Written by Marjorie Dawson

Tips For Taking Great Head Shots of Cats

Tips For Taking Great Head Shots of Cats

A good way to capture an impressive portrait of your cat without needing a lot of camera skills is to try a cat head shot. A close-up portrait of your cat can capture its fur texture, colour and personality without you worrying about your camera’s settings too much. For a beginner it’s a cool thing to try.

Whether you are capturing a cute cat head bonk, or a sophisticated showcat image, a few quick skills that will keep your photo looking good.

  1. Your photo needs to be sharp.
  2. Your photo needs to be close – just the head/shoulders.
  3. Finally, aim to get the soft bokeh (focus) look behind your subject.

Move In Close Cat Portraits

Head shots mean just that; the cat’s head, or head and a bit of shoulder.

My prize winning series about Sam a foster cat included several headshots which told his story eloquently through fur texture and differently angled head shots. I took dozens of photographs of Sam (so don’t think I nailed every single shot perfectly first time, it took a while!)

Getting this close if your cat is skittish can be a challenge. What do you do? This is my compromise and you might like to try it.

Get as close as you comfortable can by movement or using a zoom lens and take the shot, then crop in close to achieve your head shot. It is not cheating if the alternative is you and your cat getting super stressed in a crazy chase for a close-up that you end up not using.

Smartphone Cose-up Tip

If you use a smartphone then try your camera’s ‘Portrait Mode. This option is in a different place depending on your own brand of phone so look for it, and try it. Not sure where it is? Start by checking your ‘phone’s camera, this often has the portrait option within the camera app.

Smartphone Portrait mode demands a certain distance between you and your subject before the function kicks in. Experiment to discover where your sweet spot it and aim to take your photos once you see the fuzziness appear around your subject.

If I use this function I usually have to crop down to a head shot but smartphone portrait mode can be so effective it’s a compromise I am happy to make and you will be too.

  • If you don’t have portrait mode then check out one of the dozens of apps that created a ‘bokeh effect’ around your subject.
Portrait Closeup of Foster Cat Sam

The fact is some head shot poses work and others don’t but the good news is that more you try the better your head shots will get. I took dozens and dozens of almost but not quite there shots before I got a handle on keeping the focus point of my DSLR where I needed it, over a cat eye!

This quote from Adobe is one I appreciated. A professional photographer will have different intentions to you. The pro might be taking closeup photos of cats to celebrate show wins – images that may appear on print. You may be a proud cat dad or cat mom aiming to take a photo to make into a photo canvas for your wall.

Both need to be sharp but you are balancing sharpness with your love for your cat. Yes, this love and affection matters, it changes how your cat looks. They love you, and somehow this shows in their portrait.

To get a good headshot, a photographer needs to know whose headshot they’re taking and how it’s going to be used.

Adobe Head Shots
‘Taz’ – ISO 400 220mm f 6.3

Keep Your Cat Eye In Focus

People will forgive you a lot if they can see a sharp cat eye. We, as humans, automatically check out eyes first and are happier when we can see them clearly. You can see what I mean in the picture above of Taz, a neighbourhood visitor. He draws your eye to his sharp and clear gaze.

For this photograph I captured him perched well above my height on a fence. I was grateful for my 55 – 250 mm zoom lens which allowed me to focus on a well lit cat with the contrast of soft foliage behind him. Natural light is the best!

Did I know the portrait would come out to well? Well, I wasn’t sure. I was focused on his right eye and holding my camera steady. If I had been a bit closer my trusty kit lens would have been a good bet for a nice shot too, so never discount your trusty beginner’s lens.

What if My Head Shot is Not Pin Sharp?

Don’t be disappointed. See what else you can do to enhance your image. One of my own favourite methods of boosting a photograph is to use the magic of filters even if they are a bit fuzzy.

Cat Watercolour filter photograph
Watercolour Effect Filter
Affinity Photo Black and White Filter

What kind of filters can you use? This depends completely on the software you use. Affinity Photo or Photoshop can give you some serious filter power, but you don’t need to spend a lot to grab some cool effects. This watercolour effect portrait of Toulouse was transformed susing an early version of Photo Lab: Art Picture Editor, and below that, a monochrome image of Teddy was given a makeover by Affinity Photo.

In Summary

Cat head shots need a bit of practice but the end result can be totally breathtaking. My portrait of neighbourhood friend Taz was part practice in action and part lucky shot but he came out beautifully and if I can do it, you can too.

Have you tried head shots of your cat? Were you pleased with the results?

10 thoughts on “Tips For Taking Great Head Shots of Cats”

  1. These headshots are stunning! I don’t always do a great job of keeping a photo “sharp”, it’s a bit challenging for me. I love closeup headshots and fill the frame photos, I recently discovered that technique! Keeping my dogs from constantly moving isn’t easy LOL!

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  2. These are gorgeous! I just upgraded from an iP8 to an iP14 Pro (yes, I’m slow!) and WOW! The portrait mode is phenomenal! I always took pics on my SLR and on my iP8 I’d drop them into a program to blur out the background…so finally gave in and upgrade my phone and now I’m in love with the clarity and simplicity. Great tips for cats, dogs, or people!

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  3. These are terrific tips for taking a headshot. I’ll give them a whirl with Henry. I like that none of your adorable kitties were looking at the camera. I always fret because Henry is never looking at me (or the camera). So, I think it’s a horrible shot. Perhaps I need to let it just happen more naturally. I will practice this one.

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  4. Those are exquisite! I try for head shots sometimes but if I get anything passable, it’s usually a total accident.

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  5. Pixie is so easy to shoot : no matter the light, she’s pretty ; light has a greater importance to get a nice shot of Zorro, as he’s a black cat. Purrs

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