Beginner Cat Photo Skills

The Importance of Light in Cat Photography

When it comes to cat photography, understanding how to use light can make all the difference in creating stunning images. Whether you’re shooting in a garden, on a catio, or by a window, natural light can be a great tool in a beginner’s photo ‘armoury’. [Updated June 2023]

I need to add (as I got a small light for my birthday!) that you can also experiment with extra illumination or a detachable flash to add some extra spark to your photos. With practice and experimentation, you will learn to adjust your camera’s settings and create your own unique cat photos whether you use a DSLR/Mirrorless camera or your smartphone.

Sunight on Sydney from Neko Ngeru

Without light, you wouldn’t take pictures and as you take lots of photographs you will learn what strength of light works for you and your cat and what doesn’t.

Light is Life for the Beginner Photographer

Check out the photograph of Sydney (above). The picture was taken with a smartphone and not edited at all.

The magic comes from the fact that the photo is angled upwards in a dramatic way, and the strong sunlight casts deep black shadows. The look is spectacular and the light makes such a dramatic statement. I looked up, saw Sydney pose and took a chance. Do the same and you might surprise yurself with some amazing results.

Cat peeping at the camera looking curious
Harvey peeping at the camera

The picture of Angel Harvey (above), a senior cat, was taken in bright natural light. He looks at me and I aimed to capture a bright and curious look. I could have used photo software (Affinity Photo, GIMP) to brighten the shadows of his face (see Dodge and Burn) but as you see it, I do not feel I need to do much to enhance a successful candid shot.

Adjusting a DSLR’s exposure in small increments ‘in camera’ is called Exposure Compensation – read about it here.

Natural Light

As a beginner or novice picture taker don’t be concerned about fancy lights or professional set-ups. Use natural light as much as you can. You will be surprised how many wonderful pictures you will take just relaxing and enjoying your cat’s company.

  • Remember – bright light can be sunshine or reflected light from snow and this does the work of a dozen lights.
Photographing Inky the Black Cat
Inky – black cat in natural light

Black Cat Fur 101

The most important thing to remember about taking photographs of black cats is:

  • Use as much natural light as you can this gives the fur shape. (See Inky above)
  • Capture the important ‘catch light’ that brings any cat portrait to life.

That catch light adds a touch of magic you cannot replace in any cat photo. A cat or dog, a rabbit or reptile has a glimmer in the eye that shows life and soul. This light is also preserved by artists who paint or draw animals. Their work will look lifeless until the last essential spot of white is painted into an eye.

Black fur absorbs so much light that it can be tough to see if you have been successful, even if you have taken time to try the right settings. It’s a throw of the dice but the gamble can be a success as the pictures of Sydney and Inky show. For now I am going to eperiment with my new light.

I hope after this that you will not be worried about light and that you will use what you have to take some wonderful pictures. Be brave, fearless and be prepared laugh at your mistakes and learn from them!

14 thoughts on “The Importance of Light in Cat Photography”

  1. I love the lighting in furangel Harvey’s photo! Lighting can truly make or break a photo, can’t it? Having had a black feral/adopted cat, yes, black cats really do need natural light. Great tips, that dog parents can also apply! Pinning to share!

  2. Good advice, these are all beautiful shots! I often use umbrella lights when I’m photographing or videoing indoors. I always seem to live in places that are so dark LOL! I guess because I’ve live in two very hot climates so they’re single story and designed not to let in much sunlight because it’s too hot. Outdoor photo/video is so much more successful for me. I want to get one of those standing O ring lights next, they’re less cumbersome.

  3. Natural light is the best light. Some of the best shots I’ve gotten in the past are in natural light and candid/impromptu photos. I love all your photos. You got some great shots. Sweet angel Harvey and Syndey looking down at you! So precious. Thanks for sharing your tips!

  4. Great tips on how lighting can improve your photos. The info for black critters is particularly interesting. I tend to snap a shot of Henry and he’s either too dark or completely washed out. I’ll work on the lighting a bit and see if I can improve the outcome. Thanks!

  5. Marvelous pictures! Natural light is abundant where I live and we have several black cats. I’m not able to put the two together with much skill but I have lots of fun trying.

  6. I always try and take my raw dog food pictures outside in natural light. Sometimes I’m stuck with my kitchen light – usually when it’s crappy outside or it’s nighttime, and I remember that I wanted to take a picture of a particular meal, lol.

    The pictures I take inside without natural light never come out as well as the ones taken with natural light do!

  7. I remember at one of the BlogPaws going to a photography session and the lady said to get good pictures of black cats, use a dark background. I just don’t see that. Your picture of Inky is at least partly so wonderful because of the contrast between the light background and dark fur. I got a flash to bounce off the ceiling or walls, but I’m too intimidated to try it.

  8. Great and engaging post. Love black cat photo’s, but any well taken and illuminated really make me smile.

  9. I mostly try to use a diffused bright light, such as what I get inside on a very sunny day. Else the shadows seem too harsh, and make Pipo seem not himself. Once I had a red flag nearby, 2 actually, and he had a red tint…Oops.
    Its doubly hard to get good pics of Dalton, because his face is very dark, but he has a white underbody…
    So I tend to take oodles of pics, to get one nice one…but with digital that is OK. I like to save my bad ones to see how I ‘messed up’ so I can learn from them.

    I do have a point & shoot camera, with both auto and manual functionality…and an old 5s iPhone, which is nothing at all like the 6s…

    And yes, the eyes make or break the image:)
    Thanks for the tips!

  10. Natural light is the best! Great tips about pets with black fur. I get lots of practice with Gracie and Ava, and many of the PAWS cats. 🙂

  11. Yes, light is so important, we do like the natural light. Hey, did you see Summer’s Mum got a new studio light the other day, it was pretty cool.


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