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Andrew Marttila is one of the most talented cat photographers I know. His images feature celebrity cats, shelter cats, and house cats with a level of detail that captures each cat’s essence. Andrew graduated with a degree in neuroscience, but he took a different career path when his social media took off while he was finishing school.
Since then, his photos have been seen by millions. He has been featured in hundreds of publications, articles, and galleries. Andrew was the photographer for the book Shop Cats of New York, which was released in November 2016. Andrew used to be terribly allergic to cats, but now lives with girlfriend Hannah Shaw, aka The Kitten Lady, their three cats, and a constantly rotating cast of foster kittens outside of Washington, D.C.
I had a chance to ask Andrew about his work with cats and for some pro tips on how to get good photos of cats.
How did you get started photographing cats?
I began taking photos of cats starting with my own cat, Haroun. I wanted to document his growth when he was a kitten, so I borrowed a friend’s camera. I played around with the settings for a few days and figured out how to take decent photos with it. After posting some of the images online, people close to me thought that there was something special about the way I captured him and encouraged me to make a social media account which consisted of cat photos. 5 ½ years later, here I am.
You come to the cat’s home, primarily within a 2 hour radius of Washington DC, but I understand you’re open to arranging for photoshoots outside of that area. How do you approach an in home photo shoot with a cat you’ve never met before?
Probably around 95% of the shoots I go to, I’ve never met the cat prior. My approach to each session is the same: I spend around 10-15 minutes allowing the cats to acclimate to having a new person in their space and let them warm up before I even pull the camera out of my bag. If they’re very wary, I’ll spend as much time as it takes to get them to be comfortable. This can mean lots of treats / catnip / toys. The best photos of cats are taken when they’re relaxed, so I do my best to make them feel safe around me.
How do you get a cat to look at the camera?
It’s super easy! I usually lead their gaze with a crinkle toy and then put the toy directly behind the camera. Their eyes follow the toy and when they look for the sound coming behind the camera, they’re actually looking directly into the lens.
What is the most challenging experience you had while photographing a cat?
Some cats are just not interested in being my friend – and that’s totally cool! I don’t try to force any situation. I’ve had a cat claw its way into the underside of a couch before. Pretty clear signal that she wasn’t a fan. By far the most consistently challenging shots I’ve taken were when I was working on my first book, Shop Cats of New York. I had about 20 minutes to get photos of cats in busy NYC stores. As you know, cats don’t care about your schedule or agenda – they’re going to unapologetically be themselves at all times. Getting the perfect shot in such a tight window with aloof or simply not-present cats proved to be very difficult. I look back on those shots and am astounded by what we were able to achieve!
What is the funniest experience you had while photographing a cat?
I think the sessions I had during the creation of Cats on Catnip were some of the most enjoyable. Many of the cats had never seen nor experienced the sheer amount of catnip I gave them. This led to a ton of incredible freakout moments (most of which I was able to capture) for both the cats and guardians alike.
Can you give our readers some tips on how to get good photos of cats?
I think there are some universal basics that anyone can follow, irrespective of your training or gear.
Lighting is probably the biggest factor when taking photos of cats. It’ll be the defining factor between a beautiful shot and something destined for the trash can. Proper light can not only illuminate all of the features of the cat (especially black cats) but can be used to help freeze motion. The more light you have in your house, the faster your shutter speed can go. This means that you’re able to take photos more quickly, eliminating the possibility of a blurry shot.
Additionally, I always encourage people to get on eye level with their cat. Photography is all about perspective and getting to the level of the animal offers an extremely unique vantage point that we rarely see in daily life. I also suggest people use toys to attract the cat’s attention. If you use the tip I mentioned earlier regarding eye contact, you can manage to get the cat to always look into the lens. This is extremely pleasing for the audience who then feel as though the cat is looking at them, drawing them into the photo. This is unbelievably beneficial when it comes to working with shelter animals.
Andrew’s new book, Cats on Catnip, is available on Amazon and everywhere books are sold. Cats on Catnip is a celebration of cats: silly cats, crazy cats, acrobatic cats, playful cats and funny cats. A treat for any cat lover, this book will leave you with a big smile on your face.
All photos ©Andrew Marttila,used with permission
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