Do you struggle to get good closeups with your camera, whether its a DSLR, a point-and-shoot or a smartphone? I have been exploring new avenues with my camera and am trying cat close-up photography. As a pet photographer, I have been discovering that this is a new way to look at my cats.
It can be frustrating – right? So, I wanted to share with you as many tips and tricks as possible to get you on the road to success as quickly as possible.
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This post aims to get you from ‘frozen by
Camera Terms Resource List
I use technical terms you may not know, so I am including a Resources List at the bottom of this post.
Close-up Pet Portraits
A portrait is not just the picture of a cat, it may be a treasured memory or a funny social media share for friends. Make sure its a good one with our tips on cat close-up photography.
When I put out a call to blogging colleagues and camera users I discovered that smartphones, Point and Shoots and DSLR devices can all take an inspiring picture. Whether its pictures of kittens, cats, birds or puppies.
The images here are
What Camera Do You Need?
As you admire the images in this post, check out the devices they are taken with. Not everyone uses a DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera for their animal
TOP TIP The best camera for cat photography is the camera you have, not the one in the shop window.
The message then? The hobby or business of pet photography does not mean an expensive top of the range ‘mirrorless’ camera. The three types of camera you are most likely to see and use are:
- Point and Shoot
- Smartphone (SP)
- DSLR camera
Point and Shoot Cameras
Often called a compact camera, the point and shoot is a great option for your pet photoshoot if you don’t have a smartphone or if wrangling a heavy DSLR is just not what you want to do.
Compact cameras work better than smartphones in a wider range of light conditions. They usually come with a good zoom lens that is fantastic for getting close for your cat close-up without getting in their whiskers.
To find a good one do an online search for the ‘best compact camera’ type posts (until I do one!)
Many good point-and-shoot digital cameras have a ‘manual control’ option so it is worth checking your instruction manual to see what you can do, and how to make the most of the camera.
I have included the Powershot SX 530 in the camera recommendations for this post, as I have seen it in action and been impressed by the results. Check it out at the link above.
SUPER TIP Explore your camera. Read the manual and learn what your device can do. Do this and everything will be much easier. Even the simplest model has different options.DashKitten.com
If you have a recent smartphone, it will have a good camera. That camera will shoot images and video as amazing quality. After a lot of reading I came to the conclusion that the more recent the iPhone, say, or Android ‘phone the better your pictures will be BUT all phones take good pictures.
Your smartphone capacity – the number of pictures you can take, will depend on the model but I have never run out of space on my iPhone and I shoot lots of pictures.
Smartphone Top Tips:
- Smartphones can be fitted with a close-up macro lens.
- You can change the image resolution on many newer models. This makes our images printable as a canvas or card.
- New models often have a ‘portrait’ mode which allows you to create a more soft-focus background behind a pet.
I am putting my own Canon 1300D, known in the US as the Rebel T6, in the spotlight as I am enjoying my first explorations into the world of the DSLR. It’s great to be using the kind of camera used by famous photographers, although I guess these days even they have smartphone cameras too.
One thing worth remembering is this:
You will often be told when you read online DSLR how-to’s is that you need to go ‘manual’ and you need at least more than one lens to do anything worth doing. This is misleading for beginner photographers.
The ‘go manual’ statement is intimidating if you are new to your DSLR camera and when I first tried Manual I nearly gave up, the results were so disappointing.
I use my Canon camera with its ‘kit lens’ and with this setup, I have been exploring:
- Av mode,
- Sport mode,
- and my camera’s other pre-sets
I have achieved excellent results that encourage me to keep learning.
I am including some of my own images in this post and these are taken with the ‘kit lens’ that came with my camera. There is no special cat photography lens, and the only extra equipment I have right now is a Manfrotto monopod for stability when my camera gets heavy.
“I typically use my Canon or Nikon DSLR for the hands-down quality, but find the convenience of the iPhone fabulous”Dorothy Wills-Rafferty FiveSibes.com
If you do want to choose extra lenses for a
Wait until you see what kind of pet photography appeals to you most. You could end up loving funny cats, dog pictures, shots of horses in motion, leaping animals, or capturing exquisite super close-up shots of an animal’s eye but to know how you want to grow your skills you need to try and experiment as much as you can.
See what works with your basic camera, see what you love shooting, then decide if a macro or a spectacular zoom lens is what need. I would like to try a Macro lens and get really close to bees, or cats.
Extra lenses come with experience. Invest in these when you have the skills to appreciate what they do. For a new camera user, expensive extra lenses are not essential to start taking pictures and they don’t magically make your photos better.
What Else Do I Need For Feline Photography?
Apart from your camera of choice, you will need:
- Stability for shooting pictures
- The willingness to crawl and climb
- A large bag of treats, because your model will expect to be paid.
What you won’t need to use your digital zoom. If you try to take pictures of a bird or dog from too far away you risk blurred and pixelated images
This comes with the territory when taking all kinds of pet pictures. A manic kitten, a gracious senior cat (who won’t look at you), a dignified older hound or a temperamental bird need you to do something ordinary photographers can’t always do.
You may need to be still, and quiet and, as a photographer, you must be prepared to sit in one place a lot longer than you might be used to. A lot will depend on your cat’s personality.
Patience helps you to cultivate a relationship of trust. You could be shooting pictures of a quirky family pet, or an animal nervous of strangers. Active kittens and community cats are skittish and they may not welcome the attention of a stranger – so you must build trust.
Everyone takes blurry pictures and even the experts don’t get it right every time. You might need extra help keeping your device from shaking and spoiling a shot.
This does not mean fancy equipment. Brace yourself against anything handy. This might be a door frame, a pile of books, resting an arm on your knee, or elbows on the floor.
If you do get camera shake, a small tripod for smartphones, DSLR’s and Point-and-Shoot can be a simple and effective solution. I have also been told that using flash can remove some camera wobble, although I have not tried this myself yet.
To get a close-up you need to get down at puppy level, or up at shelf level in your
BRIBES aka TREATS
Modelling fees are an essential part of your kit. No payment means no picture or second rate efforts with an uncooperative model. Check our colleague Summer at Sparklecat for the quality a treat based photo sessions can generate.
If you are able to get a clicker, you will find it great for getting a cat’s attention in time to capture that moment. Our friend Kitty Cat Chronicles explain all about using a clicker for training.
Be Ready to Take Pictures Fast
It is not practical to suggest you should be constantly alert all the time, but if you intend to take pictures you need to
You can make your photographer life easier if you explore potential pre-sets for your pet photography. Pre-sets can get you up and running really fast because, until you gain experience, they will do the hard work for you.
The right camera settings for cat photography change with each device – check the manual.
Our colleague Sidewalk Shoes has the following to say about the AV (aperture priority) pre-set on a DSLR:
“Aperture priority just means that you are setting the aperture (the f-stop) and letting the camera choose all the other settings.
The lower the number of your aperture, like f1.8 or f2.8 will let in the most light and have a narrower depth of focus. So, your subject will be in focus, but the focus will drop off quickly and become blurry”.
Consider Black and White Portraits
As I explore my camera I am learning about more about settings. Some of the things surprise me and one eye-opening experience for a beginner is using black and white, also referred to as ‘monochrome.
Although people often expect black and white photos from journalists reporting on grim situations, or dramatic events, it is still very much alive for regular photographers like you and I.
Think of simple shares, abstracts or textures for your photographs, and check to see if your camera has a black and white or ‘monochrome’ setting.
- See if you can set focus lock. This allows you to focus then recompose a close-up shot which might be a help with a restless cat.
- Check your camera for special functions like ‘Sport mode’ for fast movement, or close-up Macro mode. These are often shown as a graphic like a running athlete or a flower.
- On a DSLR you can select one of the semi-automatic options such as Av mode – for a soft-focus background, portrait settings or macro. Know
yourown pre-sets and get off to a flying start.
- See what you need to adjust on your device to ensure you can use ‘Burst’ mode or ‘Sport’ mode. This allows you to take a series of pictures very quickly.
- A P&S compact Camera may only take a limited series of burst shots so check your manual.
- A smartphone should continue to take pictures in burst mode as long as you are touching the screen. Be warned, it can take dozens very quickly. Be aware of the fact you have a lot of very similar images on your camera. Review them as soon as you can. Find the best and delete the rest.
Point-and-shoot and DSLR cameras both have a ‘manual’ mode and a variety of
Modern smartphones take a good picture but a point and shoot or a DSLR might give you the ability to cope better with a low light situation. If your wonderful image is too dark, always remember the option to lighten an image using a smartphone image app, or software like Photoshop Elements.
Focus and Exposure Tips
Being ready to take pictures gets you a long way towards your cat photo goal. There are two things you can do to fine-tune your success.
- Focus for Sharpness and
- Exposure for good light.
Focus can seem intimidating, especially if you explore ‘manual’ functions. The upside, until you learn how to use your camera’s focusing capabilities you can use autofocus. Don’t let anyone intimidate you into feeling this is not an option. It is because it gets you taking pictures.
If you are not sure when autofocus happens, it often kicks in when you press the camera shutter half-way down. There is a pause then you can take your picture. Check your manual and any YouTube
Smartphones can autofocus, you just press lightly on your phone screen and an autofocus option should appear. This works for iPhone and Android. Use it if you need to.
To make the most of your focusing skills, learn just how close your camera can get before it cannot take a sharp image.
Exposure can be a minefield for the inexperienced photographer. Your pictures can be overly bright or too dark and it’s not your fault. Natural light is one of the best solutions for many dark problems, so shoot feline portraits in a catio, or near a window. Take a dog for a walk outside.
For a beginner, I suggest pointing your camera and taking pictures in ‘Automatic’ mode. Take plenty of pictures in different situations then download them to your computer or tablet and asses what worked and what didn’t.
From the basic ‘we look after everything’ mode move on to use your camera pre-sets then when you are confident, try manual mode. Remember, there is no obligation to rush to be an expert at taking masterful close-ups. This is a learning journey you are meant to enjoy.
Achieving Pet Picture Success
For a successful animal close-up as a beginner or experienced camera-user, a really good place to focus on is the eyes. If you look at the close-ups in this post, most successful photos have the eye as a focal point. The depth of emotion or trust the eye can portray is limitless.
If you have limited time to take a picture, maybe of a fractious cat or an active kitten a focus on the eye means you have a good chance of a quick win. Other parts of the picture may fade out of focus but this is often what you want to happen. This is why Av mode on DLR cameras is so popular. People are drawn to look at the eyes.
If you don’t want to focus on your pet’s eyes you can spotlight any part of your pet. A paw, an ear, over the shoulder look can give people a new appreciation of your pet.
For cat close-up photography, ‘toe beans’ or paw pictures are always popular. For reptile fans, a close-up of scaled skin or spikes can give people a new appreciation of your favourite animal.
What to do if you don’t get close enough
If you have not been able to get very close to the cat you want to photograph, and you got as close as you can, don’t despair. You can crop the image in an editing program and it’s perfect.
Everyone can take a good close-up with your own camera and you will take good pictures. The pictures here show every type of camera and this should give you all the inspiration you need to get close to your pet and take pictures.
Let us know how you get on and if you have any questions let us know in the comments!
A Different Look at Cat Closeups
#MarkingsMonday and Helping to Finding Missing Pets
Close-up pictures can be of critical importance when trying to track or trace a missing pet so never be afraid to get a good closeup if you can. Don’t believe it? Check my post on how facial recognition and markings are helping locate New Zealand’s missing pets.
There is a weekly hashtag on Twitter and Instagram called #markingsmonday. It is popular for a reason. Markings are distinctive and unique. For a worried pet parent looking for a lost fur family member, clear markings can aid identification.
“My Smartphone Won’t Take Close-Ups”
If my iPhone 6 can, maybe your ‘phone can too – check the manual for how ‘Settings’ and any adjustments you can make. Practice how close you can get before you get a blurry shot.
You Can Make Close-ups Look Different
Check this cool collage of Beth who is a new arrival at our local cat cafe. It is a three-layered shot.
What did I do to this photograph?
- I made a duplicate of the original picture of Beth which was taken with my DSLR.
- On the duplicate image, I cut out the right eye area of the image and enlarged it to focus on the amazing colours and fur texture.
- I added a layer and shaded it grey so the close-up of the cat eye with a narrow white outline would stand out.
- Then I added our watermark.
If you look carefully at the eye, you can see me. I am the small red smudge in the highlight as I was wearing a bright red cardigan. Wouldn’t you love a macro lens for super close-ups?
Sources for Camera Information:
- DSLR Basics at Dash Kitten for cat close-up photography and everything else.
- Point & Shoot Some Limitations/Improvements
- What is a DSLR Camera? Wikipedia
- The finer points of Focus Lock
- Mirrorless Camera – A digital camera that accepts different lenses on the front such as a zoom lens or a super close-up macro lens, but does not use a mirror to reflect the image into the viewfinder.