Beginner Cat Photo Skills

Taking Purrfect Cat Photos: Camera Settings and Tips

When it comes to taking photographs of their pets, many cat lovers spend a lot of time tweaking and adjusting photos in post-processing software like Affinity Photo or Lunapic, or Photoshop Elements to try and improve their photos.

But, you know what? It is possible to get great shots without the need for a lot of editing fuss. There is a phrase for it “getting it right in camera”. These three quick tips can save you so much time and help you become best friends with your camera.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

  • You want to spend more time enjoying your photos and having fun with your cats than adjusting images, unless you are doing something special like creating your own celebration cat image.

Here’s some useful tips to get it right “in camera”.

Getting Your Focus Right

Autofocus on your camera is fantastic and it makes your photos sharp, with just a little bit of ‘focused’ help from you.

For a DSLR the ‘focus points’ you can see through your viewfinder are a visual representation of what your camera ‘sees’. These can be told to focus on anything from one of a handful of focus points to one point in over 50 in high end cameras! How you change your focus points depends on your camera. (Canon / Nikon) I let mine default to the centre spot on my screen.

For smartphone focus. This can be refined by tapping a specific point on your smartphone screen and then, by holding your finger on the screen, you can activate the focus lock. You may see a box or circle where you tap so you can confirm your focus is where you need it to be.

Choose the Right Aperture

With my super quick review of Depth of Field (DoF) I helped you find a great way to grab a nice cat portrait of your cat which I hope is a lightening fast guide to the subject!.

Aperture is something many of us struggle with because low F numbers like f/2.8 use a very large ‘hole’ to let in light and f/22 uses a very small hole that lets in less light. The numbers don’t seem to fit do they?

TIP: Low f numbers like f/2.8 give you a better soft focus or bokeh effect.

For those of you exploring a DSLR camera, Av – Aperture Priority (Nikon A) is a great setting to try with different f numbers. Find the lowest f number your camera allows and take photos of your cat at this setting then move outwards. My own Canon kit lens lowest f number is f/3.6 and my Canon 50mm lens is f/2.8. They both give me the lovely soft focus it is almost impossible to recreate in a software app.

TIP: For Smartphones, you often you will need a software app, or ‘Portrait’ mode to shoot smarter not harder for the soft focus on your smartphone.

Focus Dots as seen in a camera viewfinder

Decide on Your File Format

If you have a DSLR or a mirrorless camera you can choose between JPEG or RAW format. A lot of modern smartphones have a RAW option too so check if your model is a recent one. If you are aiming for a clear and sharp cat portrait or a landscape photo, then RAW is a good setting. You can edit more fine adjustments, a lot faster, in RAW. These include enhancing colour, subtle sharpening and exposure adjustment.

  • RAW does not work well with action shots. Use JPEG for this.

With JPEG format the options are more limited but this is no big deal. Most photography you do on a daily basis is fine using JPEG. For Instagram, blogs and for sharing with family you don’t need anything else. I use my smartphone a lot with the Canva mobile app for fuss-free JPEG posting.

I tell you a lot of helpful things about RAW format here

Black cat taken with a smartphone Taz
Taz – JPEG Smartphone Photograph

Set Shutter Speed to Capture Cat Motion

To grab a shot of your cat in motion as a beginner you need a fast shutter speed.

If you want to practice speeds over 1/250 are considered fast. To give you an idea of how fast you can go, the most spectacular wildlife shots often have speeds of 1/2000+. These kind of speeds capture defined clear water splashes when a bird dives, or every whisker of a wild cat as it runs across the Savannah. You can go over 1/350 or higher to experiment when you start and don’t forget ‘Sport’ mode on your dial.

  • TIP: Accurate auto focus and a fast shutter speed will capture your cat leaping for a toy or, on to a table or counter.
Silver Cat Basking in the Sun

This photo of Silver is set for 1/320 which is quick, but not super fast. My intention was to capture him grooming as he relaxed in the sun. The fun part came when I realised I had to lay down to get the photo!

Shooting smarter can save you so much time. You don’t need to open your photo software as often unless you want to play around and have fun with filters or layers. Try one of these tips occasionally just to see what a difference it makes!

14 thoughts on “Taking Purrfect Cat Photos: Camera Settings and Tips”

  1. Rereading your great post prompts a question for those of us (lazy) and mostly using an I-phone for photos. It shoots JPG of course, but at 72 pixels. Do you happen to know (pls email me answer if you do, thanks) if there is a way to reset, permanently, so all photos are shot at either 96 px or even better at 180 pixels? That is what I most often used on my Canon and would so much prefer to shoot that again, thanks, Ann

  2. Terrific tips as always! I just love these ideas. I also love how you explain why with each tip. I always feel so empowered to pick up my phone and start shooting Henry every time I read one of your articles.

  3. You are so, so good! I wish I could use my Canon more; but honestly, it’s weight and my hand tremors (and arthritis) just make it too hard anymore. The phone is just so much easier in so many ways. Thankfully, many do come out “almost” good enough not to need much more than cropping; but of course, my personal “need” to play with Adobe Creative Cloud often just takes over to see what else I can do. So it is what it is. But your guidance and lessons are great nonetheless, your photos a pleasure to see!

  4. Planning is key to most things. The dividends for photography are clearly better images and time saved. Great explanation, Marjorie, and wonderful images of the feline clan.

  5. Planning is definitely key to most things. Great explanation, Marjorie, and marvellous images of the feline clan too.

  6. Thank you for another great tutorial, Marjorie! I always appreciate your clear and helpful explanations.

  7. You have such a knack for making it all sound so easy! You are a great teacher, and I love the pictures you show us as examples.


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