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Yes Please

I lived for a time in a town with a lot of cats. As a photographer, this meant I photographed a lot of cats and learnt a lot about cat photography. I ended up taking cat photos almost every day.

Many of us are cat lovers. These little felines have beauty and personality that make them great photography models. And cat pictures are everywhere, from Facebook to Instagram to just about every other picture on Pinterest.

And that’s because cat photography is a fun and interesting niche of pet photography. Whether you are a cat owner or you like street cats as I do, here you have my best 11 tips to improve your cat photography.

cat photography sleepy orange cat

1. Use a Semi-Automatic Shooting Mode

Unless they are sleeping, cats can be fast and/or unpredictable. It’s good to be ready to shoot fast and shooting with a semi-automatic mode can really help you to speed up.

Aperture mode (called Av or A in most of the cameras) is the favourite among wildlife photographers. However, beware of you using really low apertures though (f 1.8 f 2.2…). You might unintentionally set the depth of field to be too narrow. That can ruin your cat photo (if the cat moves, it will be out of focus).

You need to choose which aperture will be best to keep everything important in the image to be in focus. To compensate for higher apertures, you will need to use slower shutter speeds. This is not always the best option when the animal is moving. Or you can increase the ISO instead.

cat photography up close detail profile of a cat's eyes and nose

Shutter priority mode (often called Tv or S, depending on the camera) is another helpful option.

With this one, you choose the shutter speed. With cats it is usually good not going under 1/125 or 1/250 seconds. Your camera will then adjust the aperture to get a well-exposed photo.

This might be a good approach when you are working under good light conditions. But with low light conditions (dark environments, dusk, etc.), things get a bit more complicated.

When pushing the camera to use really fast shutter speeds with low lighting, it will select really low aperture values. You will also need to use such high ISO values (more than 6400) that you might end up with a really grainy, out-of-focus photo.

photo from a cat's perspective with leaves on the ground and interesting background

2. Shoot Using Different Angles

Cats are not the tallest animals. If they are next to you, shooting from your eye-level downward you can get really nice high angle images.

This perspective emphasises the face and eyes of the cat. But pay attention because it can cause a bit of distortion to the photo, so it might give a comic touch to the image.

up close frontal profile of a cat's face and eyes

Cats are pretty good with heights. They like climbing on trees, walls and any other tall structure. You can emphasise this behaviour by taking photos from a low angle (pointing the camera up).

If you go down to the cat’s eye-level, you can take really nice photos without distortion. As you are at the cat’s height, you are also looking at the world like they do. Results from this perspective will surprise you.

cat photo tabby

If you go down to the cat’s eye-level,  you can take really nice photos without distortion. As you are at the cat’s height, you are also looking at the world like they do. Results from this perspective will surprise you.

stray kitten picture

3. Use Continuous Shooting Mode

Cats can be quite unpredictable so getting that right photo can be quite hard. You can increase your chances of catching a good moment by using the continuous shooting mode. This is also called Burst mode or continuous high speed mode. Most cameras these days have it.

It will allow you to take several images in a quick succession. Try to read the cat’s behaviour, when you think it is about to act start taking photos. You will end up with quite a few photos, some would be bad and some would be good.

The amount of photos and how to activate it depend on your camera model, so I recommend going through your camera manual. Just make sure to deactivate it once you don’t need it. Shooting all the time in continuous mode will fill-up your memory cards really fast!!

black cat green eyes cat photography

4. Focus on the Eyes

The point that is in focus (sharp) in the image is the point where the eyes of the viewers will be drawn. In portrait photography, it is recommended to focus on the eyes of the model. Eyes convey emotions and we are naturally attracted to them.

The same is true for cat photography. Cats have these mysterious and beautiful eyes and if you get them sharp it will look awesome.

up close portrait photo of an orange cat with yellow eyes

However, you can also break this rule and take great cat photos focusing on other parts of their bodies. Paws are great for close ups for example.

cat details photo of paws

5. Take Medium Shots and Close-Ups

You can tell different stories about a cat depending on the distance between you and the subject. You can take a wide shot that includes a lot of the environment. This shows where the cat lives or stays.

Keep in mind though, when taking wide shots you can easily miss the cat. Although these little guys have a lot of personality, they are small in size.

For that reason, I would not recommend these type of shots for cat pictures. As you want the cat to be the main character, don’t hesitate and get close. Take medium shots and close-ups.

In a medium shot the subject takes up more of the frame than in a wide angle one and it is more visible.

They include a bit of the environment too. These are great images to introduce the subject and the place where they are at.

cat photography showing how to take medium shots of cats in their environment

In this medium shot you can clearly see that the cat is the main character but you can also see the room he’s in.

In a close-up, the subject (the cat in our case) fills up most of the frame and the environment is barely visible. The subject is clearly the main focus of the image.

For these types of shots you will need to get really close to the cat, which takes me to the next tip…

cat picture

6. Get Close to Your Subject

Depending on the cat, you may need to be really silent and approach it really slowly. Make a little step towards the cat and stop.
Check if it looks suspicious or about to bolt. If not, take a second little step, stop again and check if the cat ¡s fine with you being there.

Repeat until you get to a comfortable distance to shoot from.

Don’t make any sudden movements or change from standing to kneeling too fast. The trick here is to move slowly and softly, like the guys from the National Geographic documentaries.

stray cat photographed near a car

Another option, as in other types of animal photography, is to stay far from the animal and use a telezoom.

If you do so, take into account that the longer the focal length you use, the faster the shutter speed you need. This is because longer focal lengths increase the effect of camera shaking.

7. Be Patient

This tip is especially relevant when you are taking photos of stray cats or cats that don’t know you. Cats are usually suspicious by nature. If you get too close to them too fast, they will run away before you even have the time to take a single shot.

Don’t take it personally and don’t get mad. Instead, let them get used to you progressively. Cats are territorial, so they tend to hang around specific places. If you have the chance, spend time close to them as frequently as possible.

This doesn’t mean that you should go there and try to touch them or play with them. Just be there, observing, learning about their behaviour, getting to know them a little.

Each cat has its own personality, so after some time you can get to know which one is the boss of the territory, which one is the fearful cat, the extra curious one, the friendly…

These two last are especially relevant for you. They are the ones that will open up towards you first and be easiest to photograph.

sleeping black and white cat with half-lidded green eyes

8. Take Advantage of Their Curiosity

In addition to being suspicious, cats are also very curious animals. You should use this to your advantage. Some cats are more curious than others, but in general terms, these little felines like to know what you are doing.

Thanks to that, you can use some tricks to make them look at the camera. Make noises with some leaves or crumbling paper and they will probably look in the direction of the sound’s origin.

Show them something, especially if it is hanging from a cord, and move it from one side to another. They will follow the movement or even go and try to catch the object.

Some of the cats, especially if you close to them, show curiosity for the camera. They are attracted by the DSLR noise made when shooting. So after taking a first photo, the chances that the cat will look straight at the camera are big, so be ready to shoot again!

cat pictures

9. Be Open-Minded About the Results

If a cat is familiar with you and it is tamed, you might be able to make them pose in a particular way by using some tricks.

But with stray cats, the most common situation is that the cat decides to show its own personality and will end up either ignoring you or doing whatever it wants. Usually, this is exactly the opposite of what you wanted it to do. Cats have this talent.

At this point, the best thing to do is to be open minded and accept that these little felines are a bit wild. Take a deep breath and keep taking photos of whatever the cat is doing. You might be pleasantly surprised by the results.

stray cat among leaves and fallen branches

10. Be Always Ready to Shoot

This is an easy recommendation and it might seem quite obvious. But in real life it is quite common to miss a shot just because it took us too long to get the camera ready.

With cat photography, it is even worse. Cats are fast and they usually don’t repeat their actions just for us to take the photo.

Always be ready. Pick the settings needed for the light situation and keep the camera close at hand.

If you want to check the images on your screen to do some adjustments, do it fast. Don’t get distracted going through all your images. It might happen that when you raise your head form the screen, the cat is gone!

black and white cat profile shot

11. Don’t Use Flash, Especially with Kittens

If light conditions are not the best, you might think about using the flash. But cats are not the biggest fans of these strong and sudden light bursts.

You might scare them to the point of running away. And in the case of kitten pictures, you might even damage their delicate eyes.

Instead of using flash, open the aperture of your camera, lower the shutter speed (the minimum one that will allow you to freeze the action) and/or increase the ISO value in order to increase light sensitivity.

Another alternative is to use an LED light that won’t annoy them nor make them run away. You can start by using the LED light at really low intensity and increase it progressively when the animals get used to it.

three kittens photographed through a fence

Conclusion

Cat photography is both challenging and fun. Set your camera to a semi-automatic mode and always be ready to shoot. To increase your chances of catching a great cat moment, use a continuous shooting mode.
 
Be patient with the cats and give them some time to get used to your presence. Be open-minded about the results and you will take great cat images!
We give you some more great tips in our post on what’s inside a pet photographers bag.
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:

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Sarah Rodriguez-Martinez

I am a self-taught photographer based in Catalonia. I learnt the craft by reading, taking online courses and spending a lot of hours taking photos. These days I am shooting mostly portraits, nature photos and cultural events. Lately I am also doing yoga photography because I am a yogini myself. I am well known for loving coffee and hating Mondays. You can contact me easily by Instagram (@sarahrmphotos).

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