I have found that capturing a great cat portrait needs just three things to ensure success. My quick tips for capturing the perfect cat portrait will give you the best chance of taking photos you will be thrilled with, and that you will love to share. Let me share my best tips!
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Remember, the more you practice, the more confident your decisions about your photographs become. You are not looking for perfection you are looking for purrsonality plus pictures that mean something special to you.
No-one knows your cat as well as you, so look for cute and funny expressions, the ‘looks’ you know your cat adopts at certain moments (like when supper is late, or ‘who hid the catnip toy’?) This means you will need to be ready to snap a shot at the right moment but, you know what? The results will be worth the practice you put in.
What else do you need to make sure your cat portraits are a success?
The Eyes Matter Most
With a DSLR or mirrorless camera select a focus point (these marks should appear on your viewfinder). Make sure your chosen focus point is on the eye of your cat so that your cat’s eye is sharp and clear.
This may take several shots so that you get it right which it can do when your cat moves suddenly. If one of your cat’s eyes is closer to the camera – focus on that one.
This works for humans as well as your feline friends. Observe yourself when you next look at an image, in print or online. You will find that you always look at the eye of a person. Remember, people forgive you almost anything, except a blurry eye for cats and humans.
- Check up on your own camera’s focus points. For speed of use, my Canon 1300D is set to the centre spot.
Portrait Light Get It Right
No cat (or human) will thank you for using hard harsh light when taking a photograph. The shadows will be unfriendly and dark.
If you look at a professional photographer who has a studio setup, they always have a couple of what they call ‘softboxes’. These are literally boxes on stands with a covered front that provides a diffused and friendly light which shows features without strong shadows.
- Keep your ISO low as you can, ISO 200 is a good setting to start with.
- Shutter speeds of 1/50 to 1/350 are a good place to start.
- Aperture Priority (Nikon A) works really well.
Even better, for those on a limited budget, grab a sheet of white card and direct it’s reflected brightness carefully towards your cat. This extra brightness might be the gentle touch you need and this is so easy to do.
Without a softbox, or piece of card, try for a shot near an indoor window. For exterior portraits, find gentle shade by a tree or shadow of a wall. These kind of locations gives you the same effect as a fancy softbox for free – bright, what I cann, ‘friendly’ light.
Tidy Your Background
Backgrounds can make or break a photo of your cat. An explosion of toys all over the floor from playtime, or magazines on the sofa may not be the cat portrait ambience want. Even with the bokeh effect of a DSLR people notice clutter.
Your outside solution to capture the perfect cat portrait? A background of grass or foliage and trees gives your outdoor cat a fresh and natural look. If you have an interesting textured wall, or planter, these add visual interest that will compliment your cat’s fine fur too. This cat portrait (above) of Toulouse in his favourite tree has a lovely background of nice foliage.
Your inside solution? Drape a pale sheet or fabric, preferably one that co-ordinates with your cat, as a background. Or use a plain wall. If you can’t avoid background stuff – just make sure it’s tidy!
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.