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Cat Photography 101: Turning Your Cat’s Habits To Your Advantage

Feb 22, 2016 · Updated Mar 3, 2016 · ·
  1. Anne
    This series of articles offers simple techniques that anyone can follow to take amazing pictures of their companion. In this first installment, we explore how to turn your cat’s habits to your advantage. Let’s get started.

    "But Cats Are Hard to Photograph"

    Yes, it’s a rare cat that will sit still while you tilt her head just so or arrange her torso in a regal stance. If your cat is anything like mine, by the time you raise the viewfinder to your eye, your companion will have rolled into a less interesting position or trotted out of the room completely.


    The fact that cats won't sit still or hold a pose doesn’t mean they are difficult to photograph. Rather, it suggests that you should understand your cat and learn how to turn his habits to your photographic advantage.

    The easiest way to take great images of your cat is to catch him doing something interesting when you are ready to take a picture. All that’s required is familiarity with your cat’s daily routine, a little advance preparation and a bit of patience. Some luck doesn’t hurt either.

    Know Your Cat

    Cats crave routine. Predictability provides cats a needed sense of safety and security, a warm feeling that all is well in their world and that they are in control. No doubt, you’ve noticed the patterns your cat follows throughout the day.

    If you aren’t familiar with your cat’s routine, spend some time observing his behavior. Pay special attention to the timeframes when you are available to take pictures, maybe after dinner or perhaps Saturday afternoons - whenever you generally have free time. Look for times and locations that afford bright light such as near a window or under a skylight.

    For example, my beautiful black cat, Lucy likes to lounge on the seat of my exercise machine after breakfast. In the late afternoon, she bird watches thru a window in the dining room. Knowing where Lucy will be throughout the day, allows me to prepare the scene and take test shots in advance so that everything is ready when she arrives. Investing only a few minutes to stage the location pays dividends in more pleasing photographs.

    Prepare the Scene

    Once you have selected a location, spend some time cleaning up the area. Look at the room thru your camera’s viewfinder along your intended angle of view. Remove any odds and ends that aren’t integral to the photograph. Temporarily rearrange the room if necessary to minimize distractions and create a pleasing composition, or drape the area with a blanket or fabric remnant. If you plan to shoot low enough to show the floor, vacuum or sweep. You don’t want any dirt, cat hair or other debris visible in the final image. Yuck.

    Take Test Shots

    Take test shots to establish the proper exposure and evaluate the lighting and composition before your cat arrives. I use stuffed animals as surrogates for Archie and Lucy to help find the right camera settings. I have one that is about the color of my orange tabby Archie and a black one for Lucy. But you can use anything that is roughly the size and color of your cat.

    Wait for Your Cat

    Once you have prepared the scene and established the exposure, all that’s left is to wait for your cat. When she arrives, pick up your camera and start shooting.

    Example One

    This portrait was shot in the laundry room where Lucy likes to soak up the morning sunlight. Before feeding her breakfast, I draped fabric over the seat of the exercise machine, holding it in place with a few spring clamps. I set Lucy’s stand-in on the seat and took test pictures until I was satisfied with the lighting and exposure. Then waited for Lucy to finish eating and climb onto the fabric.

    Example Two

    One day while stocking the refrigerator I reached down to grab a grocery bag. When I turned back around, there was Lucy, sitting pretty inside the fridge. We both enjoyed a good laugh before she jumped down. Over the next few weeks, investigating the refrigerator became her new, favorite game.

    I thought an image of Lucy exploring the refrigerator would make a charming photo. I cleaned up the fridge, placed Lucy’s stand-in inside and took test shots to adjust the exposure and lighting. I left my camera on the kitchen counter, waiting for Lucy to act. When I noticed her trotting into the kitchen, I followed her, picked up the camera and opened the refrigerator doors. Lucy jumped in; I snapped the picture. Simple.


    In Part Two, we explore how to make a beautiful portrait of your companion.

    Written By TheCatSite.com Member Rick Reichenbach aka @RickR

    Rick Reichenbach is a member of the Cat Writers Association and the author of How to Take Beautiful Pictures of Your Cat. He lives in Louisiana with two beautiful cats, Archie and Lucy.

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  1. tarasgirl06
    Beautiful pix!  I really love Lucy investigating the fridge ;)  I've probably missed more excellent photo ops than I've captured, but that doesn't mean I don't have hundreds of great pix of my beloved cats, and more all the time.  
  2. dennis47
    The shot of Lucy in the fridge is adorable Reminds me of my Midnight.
  3. Draco
    awesome article!! I am sure it will help people get better shots!
  4. rickr
    Thank you for the kind words.  Yes, draping is a wonderful technique. It's simple, effective and only takes a moment to implement.  Sometimes it helps to use fabric that your cat is attracted to.  Archie and Lucy are fond of soft fabrics, like fleece. 
  5. kittymomma1122
    Great article. I always wanted to do pictures with a drape, but had never thought to drape the area where they normally go. I tried to make them go on my set up. Needless to say that did not work. I also have black cats and I would have never thought a grey back drop would look so good! Thanks for the tips.
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