Beginner Cat Photo Skills

3 Quick Tips To Capture the Perfect Cat Portrait

Looking to capture purr-fect cat portraits? You only need three things!

This quick guide will unlock the secrets to taking stunning photos of your cats. Read this and you will be proud to share your portraits with friends and family or on social media.

Remember, the more you practice, the more confident your decisions about your photographs become. You are not looking for perfection you are looking for purrsonality plus pictures that mean something special to you.

No-one knows your cat as well as you, so look for cute and funny expressions, the ‘looks’ you know your cat adopts at certain moments (like when supper is late, or ‘who hid the catnip toy’?) This means you will need to be ready to snap a shot at the right moment but, you know what? The results will be worth the practice you put in.

What do you need for Cat Portrait Success?

1) The Eyes Matter Most

Closeup using a telephoto lens Canon
Toulouse closest eye in sharp focus.

With a DSLR or mirrorless camera select a focus point (these marks should appear on your viewfinder). Make sure your chosen focus point is on the eye of your cat so that your cat’s eye is sharp and clear.

This may take several shots so that you get it right which it can do when your cat moves suddenly. If one of your cat’s eyes is closer to the camera – focus on that one. Here’s a basic focus point layout.

Focus Dots as seen in a camera viewfinder

This works for humans as well as your feline friends. Observe yourself when you next look at an image, in print or online. You will find that you always look at the eye of a person. Remember, people forgive you almost anything, except a blurry eye for cats and humans.

  • Check up on your own camera’s focus points. For speed of use, my Canon 1300D is set to the centre spot.
Sienna, well-lit closeup with sharp eyes

2) Portrait Light Get It Right

No cat (or human) will thank you for using harsh light when taking a photograph. The shadows will be unfriendly and unflattering.

If you look at a professional photographer who has a studio setup, they always have a couple of what are called ‘softboxes’. These are literally boxes on stands with a covered front that provides a diffused and friendly light which shows features without strong shadows.

  • For a DSLR keep your ISO low as you can, ISO 200 is a good setting to start with.
  • Shutter speeds of 1/50 to 1/350 are a good place to start.
  • Aperture Priority (Nikon A) works really well.
  • Your smartphone camera can take superb shots in different light conditions – explore it.
Softbox for Photography to Capture the Perfect Cat Portrait Softbox with covered front

Even better, for those on a limited budget, grab a sheet of white card and direct it’s reflected brightness carefully towards your cat. This extra brightness might be the gentle touch you need and this is so easy to do.

Without a softbox, or piece of card, try for a shot near an indoor window. For exterior portraits, find gentle shade by a tree or shadow of a wall. These kind of locations gives you the same effect as a fancy softbox for free – bright, what I cann, ‘friendly’ light.

3) Tidy Your Background

Backgrounds can make or break a photo of your cat. An explosion of toys all over the floor from playtime, or magazines on the sofa may not be the cat portrait ambience want. Even with the bokeh effect of a DSLR people notice clutter.

Tuxedo cat posed on a fence
A strong single subject stands out on a plain backtround

A perfect cat background outside?

A background of grass or foliage and trees gives your outdoor cat a fresh and natural look. If you have an interesting textured wall, or planter, these add visual interest that will compliment your cat’s fine fur too. This cat portrait (above) of Toulouse in his favourite tree has a lovely background of nice foliage.

A perfect cat background inside?

Drape a pale sheet or fabric, preferably one that co-ordinates with your cat, as a background. Or use a plain wall. If you can’t avoid background stuff – just make sure it’s tidy!

Tabby Cat Climbs down a Cabbage Tree
Contrast of Fur and Foliage Make a Cool Image

15 thoughts on “3 Quick Tips To Capture the Perfect Cat Portrait”

  1. So true, the eyes are the most important feature, they show such marvelous expression! I use the umbrellas for my indoor portrait photos

  2. Beautiful shots…and these great tips will work well for dogs, too! Sharing and Pinning for others to read!

    • Yes. You are right, for any pet these tips work really well. I work on them one at a time to build confidence.

  3. I love these tips for taking great photos quickly. I’m definitely going to try these with Henry. One of these days, I’ll get it all together and snap a brilliant shot of him and it’ll be all thanks to you.

  4. Great tips, some of which my father taught me about. One of my bugbears is when there are things sticking out behind the subject’s head…though it can be funny, I find it quite distracting.
    Lovely pictures!

  5. I wish I’d known all this 5 years ago! The eyes are so important … especially when you have a black cat!

  6. It always struck me that unless you actually want to lose the photo subject in the background, then it should be the subject. The eye needs to be drawn to that spot, though it can be done so by using exterior pointers.
    A lovely photo, Marjorie.

  7. Awesome tips, Marjorie. At the shelter, we have to work with the light we have — not always the greatest, but we do our best. Always focus on the eyes, though! 🙂


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