Beginner Cat Photo Skills

Cat Photos for Beginner DSLR Users

Where do I start with my camera? This was the first question I asked myself when I took the shiny new DSLR out of its box.

This post has been created as a shortcut past overwhelm so you take your first encouraging and stress-free steps and start having a lot of fun as soon as you charge up you camera battery!

The kinds of questions you will ask:

  • Is there a manual? Is to printed or online?
  • Where do I look for help if I need it?
  • How do I turn my camera on?
  • How do I even hold my camera?
  • What is ISO?
  • What do I want use my photographs for?

NOTE: I use terminology that might be unfamiliar so I have added a Resources* list at the bottom of the post.

Adobe raw Raw DSLR Camera
Know Your DSLR – Use the Manual and Instructions.

Why Do You Want To Take Better Cat Photos?

Here are the kind of questions you want to think about. Not for too long but an idea gives you a sense of direction as you learn.

  1. Do you want to focus on a single social media channel?
  2. Do you want to show off the priceless antics of a foster kitten and capture cute derp* pictures for apotential adopter?
  3. When you feature a sponsor and product, a rescue cat, or a study on cat health what kind of pictures will you need?

My ambition is to take great pictures of the cats who feature my blog and the gorgeous cats up for adoption at my local cat cafe. Having a goal will encourage you to get out there taking cat pictures.

  • A good picture grabs attention and I have to learn basic techniques to make the best use of my device.

My own camera is a Canon EOS 1300D, also knows as the Rebel T6 in the US. It is a good basic beginners model that is not too heavy or complicated to use.

DSLR for Beginners

Where Do I Start with my DSLR  Harvey Full Face Aperture Priority Shot
My first picture using Aperture Priority at F5.6

The first question every new camera user must face is this.

How Do I Make My Camera do all this?

There can be a real mental change of gears when you go from reading the manual to picking up your camera.

Do you have to have to choose aperture* and an ISO* number before you start about taking pictures? Is it OK to use AUTO as a starting point?

I put together a few starter tips that helped me:

  • Make taking the lens cap off a habit. I forgot often.
  • Learn the right way to support your camera (see the video below)
  • Get comfortable focusing on something – use auto focus first.
  • Hear and feel a real shutter click. OK not essential but very satisfying

Avoiding New Camera Overwhelm

You have to make a start. You can’t avoid using using camera forever. I sat and looked at mine for weeks before I used it!

My cats were getting tired of being smartphone movie stars, they wanted proper portraits, so I had to do some research and get busy taking pictures.

Type ‘beginner DSLR user’ into YouTube. You will discover that there are plenty of tutorials, even if they don’t mention cats very often. Watching these tutorials will help you become familiar with the terminology used. Watch a few videos and you will be comfortable learning the basics.

  • My advice to other new users is to watch several YouTube presentations and see which ones appeal to you.

The advantage with videos is you can watch them over and over. The information will become familiar, and you can move on if a tutorial isn’t working for you.

TIP Online videos have helped me learn a lot about DSLR cameras and guided me when I decided which direction to take.

The next video will encourage anyone starting out. Watch and enjoy. This guy teaches online too. His courses are not expensive.

Technical Camera Terms for Cat People

What Are DSLR Camera Modes?

There are four ‘modes’ to explore as well as AUTO. On my Canon these are P, Av, Tv and Manual. Your settings may be slightly different for a Nikon, Olympus or Pentax – study your manual. I discuss each of them below.

For the first time you take pictures and to get familiar with using your DSRL setting your camera to AUTO is fine. This is how I started using my camera. You are guaranteed results that you can download immediately, it’s exciting and you are up and running.

From here, pick a ‘mode’ to investigate.

Each mode has its merits and can be useful to you. I would advise against rushing straight to ‘Manual’ mode. Manual requires experience and practice.

Program mode is great for newbies

To me, it looks like AUTO mode’s big brother. You can adjust the White Balance* and change the ISO* as well as disable the flash. It a great way to change a few things in a non-scary way.

Aperture Priority (Av)

You select the aperture. Your camera decides which shutter speed will work best for the conditions. Av mode interests me because you use it to get the nice soft background or bokeh* behind a cat you want to photograph.

Shutter Priority (Tv)

In this mode, you can choose the shutter speed. The camera decides which to aperture to select to give you a good and well exposed shot.

Manual Mode

I will leave this for another post. Manual mode is a real skill you develop over time. It gives you total control, but learn to use your camera’s basics first.

Pet Parade 280 Photographing Inky the Black Cat
Inky from Neko Ngeru Cat Adoption Cafe. A successful Auto mode shot.

What is ISO?

Learning a bit about ISO is a great way to begin your photography journey, then you can move on to the rest of the ‘exposure triangle’ which are Shutter Speed and Aperture. I began by learning about ISO because it’s easy to understand. 100 = sunny day right up to 1600+ = inside and dark!

It is acceptable to set your ISO to auto and let the camera work it out when you are a beginner. You want to learn your camera in small bites, and Auto may be the first step. It will not be the only one you take but to get out there and take your first photos start super easy.

In basic terms, ISO is simply a camera setting that will brighten or darken a photo. As you increase your ISO number, your photos will grow progressively brighter. For that reason, ISO is a good tool to help you capture images in dark environments or be more flexible about your aperture and shutter speed settings.

Photography Life
Cat Photos for Beginner DSLR Users. ISO infographic for new users.

TIP You may find that your cats dislike the sound of a shutter* but be patient and keep taking pictures. The shutter makes a distinctive noise, and your cats will all need to become familiar with it. Even my fussiest and most timid cats don’t move away now when I take photos. The key is patience (and maybe a treat or two).

The Exposure Triangle

ISO is part of the Exposure Triangle that balances your light, shutter speed and aperture. Aperture is how far your shutter opens to take a photo.

A graphic explaining a little bit about the way light and shutter speed help create good photos

What Will You Explore First?

You can take your pick but I recommend trying Aperture Priority. It’s a good place to start because the results can be exciting with the soft background blur that showcases a feline so perfectly.

My aim is to take pictures of the Dash Kitten Crew out in the garden, in natural light. The background is busy with greenery but as Av mode lets me explore a fuzzy ‘depth of field*’ it seems a good place to begin.

I will also experiment with ‘exposure compensation*’ to see what a difference this makes.

Beginner Photographer Inspiration

If you are learning to use a DSLR you could be inspired by classic cat photographer Walter Chandoha.

Or, you might love the contemporary inspiration of photographer Larry Johnson. Look for cat photographers online. A great photographer can inspire you so look for their work online and in print.

*Resources for New DSLR Camera Users

  • Derp: Cat speak for a cute or dumb face pulled by your model that makes people go ‘Awwww”. Also used as a substitute for speech regarded as meaningless, or to comment on a foolish or stupid action when speaking about humans.
  • Bokeh:  bokeh (/?bo?k?/BOH-k? or /?bo?ke?/BOH-kay) is the quality of out-of-focus or “blurry” parts of the image rendered by a camera lens.
  • Aperture: Aperture changes how wide the lens’ opening is. Inside the camera, a set of circular blades widens and narrows as the photographer adjusts the aperture. The human eye adjusts to bright light by controlling the size of the pupil. Aperture follows a similar concept in that the opening adjusts to different light, only mechanically, not biologically – Creative Live
  • ISO: Is the sensitivity of your sensor to light. The ISO setting you use depends on the amount of light in the scene you are photographing. The more light you have to work with the lower you can set your ISO. As settings go, ISO is one of the key camera menus you need to learn. – ImageMaven
  • Shutter: When a camera fires, the shutter opens and fully exposes the camera sensor to the light that has passed through your lens. After the sensor is finished collecting the light, the shutter closes immediately, stopping the light from hitting the sensor – Photography Life
  • Modes great for clear in-depth definitions of each mode.
  • Exposure Compensation is used to alter the exposure from a value selected by the camera, making photographs brighter or darker. In Nikon modes P, S, and A, (Canon P, Av and Tv) the camera automatically adjusts settings for optimal exposure, but this may not always produce the exposure the photographer intended. Nikon
  • White Balance: White balance in digital photography means adjusting colours so that the image looks more natural.  Full definition: Photography Life
  • Depth of Field: DOF for short, refers to how much of an image is in focus, specifically the distance between the nearest and farthest in-focus parts of an image – SLR Lounge

29 thoughts on “Cat Photos for Beginner DSLR Users”

  1. Wonderful article. Complete guidance about using a DSLR camera. Thanks a lot for sharing such a valuable thing.

  2. Marjorie, this is an excellent post. I’ve signed up to take lessons from a professional, but this post gave me a head’s up in understanding my Nikon. To this point I’ve relied on Auto, but like you said, my cats want their portraits taken with something other than my iPhone. Thank you especially for explaining ISO. Lighting has been my downfall, so I appreciate the time it took for you to compile the research for this post.

  3. Wonderful choice. Very helpful and amazing reading to choose the best DSLR for cat photos. I love to do pet photography and this article helps me a lot. Thank you for sharing it.

  4. Thanks for sharing the wonderful tips. This has us all excited here in the office to start taking photos the way you explained it. Just we have to practice more. Hope you are having a lovely weekend.

  5. Great Experiment with the cat in different settings. Try placing the camera on the floor and tilting it up towards him for a unique viewpoint.


  6. You do an amazing job with the camera, miss Majorie. Granny almost threw away her new camera, as she didn’t want to learn all the new possibilities that made her head swing, but then she took it up after a few weeks and started to learn about it….step by step and very slowly. Now she at least knows how to put off the little movie-pictures that were in her pictures accidentally…MOL? Pawkisses for a wonderful week ahead???

  7. Your photos are proof that, even though phone cameras are getting better and better, nothing beats a DSLR! I’m still afraid to get one because I think it would be hard to figure out, but it doesn’t seem so hard now that you’ve broken it down.

  8. Really well written post. I know a few novices that would benefit so will share. On our end, we did the reverse. We use to use the DSLR and because we are mostly about travel and carry on only at that, we found more and more that the only camera we used were the iPhones (now the iPhone X). I still have my DSLR but I haven’t used it in over 5 years! yikes. Time to maybe find it a new home.

  9. Excellent post, Marjorie! I’ve been a professional photographer and photojournalist for (yikes) 40 years, and I love the Canon! I have a family of them and also outfitted my office staff with them. This is a great tip sheet, not only for novice shutterbugs, but also a nice reminder for those seasoned ones who may have become complacent with using auto mode! Pinning to share!

  10. You’re way ahead of me and I’ve had my DSLR Nikon for over 2 years! I need to go to YouTube and watch some videos on using it so I can get better photos of my girls.

  11. This is such a helpful post! There is a lot to think about in photography, especially once you stop using auto. I have no doubt that you can master manual if you set your mind to it!

  12. What a useful post as I think many of us face the same issues with new cameras. I hate adjusting lenses and settings or following instructions but I love good photos and videos and it sure makes a BIG difference in quality. Can’t wait to see your progress- so cool!

  13. DSLR is very intimidating to me. I’m going to print out this post to keep for reference! Thank you!

  14. Great post! I definitely will refer to it as I work up the courage to understand my camera… I know it’s amazing, but honestly I get a little overwhelmed with all of the abbreviated markings and what they mean and the new language. Your post helped break that down into bite size chunks!

  15. We love to follow your journey with your camera ; Claire uses the Program mode a lot, or the Speed mode if we are playing of moving (with flash if we’re inside). Purrs

  16. Oh my goodness, this is all like Chinese to me! I have a so-called “beginner ” DSL camera, a Cannon Powershot; I despise it. I had been deciding between it and one that had easy to comprehend picture icons on the settings. I should have bought that one, it wasn’t much more $$. I need to watch some videos that define and describe what each of these functions actually are, what they really do, how they impact a photo AND then how to use each function. It’s insanely confusing!

  17. Great post here, and i love your approach to this new subject. Look forwards to seeing more in your series as you work your way through discovering the delights, and undoubted pitfalls, along the way.

  18. I’m horrible at photography and honestly it all just makes my eyes glaze over. I’m a word girl all the way, I’m not bothered by text and pictures – meh. But I just had someone look over my site and improving my images was one of the critiques.

  19. I’ve had a couple times my hands have hurt so much after taking a lot of pictures. The first time it happened, I actually went to an urgent care and had my hand x-rayed because I thought I’d hurt it some other way. Then a couple days later, the other hand started hurting in the same way. I try to ignore it – but I have a creeping suspicion this is a case of beginning arthritis. Watching the video showed me I’m holding it right – so there goes that theory.
    ps – And thank you for sharing all the photography videos! I love having a friend in learning … or something like that.

  20. I struggle with taking decent pictures and can barely tell if I should have the flash on or not. I typically always have it on. I wonder if I’d be able to handle a DSLR camera!

  21. I wish I was as talented as you with photos and need to better myself this year. Good luck with the new camera it looks amazing

  22. Have fun with the new camera! I’ve been pinning after a DSLR but seem to keep finding other things I have to spend my money on. My birthday is coming up in early March, I’ll have to start dropping hints for my fiance.

  23. We still haven’t figured ours out after all these years so we’re looking forward to learning with you.

  24. My human was shooting and manipulating images in manual mode when cameras still used FILM, so she is accustomed to all the jargon. So accustomed to it, in fact, that it would be hard for her to teach a newbie about using a DSLR camera. She thinks it is awesome that you are taking people on your DSLR journey as you go along – lots of people will get to learn all sorts of things! And people that are one or two steps ahead of the readers are often the best teachers.

  25. I like that you are enjoying learning how to use your DSLR camera, Marjorie! Your photos are getting better and better as you learn and practice. Awesome!


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