictures of the floor, wall, parts of your cat and anything but your cat's beautiful eyes are a symptom of rushing your photo and here's how it works;

When you press the button on your camera or phone, the first thing that will happen is your camera has to focus! If the light's not optimal this will take a moment. During this time, your cat's moved and you lost your shot. If she moved enough then your shot's no longer in focus and you missed. 

The simple answer - Stay still, and Focus early, then take the photo when the picture looks right. 

If you're using a point and shoot camera or a dslr, you can get focus (beep) by half pressing the shutter button and holding it there. Then when everything is in place and your scene looks right, press the button the rest of the way down.  If you're more advanced with your camera, try the tracking focus option to allow the camera to hold focus as your cat moves about. 

Another reason for blurry photos is the movement of the camera, and your cat is causing motion blur. This happens when the shutter speed is too long because it's too dark. Either add some light, or (advanced) open your aperture more and raise the ISO on the camera so you can use a faster shutter speed.  If the background is showing motion blur then try using a tripod to keep your camera still. 


3. I get red-eye on my cat photos.

Classic Green-eye and bright reflections from collars is a sign that your flash is too close to the camera. Turn it off or move it.

Classic Green-eye and bright reflections from collars is a sign that your flash is too close to the camera. Turn it off or move it.

Red eye or green eye is the 'cat's eye' effect caused by light shining directly into your cats pupils. It looks harsh and isn't what you're going for. 

The answer: Stop using flash! Or at least use an off camera flash. 

An on-camera flash will create a harsh flat lighting effect which will cost you detail where you want it, and make your backgrounds too dark. It'll also cause red-eye / green-eye.  Either use an external flash, or a lamp somewhere a little off to one side. 


4. My foreground is too bright and background too dark.

See point 3 - turn down or stop using your flash! Your flash will over brighten your cat, and not reach the background. When your camera compensates for the bright foreground light by darkening the photo, your background will be very dark. 


5. I just can't take pictures of my black cat.

Black cats can look like dark formless masses if the light isn't right. Ensure the light in the right place to get some glossy highlights in the fur.

Black cats can look like dark formless masses if the light isn't right. Ensure the light in the right place to get some glossy highlights in the fur.

Black cats are harder to photograph because they have very little detail in their fur to show shape and form. So either you'll have an over exposed, grey looking photo, or you'll have a black shape where your cat should be. 

Answer: Look to your lighting and exposure compensation (+-). 

Black isn't very good at reflecting direct light. It also fools your camera. When you take a photo, your camera will look at the scene and 'decide' if it's too dark (brightens the exposure) or too bright (darkens the exposure). Your black cat fools the camera into thinking the picture is too dark, so the the exposure is brightened, leaving your cat looking grey and the background over exposed. Simply using the exposure compensation option (+-) to lower the exposure a little bit will get you the right level of black.

But now you've got a dark cat with no features.... 

Since black isn't very good with direct light, you need to use reflections from his or her glossy fur to create some shape.  Brush your cats fur and shine a bright light or flash onto a near by white wall or large white card. Move the light around until you start to see those glossy highlights on your cat's fur. 

With just enough directional light to catch the defining features the cats dark coat is rendered perfectly with form and definition where you want it.


6. My cat photos look ok, but lack emotion. 

Eyes!

There's one sure way to get emotion and life into a photo - focus on the eyes. 
It'll add a professional touch and emotion to your photo.  Simple as that.  To further enhance the image, drop down to eye level with the cat. A low point of view puts you into the cats world, creating a powerful connection. 

Great lighting, a low angle, sharp focus, and eyes clear and bright all make for a great photo.  Most of all - she's relaxed and happy. 

Great lighting, a low angle, sharp focus, and eyes clear and bright all make for a great photo.  Most of all - she's relaxed and happy. 


Want to learn more?

Visit the shop to get the diffuse photo guide to smarter photography and take your skills to the next level. 


by Simon Osbaldeston
diffuse photo

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