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6 Tips for Taking Cat Pictures Like a Pro

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A picture is worth a thousand words, but a good cat photo is priceless. Anyone can take a snapshot of a cat, but a strong photographer will be able to capture an animal’s unique character and build a strong connection through the eye of the lens. Even if you aren’t a professional with an expensive camera, anyone can learn to improve their cat photography skills with the right tips.

Whether you’re photographing foster kittens for their adoption ads, or getting some shots of your family pet, here are 6 top tips for taking a cat picture like a pro.

Photo via Hannah Shaw of Kitten Lady

Let There Be Light

how to take cat photos - light

If you’re using a digital camera or a smart phone, turn off that flash. A direct flash will result in a harsh and unattractive photo, and might even cause an odd glow in the cat’s eyes. Natural lighting is an important key to making a cat photo appear soft and flattering—you’ll be able to capture the true color gradients and texture of the animal better if you just work with the available light.

Focus your photography efforts around the time of day that your house gets the most sunlight. While it’s okay to keep your house lights on, you might want to turn off any especially harsh overhead lights to avoid unpleasant shadows.

Increasing the available light helps a camera with focusing, so you’ll get a more crisp and detailed shot if you let some light in. Just be careful about shining too much light and ending up with a washed out photo—if that happens, try shooting your subject in indirect sunlight.

Pro tip: if you’re shooting with a DSLR, an external flash bounced at a wall or ceiling can result in a beautifully lit studio style photo. Just avoid pointing the flash directly at the subject.

Get on Their Level

Kittens playing near camera

Place your lens at eye level with the cat, whether that’s by putting him in a cat tree or by laying on the floor by his side. Meeting the cat face-to-face will help you capture his expression and help the viewer feel a bond by looking at the photo. “As humans, we perceive the world from several feet high, but to really connect with an animal, it’s important to get a photo from their vantage point,” says professional photographer Andrew Marttila. “Laying on the ground offers a unique perspective and opens up a whole new world of photographic possibilities.”

Image via Hannah Shaw of Kitten Lady

Focus on the Cat

white cat being photographed

The best cat photos are those in which the cat is the centerpiece, so ideally you want to avoid any background clutter. A gorgeous cat image can be ruined by a pile of laundry in the background or a dirty carpet, so straighten up a bit before you start snapping photos. Items like a cat bed or cat toy can make a great photo prop, but no one wants to see a pile of junk mail behind the cat. Choose your placement and framing wisely, bearing in mind that the fewer colors and textures you see in the background, the more you’ll be able to focus on the details of the cat himself.

A clean background is especially important if you’re photographing foster animals, as clutter can be a real eye-sore for potential adopters and might make it harder for them to envision the cat joining their home.

Pro tip: if you’re shooting with a DSLR, you can get a beautiful depth of field by increasing your aperture. This will also help blur out some of the background and get a nice crisp focus on the cat.

Image via Hannah Shaw of Kitten Lady

Keep it Crisp

Photo of cat climbing cat tower

One common issue with amateur cat photography is that images are often blurred, which makes it harder to see the fine details of the cat’s face. This is most common for photos of kittens or very active cats, whose busy bodies can be too fast to capture with the automatic settings on a phone or digital camera.

Unless you’re shooting with manual settings, you’ll want to decrease the amount of movement happening with your subject (and with yourself) so that you can produce an in-focus shot. Be sure to keep a steady hand, or if that’s a challenge, place your camera on a sturdy surface to decrease motion. To keep your subject crisp, opt for moments of stillness, such as right after a nap or while seated comfortably. Otherwise, you can help an active cat pause for a photo by following the next attention-grabbing tip.

Pro tip: Manual settings offer more flexibility if you’d like a crisp photo of a cat in motion. If you’re using a DSLR: “increase your shutter speed—and try to keep it in continuous focus mode, as every time you take a photo it will auto focus,” says Marttila.

Image via Hannah Shaw of Kitten Lady

Use Noise and Toys

Kitten looking at camera for cat photo

Let’s face it—cats don’t always bow to our commands. It can seem impossible to get a cat to look at the camera for a photo, but it doesn’t have to be a challenge. Once you’re ready to snap your picture, you can easily get their eyes to focus on the lens by dangling a toy like the Pet Fit For Life wand cat toy or making a new sound with a noise-making toy like the OurPets Play-N-Squeak cat toy.

If you’re making a sound to get a cat’s attention, the stranger and more unfamiliar the better—cats become quickly bored with their paparazzi and will often stop looking once they know the source. For this reason it can be helpful to try many things: the sound of paper crinkling in your hand, the sound of a shaking bag of cat treats, or a wide range of vocalizations. Make a really new sound and you might even capture a cute expression of confusion or bewilderment. Just be sure to snap the photo quickly before the moment has passed.

But with all that excitement, be careful not to scare off the cat. “My favorite photos are those that are taken when the cat is most relaxed,” says Marttila. “First and foremost, let them be themselves, but if you can get their attention at the lens it makes for a much better photo.”

Image via Hannah Shaw of Kitten Lady

Use Filters Sparingly

Photo of cat sleeping

Social media may tempt you to use filters to edit photos, but try not to go overboard. Your finished product will look strongest if it’s only minimally edited to enhance the natural qualities of the photo. Editing software is great for increasing the exposure of a photo that’s a bit too dim, or bringing more cool tones to a warm image, but you don’t want to rely too heavily on effects to make your image unique. Over-editing can make a photo appear cheesy or odd, and makes the viewer feel less connected to the subject. Instead, let the cat’s natural beauty come through, and you’ll have a photograph that makes you want to reach right through the screen and give the cat a pet.


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Hannah Shaw is the founder of Kitten Lady. Her mission is to change the way we perceive & treat animals—especially orphaned kittens.