You know what you want. You have the ideas for a whole bundle of terrific photography projects but the skills are still catching up. You need help, but which skill should you focus on improving first? Let me spotlight some ideas you can explore and build on.
Table of contents
What’s Wrong With Your Cat Photos?
My models are cats but the ideas showcased here can be used by anyone from a smartphone street photographer to a user learning their new mirrorless camera. Ask yourself questions. This helps you to pinpoint your own photography issues and let you focus on things you want to improve or refine.
- Frustrated with your cat portraits?
- Lack sharpness or light?
- Does your model not look their best?
- Not happy with your composition?
Isolate Your Cat Subject
This is one of my favourite images of Silver our tabby. He is wearing his Tabcat tracker which adds a touch of spot colour, and behind him is an out of focus but craggy looking wall.
There is nothing else in the picture except Silver. He looks pensive, thoughtful even. There is nothing else to distract us from his slightly off the centre figure. I used the Rule of Thirds for this shot and the slightly off centre position works really well.
Shoot From Your Cat’s Viewpoint
One of my favourite cat photo composition techniques. Looking up from the cat’s point of view.
This picture of a vintage cinema was taken in San Francisco a couple of years ago after the BlogPaws® Pet Blogging conference when we visited Savvy and her family. We visited Savvy’s local cat rescue Kitty Corner to donate our BlogPaws swag bag too.
I always think that we must look tall to cats, and I wonder how they see us. Imagine how tall this building looks
Talking of looking a cat in the eye. When Miranda is finished she will do that too but right now she is posed on a bannister at eye level which makes her much easier to photograph. Let’s just let her finish her toilette.
Design with Feline Patterns and Textures
Fur and terracotta tiles are not only a contrast in texture but also in colour. The rusty coloured steps are warm from the sun so no cat is going to ignore the siren call of a warm surface.
Your texture could be a wooden
Here is Spot from the cat cafe. His fur is a strong and soft contrast to the wooden kitty shelf he is lounging on. An artistic interpretation of contrasting textures and a cute cat who was later adopted.
The Cats Walk Left to Right Rule
This is a picture of Dash from 2007. It is out of focus but you can see he was a slimline cutie then. Walking left to right is a composition technique that is not immediately obvious, but Dash illustrates a point peculiar to Western viewers.
We therefore assume people and pets will move from left to right across our screens. We read this way and unconsciously expect this to happen.
You could use this technique to provoke a response if your photography requires it by creating a composition that points the other way. In countries like Japan where people read from right to left in their own language and you might find a new way of looking at cats!
Colours and Contrasts with Your Cat
Making a quick visual impression is easy when you can find, or create a contrast in colour. Phoebe, in this photograph, is surrounded by bright green foliage I did not have to adjust
Another way to use eye-catching colours with your photographs is a montage like this from our Probonix post for Humarian. If you have props in your photographs, you can reflect these colours in your image or Pinterest pin, like this example.
For this pin I used a template from Envato Elements. If you are not sure how to create a good pin check online for Pinterest templates or look at your favourite pins for inspiration. Canva do an excellent range of free templates and don’t be afraid to use unusual colours to be eye catching.
I recommend using a decent photo editing program if you have one, or a quality smartphone app. Something like Affinity (Mac & PC) has a one-off purchase price. Or you can try Photoshop Elements for Mac/PC or as part of the Adobe smartphone suite of apps.
Have you followed a composition trick with a successful outcome? Or have you accidentally use one then worked out you did it later?
Rule of Thirds
Your image is divided into nine blocks or columns and lines of threes. Where these blocks meet are the sweet spots for appealing pictures. You don’t need to be a slave to the Rule, but it’s a good guide to work for everyone.
The lines don’t just point to good spots to position your cat, they also help you balance your composition. Here’s an example. Had Salem the black cat been in the centre of the fame I would have lost the ‘leading line’ of chairs going towards the back of the cafe.
Points of interest placed in these intersections help your photo become more balanced. It creates more tension, energy and interest.ExpertPhotography.com
Fill The Frame
The frame means the edge of your photograph. Filling it means getting really close to your cat. You can do this by zooming with a DSLR, a point and shoot or a smartphone digital zoom. Or you can point your camera close to your cat’s nose. And, yes with some laid back breeds this will work.
Filling the frame can transform a good photograph into a Cat Writers Association Certificate Winner. Take a look at this gorgeous Prize winning image by Paula Gregg. Taken with an iPhone the camera focuses on the gorgeous Persian face and removes any risk of background distractions.
Don’t Cut off Your Cat’s Ears1
This is so easy to do. It also applies to human arms and tops of heads too.
As a beginner you may think your picture is carefully framed then something like this happens. Phoebe was not happy to be the victim of such a disaster from her favourite cat photographer. The photo is nice and sharp and I love the expression but, no ears – YIKES!
- Remember to give your subject a little bit of space around them. You can always crop slightly later.
Instead of zooming in with my lens, I tried physically to get a bit closer to take the portrait. As you can see I got too close and Phoebe’s ear tips have disappeared. Maybe she sensed it, from that suspicious look. There is a way to avoid this: shoot first and crop later.
In contrast, this picture of Sparkle the tortie is much better and, even though, once again, it ignores the Rule of Thirds, it is sharp and clear and Sparkle has two ears.
Depth of Field
and Keep Your Background Tidy!
I want to show you, with Sparkle’s picture, just how effective pre-set AV Mode can be on a DSLR camera to soften your background when you really can’t avoid photographing it. This works great for family portraits with pets too.
Sparkle’s picture is untouched. I know it can be improved with some sharpening and lightening but take a look at the background. It is nicely fuzzy and soft focus. It doesn’t distract too much from the subject.
I zoomed in as much as I could and left the rest to AV mode because I had just a moment to take the picture. Manual is still a way off for many newbies and comes with experience, still Av mode worked well for this picture.
Always give your camera modes a try – they might surprise you
If you are worried about adjusting camera settings and composing pictures at the same time, set your camera to AUTO or another favourite pre-set like AV mode. Then you can concentrate on framing your picture and composing a shot without worry. Incorporate adjustments to settings when you feel more confident.
As I take lots of closer cat pictures I leave my camera in Av mode but this next picture is not composed and definitely does not have not in the right settings.
It is still a really fun picture because Miranda was leaping a gap nearly 2.5 metres or 8 feet wide. She also jumps with all four paws. Some of our family cats leap from their strong back legs and reach forward which looks different.
Do any of these tips inspire you to try a new approach? Let me know in the comments.
Marjorie is a motorbike riding blogger and award winning cat photographer who believes that everyone can create impressive cat photographs and fun movies with the camera they carry.
She is a Professional Member of the Cat Writers Association, Kuykendall Image Award winner and published photographer at the Guardian newspaper.