Written by Marjorie Dawson

Five Things a New Cat Photographer Should Know

Five Things a New Cat Photographer Should Know

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I wanted to share some tips about things a new cat photographer should know. Like many beginners, I was clueless when I started but have learned a few things that have changed how I view photography.

I used to ask myself: What do you do first? Do you shoot Manual? Do you start on Automatic? What is important? What are all these buttons?

As time passed I got tired of sitting and looking at my camera wondering how it worked. I stepped outside and started taking (terrible) pictures. But, I had started using my camera.

Then I took an online class. Then I went a step further and took a class in person with a photographer. I realised that some things I thought mattered don’t and things I was ignoring are actually quite important. I began to grow as a photographer. I hope with these tips you will too.

Yawning tabby cat action shot.
  • The eureka moment for me was moving on from working alone to learning with others, taking classes, and meeting photo people online.

You Can’t Learn It All By Yourself

To be honest, doing it on your own can be lonely, isolating and boring. So what do you do? How do to expand your skills in the world seems to be in and out of lockdown?

  1. Take an online course. Many of these have dedicated study groups or communities. Some have private Facebook groups where you can show your work for advice, help and praise.
  2. If you can, take a course with a local professional. Some photographers teach from their studios, and others do zoom classes.
  3. Take part in an online challenge like Photo Genius (monthly) or 52 Frames (weekly).

The importance of interacting with real people who are fellow students is so important. Fellow learners will cheer your successes, you will laugh at each other’s mistakes, and a tutor will suggest how settings could transform or improve your photo. A new photographer can learn so much in a fun and friendly environment, even if it’s virtual.

Online Photography Classes at Good Prices

You need to be prepared to pay for a class of good quality. The ones I list have consistently ranked well in reviews and surveys. I took the Digital Camera Mastery course.

  • Essential Skills – from Photography Concentrate. The absolute basics so you can really take good pictures all the time. Under $99
  • Digital Camera Mastery is the basic course I did. The course gives you firm fundamentals in photography. Including getting familiar with camera settings, focusing, editing, and mastering manual mode. Each lesson focuses on one single skill and you can master skills as you go. $97 or lower.
  • Expert Photography has a course that looks really good and (at the time of writing it is $97). Their preview page has a couple of videos and some bonus fun too.
  • SLR Photography 101 – This course has praise from the Expert Photography people and is aimed at beginners who are looking for a well-rounded course on photography, with a focus on portraits and controlling light. $99.
Things a New Photographer Should Know include depth of field like this Cat looking upwards with a green background.
Toulouse ISO 200 50mm F3.5 1/400 © Dash Kitten

TOP TIP: Starting With ‘Manual Mode’ is Not Fun

Manual mode on a DSLR is not something you just pick up and start doing. (If you can then lucky you. Hey, why are you here?) This is one of the most important things a new photographer should know. Terrible manual photos make you feel a failure, well, mine did when I started. I was so upset I got it ‘wrong’ but I still had a lot to learn.

Shooting in manual mode is something you learn to do. It takes time and practice. You need to be conscious of how different things work together in the ‘Exposure Triangle’. The correct balance of this triangle: aperture, shutter speed and light takes a while to learn so in the meantime check out the fun settings on your camera like Aperture Priority, Landscape, Portrait, or fast-moving Sport mode.

Sienna ISO 200 183mm F5.6 1/125 © Dash Kitten

You Need Your ‘ Camera Manual’

Yes, you do, even if it’s a pdf on the screen so you can find what a certain switch or button does. Your manual does two things.

  • It shows you where all your cameras buttons, functions and settings are, and,
  • it introduces you to new terms you need to understand to use your camera.

I have had so many people ask me about camera manuals and not understanding how their cameras work that I made a ‘Find Your Manual’ cheat sheet for blog subscribers! You can figure out things eventually without a manual but you learn more slowly, especially if you are a new camera user.

Adobe raw Raw DSLR Camera. How to use it is one of the things a photographer needs to know.

You Can Take As Many Pictures As You Like

This means more than just one or two as if you were using an old fashioned film camera. You can and should take literally hundreds of photographs.

On my recent trip to Wellington Zoo, I took nearly 400 pictures. Yes, a lot of these will be unsuccessful but, after I have reviewed all my photos and deleted the terrible ones, I hope to have maybe 40/50 pictures left I can choose from for social media or blog posts.

If you take photos, adjust your settings and take more photos you will learn, as I am, that you can mentally have some settings on standby for cats on cloudy days, or cats in sun puddles, or squirrel monkeys in the shade!

Squirrel monkey ISO 200200mm F5.6 1/400 © Dash Kitten

Get a Quick Head Start with Cat Photos

Here are some quick suggestions that instantly make your photos look better, especially if you are a beginner.

Remember everyone started in the same place, knowing very little. You don’t often see most photographer’s failed shots. These little knowledge bites are fun things a new photographer should know and remember.

  • Keep your background plain if you can. Our colleague Summer’s human at Sparklecat often uses a plain background for her portraits of the Somali superstar. The result? You focus on the cat, not on the background.
  • Use the Rule of Thirds. You will find that most cameras allow you to use an overlaid grid divided into nine squares. Putting a cat on one of those lines instantly improves the portrait. Try it out.
  • Try changing your ISO setting. 100 is for sunny days and 400 will improve gloomier weather. High ISO like 16000 can transform nighttime photos. Changing your ISO can be an adventure so experiment to see what happens.
  • Think about your composition, don’t just point and hope. Know your cat and the kind of poses that keep on happening. You can practice framing your image over and over again.
  • Don’t rush. Make sure you have some (if not all) of the right camera settings. The more you do, the better you get – well this is what I am finding anyway!
  • Learn some basic post-processing software skills. I am learning a lot about Affinity Photo and am taking one of their courses. You might use Lightroom or Corel Paint Shop Pro.
  • I have covered using useful dodge and burn tools here.


Marjorie Dawson

Marjorie is a motorbike riding blogger and award winning cat photographer who believes that everyone can shoot and edit wonderful pictures they love regardless of the camera they use.

She is a Professional member of the Cat Writers Association, Kuykendall Image Award winner and published photographer at the Guardian newspaper.

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19 thoughts on “Five Things a New Cat Photographer Should Know”

  1. Great reminders! I’ve learned to rely on my camera manufacturer’s youtube videos – I loathe reading manuals. I akin my camera to buying to fast/fancy a car – too many widgets for a beginner. But I’m slowly getting there – often times thanks to your helpful blog articles!

    Reply
    • You are right about manuals, it takes time and effort to read one! I love my favourite You Tube presenters for Canon help!

      Reply
  2. These are wonderful tips for beginning photographers! I’m looking forward to seeing more of your zoo photos. One of the things I love most about digital photography is instant feedback.

    Reply
  3. Marjorie, you’ve become so knowledgeable about photography these last few years, I’m so impressed! This is such great advice. I really need to take a photography course, I still need so much improvement. It’s funny you mention camera manuals, so many electronics no longer come with manuals – my Cannon didn’t. You have to go online to find it and print it out or download it & take up valuable space on your PC. Needless to say, I never bothered to search for it! Maybe that is part of my problem, huh LOL!
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

    Reply
  4. I have been talking about wanting to take a photography course to brush up on my skills, so I’ll have to check out the ones that you recommended! You’ve made some great points. I have seen too many people pick up a DSLR, throw it in manual because that’s what they believe that they ‘have to do’ to use it properly (or it’s somehow cheating) and then give up because they don’t get the results that they were looking for right away. It’s a process and requires time, hard work and dedication to learn, just like any skill!

    Reply
  5. I took a photography course; it was so much fun. On the other hand, I learned many things on my own, and as it turns out, much better than my step-daughter, who went to college. It is important to take a good course; not all have been created equal.

    Reply
  6. Great tips! I have 2 DSLR cameras and both are very intimidating. (One more so than the other.) I took a class years ago but have forgotten many things and haven’t touched my camera in at least a year. Reading this has me ready to pull it out again, take an online course and just start taking pictures!

    Reply
    • Good for you. You can do it and remember, the best camera is the one you have with you. Good luck with the course. I know you will find one you enjoy!

      Reply
  7. Awesome tips, as always, Marjorie! I love being able to snap off a bunch of photos without worrying about developing. 🙂

    Reply
  8. Great advice! We are in the process of trying to get new batteries for camera here. my son has been talking oodles of pictures with it and his shots are pretty good. I love your shots today, particularly the monkey! Have a glorious day! Barb

    Reply
  9. I don’t know why in the world I never thought of taking an online photography course. I guess that makes perfect sense nowadays with COVID19 happening. Thanks for sharing your insightful tips as always! 🙂

    Reply
  10. Great tips! My momma takes so many photos – the good thing about digital is that you can easily delete all the bad ones.

    Reply
  11. Thanks for those handy tips! On Tuesday I took oodles of pics of some pretty birds on my feeders.Most were junk, but I do have a few not too terrible ones:) I used the auto setting for most of them then I zoomed in with that function as well. Got some nice bohkeh effects. The hardest part was not being seen, as I was at the window, which in itself is a hard thing to do. My camera wants to focus on the screen at times, Argghh!

    So I stood on a chair to get away from the screen and was able to get my images through plain glass.

    Reply
  12. Thanks for those handy tips! On Tuesday I took oodles of pics of some pretty birds on my feeders.Most were junk, but I do have a few not too terrible ones:) I used the auto setting for most of them then I zoomed in with that function as well. Got some nice bohkeh effects. The hardest part was not being seen, as I was at the window, which in itself is a hard thing to do. My camera wants to focus on the screen at times, Argghh!

    So I stood on a chair to get away from the screen and was able to get my images through plain glass.

    Reply

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