Beginner Cat Photo Skills

The Beginner’s Guide to Fill Flash for Cats

Have you taken flash photos of your cat? If you are like me, it has always been a big disappointment with red eyes and washed out colour. How do you take better flash photos?

Let me share an idea for using flash that can actually make your photos look better. It’s called ‘fill flash’ and I know it can help you look at your photos in a new way.

DEFINITION: Fill flash is a photographic technique used to brighten deep shadow areas, typically outdoors on sunny days, although the technique is useful any time the background is significantly brighter than the subject of the photograph, particularly for backlit subjects.


Have you ever taken portraits like this?

shadowy cat photograph showing how important a flash can be

This is Natasha and she looks terrible. She is a fuzzy dark blob against a bright sky. New Zealand light is exceptionally strong but that’s no excuse for this poor attempt at a photo. How can you avoid this kind of a disappointment?

Fill Flash to the Rescue

I included the Wikipedia definition of fill flash because it points out an important thing your flash does. It can be a big help if you are outside. ‘Brightening deep shadows … outdoors‘. If you are like me your first thought is, flash outdoors? Surely flash is for inside where it’s darker?

With the Wikipedia definition in mind, I decided to try using my built-in flash for some experiments with Natasha out in the garden where it was an overcast day. For my Canon camera, this prompted the flash to pop up. If the flash doesn’t pop up for you, there may be a lightning bolt icon on a button that lets you manually activate the flash.

Natasha was not bothered by the brief flash of light, as you can see. I believe that the built-in flash is not very strong and a cat outside will not be as distracted by it as it would indoors.

Compared to the first photograph, the later images are much more successful and show a lot more detail. Natasha is used to the noise of the camera and she was more interested in listening to a dog barking in a nearby garden. She can be the perfect model (sometimes).

Where is Your Own Fill Flash?

Adobe raw Raw DSLR Camera
Know the DSLR you are going to use.

If you look at this sample DLSR camera you will see a raised area above the lens, the flash will pop up here. Built in flashes are usually small, approx. 2.5 cms (1 inch) wide, so perfect for that shady cat picture.

NOTE: A compact camera or a smartphone might have their fill flash in a different location. Please check your manual.

You can see how helpful the small built-in flash can be in these circumstances. If your pet is about a metre away (3 ft. approx.) and you are struggling with a few shadows a small flash can make a big difference and transform your shot.

Should I Use Fill Flash?

I encourage you to give it a try. It’s not as difficult as you might think, just be careful and respectful of your pet.

Take your cat into the garden, or a catio, and find an area of contrasting light and shade. Then practise using your own fill flash and let your pet become accustomed to the camera sounds and lights. Take your time and be patient and prepare to be surprised and amazed as your photos transform from ‘dark blobs’ to real cats that stand out gently from any background shade.

Does Flash Photography Hurt Cats Eyes?

While it might not cause physical damage a flash is much worse for a cat than a human as cat’s eyes are much more sensitive so be careful.

  • These cat pictures were taken with a zoom lens from some distance away.

Cats have more finely tuned sight, even if it’s chasing a catnip mouse at home at 3 a.m. and they can see in much lower light than humans can. Poking a flash right in your cat’s face is a stupid idea, and any expert will tell you any flash they use will be very carefully adjusted to be gentler and less unpleasant than the flash on top of your camera. It will also be angled away from the cat to bounce of nearby surfaces.

One Disadvantage of Fill Flash

Used inside or outside the infamous ‘red eye’ reflections can give your pet a glazed apprehensive appearance. Position yourself carefully.

Unless of course, the pair of you intend to go out cat zombie hunting!

Zombie cat graphic

10 thoughts on “The Beginner’s Guide to Fill Flash for Cats”

  1. Fur sure on the fill flash! You know I’m a big believer of creating light, rather than just using what’s available.

  2. I absolutely love coming onto your blog to see what photos as they are always amazing and hopefully when I am 85 years I will have succeeded also LOL. I only use the flash inside but now will check into it more, thanks

  3. I have tried repeatedly to accustom Pipo to the camera, any of gthe three I use (P&S, Phone, or iPad) and he shies away from the all, most of the time…but I do have countless of those dark blob images, MOL! Maybe I will engage the flash next time he’s in the sunny south facing window. (Though it might cause a worsening of this camera shy stuff…even with distractions, he is expert at hiding his beautiful sapphire gemstone eyes…sigh…)

  4. Mum rarely uses the flash when she takes photos of me but she says she will try it outside when I’m in the catio if I look shadowy 🙂

    Great photo tips as always!

    • I’d love to know how she gets on. Sometimes it just won’t work for you but unless you try you don’t discover for yourself.

  5. natasha; we think yur gorgeouz…fill flash ore knot… N we all sew think yur furst foto iz prettee awesum ….we due knot haza camera { just de one on de fone } but it haza “flash” button….we R knot sure itz de same thing tho ???

    hay, heerz two a grate week oh end; bee healthee ♥♥☺☺

  6. Fill flash is really cool, we had no idea what it was called. Thanks for joining the Thankful Thursday Blog Hop!


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