Beginner Cat Photo Skills

Explore Effective Portrait Format Cat Photos

When you are into cat photography, the impulse is often to pick up your camera or smartphone and just shoot. Sometimes though, don’t you wish you could liven up your cat photography? Try something just a little bit different let’s take a quick look at effective upright cat portraits.

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Photograph Formats

First a quick question. Why do we take pictures in the horizontal format so much?

Mostly it’s because of the way many cameras are made. You naturally hold your camera as a convenient horizontal and the whole camera setup nudges you towards flat rectangles. We just go with the flow and don’t stop to think there is another way to think about pictures.

Photograph orientation – Landscape – the image is wider than it is higher. Portrait – the image is shorter across the top and longer down the sides.

Try Exploring Portrait Format

As I hope you are discovering in your own photography explorations, colour or black and white can make a difference to your images. So can your orientation*.

If you haven’t tried Portrait mode this post will help. This way of shooting images may require you to turn a DSLR on its side, like the picture below or rotate your smartphone.

Woman holding a camera for Portrait Orientation
A photographer holding her camera in ‘portrait’ orientation.

It was my picture of Chenzou taken using the less common ‘Portrait’ orientation that prompted me to start looking at this format with a fresh eye. I hope you will too.

Why is it called Portrait?

The orientation is called ‘portrait‘ because it recalls the times when painters used to record the rich and famous of the day on a tall canvas. Often this allowed the subject to show off a splendid dress or an imposing figure.

This type of view narrows the viewpoint and is also used for buildings and figures, things that are naturally upright. So, how about you try taking your cat photographs upright too?

Tuedo cat in Portrait Format
Miranda photographed at ground level.

This photo is focused on Miranda with a blurred foreground and background. It was an experiment and allowed me to start thinking differently about upright photographs.

How to Hold Your Camera

I am getting ahead of myself here. I am getting excited about photos and how they look and work, but there is one important thing you need to do before you venture out to take photographs in portrait format. You need to know how to hold your camera properly.

Holding your camera to take a vertical shot might feel strange so I am including a short video I doscovered on YouTube. This fast introduction explains exactly how to hold your DSLR, and keep it firm when taking pictures in a way that is new to you.

Tips for a Compact Camera

You should rotate the camera on to its side and keep it firm while you take a photo. Tuck in your arms for stability and make sure you know where your shutter button is so you are not fumbling to find it.

Tips for a Smartphone

Check your individual ‘phone for any settings you can change or adjust. Newer cameras may have a portrait mode or settings to add depth of field behind your model. Each smartphone is different so look at your manual and check your camera’s capabilities.

Taking Successful Cat Portraits

The next upright photograph is of a tuxedo – Thomas.

One of the top tips for taking a good picture of a cat model is to get down at the cat’s level but, in this picture, I was able to perch on the step below Thomas which gives a really powerful and empowering look to the picture.

Tuxedo cat portrait in Portrait format
ISO 100 F5.6 1/160 Tuxedo Portrait

Photo adjustment notes:

I lightened the shadows by adjusting the contrast in Affinity to add a bit of extra light but the cat is so gorgeous I managed a good composition by following the advice I have been given in classes and online and it has come out well.

The one thing I would change, with more experience, is the shutter speed. It is 1/160 but experts have suggested 1/250 which is slightly faster. Another suggestion was to widen the aperture from F5.6 to F8 or slightly wider.

Shutter speed is most commonly measured in fractions of a second, like 1/200 seconds or 1/1000 seconds….. But, shutter speeds can extend to much longer times, generally up to 30 seconds on most cameras

Photography Talk

Your photo program or app will do something similar. Work carefully and gently lighten the fur. Remember you are aiming to enhance your picture in a subtle way and undo anything that looks unreal (unless that is your deliberate intention).

You do not have to take a formal cat portrait

You are not compelled to snap a cat posed in a special way while your camera is in this upright orientation. You can take a picture of aby feline you like, the point is to look and maybe think outside the usual horizontal mode.

Portrait shot of exterior wall mounted cat furniture.

Here you can see, I photographed our wall-mounted Catipilla catio cat furniture. Turning the camera on its side allowed me to focus totally on the unit and show it installed on the side of the house. You get an impression of the height of the unit.

Whatever the subject of your picture, make sure it is well composed. Think as you take your picture, and avoid a lot of work with your photo program later.

Full Length Cat Portraits

You are allowed to enjoy taking a full-length portrait in cat portrait mode though! This is Phoebe walking towards the camera with her magnificent tail waving in the breeze.

As a horizontal picture this would have lost a lot of its impact. Why? Because instead of Phoebe being the central focus on my shot, fur shining, eye gleaming and tail waving, she would have been stuck in the middle with fencing on either side. Boring and a bit pointless, right?

Phoebe Portrait Mode Black Cat

Portrait wins the day.

A Bonus Black and White Portrait

As October has turned into Black and White month here on the blog I experimented with an adjusted picture of our tuxedo visitor.

I used the adjustment sliders in Affinity, I did not simply transform the image with a greyscale converter.

Tuxedo Cat in Portrait Format Black and White Monochrome

Portrait Format Resources

  • JoMoore Photography Site. Jo has some great vertical images on her pet page. Please take a look.
  • A great explanation about Shutter Speed for newbies.

13 thoughts on “Explore Effective Portrait Format Cat Photos”

  1. Do you think that shooting in portrait mode has increased in popularity since smart phones came on the scene? I find I naturally default to it since that is just the natural way I hold my phone. I love phoebe’s photo – beautiful cat with a beautiful tail.

    • Interesting thought. I am not sure, because some mobile telephones shoot square when held in portrait format but you do have a good point, I think people need to be conscious of composition when they take a photograph in portrait format because it can make a difference to the impact.

  2. I hope more people will follow your suggestion and start shooting both horizontal and vertical images. It really does make a huge difference in how the final photo looks.

  3. It is a challenge to take great photos of cats in portrait mode. I’m using portrait mode photos for the weekly planner this year and many people are telling me everything they have is in landscape.

  4. Thanks for the blog hop. However much I read your posts with tips I still battle with my camera so my conclusion is to save to buy a better one LOL. Love your photography as always and Black and White photos are my favorites, have a great weekend

  5. These are such great tips! It’s so difficult to photograph cats, so I admire anyone who is able to do it and get great photos! I love doing portrait mode with my dogs. It’s super fun to set them up with two paws on an object and shoot that way. I’ve never tried it with my cats, though!

  6. Great tips, as always! It’s definitely good to mix up angles and orientations when taking photos. Thank you, Marjorie!


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