Beginner Cat Photo Skills

Quickly Turn a Cat Photo into a Stunning Portrait

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Whether you’re an experienced photographer or a beginner, there will come a time when you capture a photo that you know has the potential to be transformed into a stunning portrait with the help of your favorite software program. Let me show you how (in less than five minutes!)

Choose Your Cat Photo

Your photo will often be a simple shot, like this one of Toulouse; caught as he steps up into view on our deck railing, intent on something beyond the edge of the frame.

A simple shot of a cat (or cats) in the centre of the image gives you room to darken the area around them as well as make your adjustments like the black and white filter I add to Toulouse.

Make a copy of your digital cat photo. This is essential. Never use the original, always work on a copy. If your filters or layers are a success you can save the second photo with a different name and your original is preserved.

Toulouse (Original) – ISO 400 124 mm f5 1/100
It’s all about what the layers add to the image, both in terms of visual interest and in helping to convey the story of subject(s) and scene within the frame.
Irreverent PhotoBlog

What You Will Need

  1. Select a photo from your digital library – this can be from your smartphone, DSLR or compact camera.
  2. Open it in your photo editing software such as GIMP, Photoshop Elements or Affinity Photo
  3. If you want to add an overlay there are lots of free overlays online. Search ‘Overlays for Photos

Exploring Photo Adjustments

Import your photo then give yourself permission to explore and have fun!

For Toulouse’s shot I first selected the Black and White option in Affinity Photo. Most software has a similar colour removal function and you can adjust coloured sliders to change the tone. These can make a real difference without any further adjustments and is a good first step to try.

Then if you want to take your adjustments further look for your Layers panel or Menu. This may be along the top or the side depending on your software. The menu is usually a drop down selection with strange names like Colour Dodge, Darken, Saturation and Difference.

Duplicate your image Cmd/Ctrl J then click on the duplicate layer and select your Layers menu. Scroll down to active the different effects. I used the ‘Vivid Light’ layer in Affinity Photo which is stunning. Try this, or a similar adjustment on your own cat photo, I know you will be pleased with the results.

Add Fun To Your Masterpiece

Finally, I could not resist adding this fun layer to Toulouse’s photo. Instead of leaping into the frame with a dramatic filter flourish, he jumps up surounded by bubbles! This effect is simple to achieve with an overlay. I use Luxe Lens overlays (not expensive)where you are spoiled for choice from bubbles to sunsets, lens flares to stars but you can use any photo you like. Keep it simple so it doesn’t overshadow your cat who is the star!

  1. Open your cat photo
  2. Open an overlay
  3. Copy overlay onto photo
  4. Adjust overlays transparency to show the photo
  5. Click the overlay layer and using your ‘eraser’ tool rub out the effect from your cat.

You can find my full tutorial on overlays and layers here

No Time to Read? Download this post as a PDF!

12 thoughts on “Quickly Turn a Cat Photo into a Stunning Portrait”

  1. I love your advice with the overlay, especially not using the original and working from a copy. That makes perfect sense! It’s a perfect way to preserve the originals in case of a mess up. I love the intensity of the Black and white image of Toulouse. At the same time, I also love the creativity and playfulness with the bubbles in the last image. You can really get creative with overlays! Thanks for sharing!

  2. What fun! I haven’t really explored layers. I need to do that. Great action shot of Toulouse! Although, I’m not sure you could take a bad photo of him. He’s just a beautiful kitty! Such personality, which always seems to jump out in each photo. But I think all of that has to do with the photographer too. You always make it look so easy. Thanks for more wonderful photo tips!

  3. Great information as always and I love Black and White Photography, it says so much and your photos as always are amazing

  4. This is so interesting, the photo looks adorable with bubbles. I’ve never used photo overlays, I have no idea how to do it. I use Canva – I don’t think they have any overlays but I’ll investigate that.

  5. The last image is super fun. But B&W is one of our favourite go-to styles as it lends so much for the imagination to work with.

  6. I am guilty of using the original images a lot of the time…though sometimes I will duplicate one to get a new image to ‘work’ on. I shall have to try those effects with Gimp, as that is the program I se to do all my ‘art’.

  7. All three versions of the photo look so good! No way can I decide which one I like best. What a handsome cat!

  8. This is one of our favorite things to do … and of course, we do it “all the time”. Program of choice is Adobe Creative Cloud which offers tons of options for “altering” your original image. When I first began doing this, years ago … unfortunately worked on the original! DUH, bad move … learned along the way, to always make a “working copy” as you suggest here, so important … and can even make multiple copies so as to try different techniques.
    Now comes AI/Beta … a big challenge to see what it can do (do not want it to MAKE pictures … just give a new way to CHANGE pictures).

  9. That sure turned out great! Thank you for teaching us about this with that nice shot of handsome Toulouse!


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