two cats sitting by a door

Every once in a while, you get a picture of your cats that’s just so purrfect, you can hardly believe you managed to get the shot. After I took the photo above, I literally danced around the room with joy.

Everything lined up just right. I had noticed the girls sitting very close together out of the corner of my eyes. I quietly snuck to my office to grab the camera, and equally quietly snuck back to where they were sitting, hoping that they wouldn’t hear me. Frequently, when I try to photograph them together, one or the other will walk toward me when they see me coming with the camera. This time, everything was perfectly aligned: the camera was in focus, they both looked at me at the same time, and I managed to get the shot in before one of them moved.

I’m not an expert photographer, but over the years of photographing cats I’ve learned a few things, and I thought I’d share some tips and tricks for getting good photos.

Avoid using flash if at all possible

Cats’ retinas have a special reflective layer called the tapetum lucidum, which acts almost like a reflective mirror at the back of their eyes. The “evil eyes” look you get in so many flash photographs is caused by the light bouncing off their retinas. If you have to use flash, try to take the photo at a slight angle so the flash doesn’t go off directly in the eye. (If cats had their say, humans would never use flash!).

Take lots of photos

For every good shot I get, I take at least 10 or 20 not so good ones.

Always have your camera close by and charged

How many times does your cat do something cute, but your camera is in the other room. I was so lucky with the photo above that I had time to get the camera and didn’t miss the shot!

Be patient

Sometimes, cats just aren’t in the mood to have their picture taken.

Use your cat’s daily cycle to your advantage

Take pictures of your cat when she’s just waking up and isn’t too active yet.

Use toys, treats, or sound to get your cat to look at the camera

When I had my picture taken with Amber by a professional photographer, the photographer’s assistant stood behind the photographer and squeezed toys with squeakers over her head to get Amber to look up.

Use the zoom feature on your camera

Use the zoom rather than getting too close to your cat, if you can. I’ve found that challenging, because both Allegra and Ruby react to the sound of the zoom and inevitably approach me and the camera to get a closer look. It makes for great photos of cat noses!

Experiment with different camera settings

Even if you use a point and shoot camera, experiment with the different settings. For example, I found that when taking photos in bright light, I need to sometimes set the flash manually, otherwise, my two dark torties will look washed out. By playing with different settings, you may be able to avoid using flash a lot more than you thought.

Edit, edit, edit

Most of your photos will probably need a little editing. You don’t need Photoshop, there are plenty of inexpensive or even free online photo editors. My favorite one is PicMonkey, it comes in both a free and paid version.

Do you have any tips and tricks you use to get great photos of your cats? Please share them in a comment.


15 Comments on Tips and Tricks for Photographing Cats

  1. PS: Ingrid, I want to see sneaking around your house with your camera, and why didn’t you take a photo of the girls’ expressions as they watched you dancing around with joy? I’d love to have seen that!

  2. Ingrid, this is how most people learn, including me–through trial and error! I love their crossed tails. I personally think they might be plotting something, innocent as they look.

    Definitely avoid the flash, just as you say.

    Some cats are frightened of the camera because it may look like a big eye staring at them or it may look as if their mom or dad has suddenly developed a disfigured face, and some cats love the camera and always respond by coming to you when you look at them or pay them any attention. Also, when you sneak around for a good angle, you can seem threatening or playful. In either case, they may run away or toward you, which is what you don’t want.

    Take photos all the time for a while, even ones you don’t want–they’re digital, you can delete them. Get your cat accustomed to seeing you with the camera and accustomed to the camera noises and actions, and practice and experiment for yourself. That way, you and your camera are a natural part of the daily activity and your reflexes are quicker.

    Your camera actually focuses more naturally, like the human eye, when you zoom in rather than get physically closer, so you don’t end up with the resulting foreshortening. The drawback is that some cameras don’t focus as quickly or clearly with the zoom, but you can learn that by using your camera; the zoom is always a better choice.

    When I’m photographing my own cats–true veteran models who barely open their eyes when I’m stalking around them with the camera–and when I photograph subjects for portraits, I use a pink and silver princess wand one of my great-nieces gave me that has a shiny mylar star and pink and silver mylar strips at the end of a stick that both reflect and make an interesting noise that is apparently not too threatening. I get the big round eyes and nice pupils as they focus on it. Anything similar to this will work like a feather toy, just be sure to wave it somewhere near the camera lens so that they appear to be looking at you and not over your head where you are waving your toy and that it makes a little noise.

    And definitely, whenever possible, get on their level.

    Happy photographing!

  3. I use all those tricks, only one not mentioned that works great is get the shot when they are taking a nap, and to always have a camera nearby.
    My current camera has a slow focus, so will soon invest in newer one with a faster focus soon (I hope)

  4. Ingrid, you are so right in your tips about taking photos of cats. I use most of all what you say. It is not easy and you have to have a little patience. I start accross the room and use the zoom, just in case one decides to leave. And I always try to take without the flash. Your
    article is excellent for those wanting great photos of their cats. By the way the
    ones I have seen, you take great photos. Thanks for putting this article out.
    I have a friend who needs to see it.
    Thanks, Karen

  5. Get down at their level, or bring the animals up to yours (on a chair or table). Too many people (and rescue groups) take photos while standing over the animal, looking down at them.

  6. If you want your cat to be interested in a particular object and you don’t have time to wait around all day, put a drop of two of tuna juice on it. Just saying, it would get my attention.

    pawhugs, Max

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