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How To Shoot A Beautiful Portrait - Cat Photography 101: Part 2

Mar 3, 2016 · Updated Jul 10, 2016 · ·
  1. Anne
    In Part One, we learned how to turn your cat’s habits to your photographic advantage. In this installment, we walk thru how to make a beautiful portrait of your furry friend.

    Use Soft Light

    A simple technique to take great cat portraits (and people too) is to photograph your cat in soft light. Picture the hazy, faint shadow you cast on an overcast day. That’s soft light. It creates indistinct, feathered lines between light and shadow. Soft light is easy to work with and always flattering.

    Creating Soft Light

    Rooms with windows that face north are never in direct sunlight; rather, these rooms receive soft, indirect light. If you are fortunate enough to have northern facing windows that your cat is attracted to, perfect. If not, wait for a cloudy or overcast day; these also produce indirect light. Or soften the direct window light with a homemade diffusor.

    On a bright, sunny day a diffusor scatters the sunlight, creating indirect light that wraps around your cat. Tape sheets of tracing paper to cover the window glass. Alternatively, cut a thin, white kitchen trash bag long ways around the perimeter to create one large sheet of plastic. Stick the plastic to the glass starting at the top of the window and work your way down to the bottom.

    If you shoot with natural light often, consider purchasing a commercial diffusor. A budget-brand 43-inch commercial diffusor kit runs about $30.00; it’s a good investment.

    Prepare the Scene

    Place a stool about 1 to 3 feet from the center of the window. Drape a towel or fabric remnant over the seat to create a soft, attractive perch for your cat. If the wall behind your cat is cluttered, hang a blanket or fabric behind the stool to serve as a pleasing backdrop. [​IMG]

    Take Test Shots

    I like to place a stuffed animal in the scene to evaluate the exposure and composition. But anything that is about the size and color of your cat will work. Place the surrogate on the stool.

    Zoom your lens to its telephoto position or mount a medium telephoto lens (something in the range of 90mm – 150mm). Set your camera to Program Mode (often called P Mode).

    Program Mode is similar to Automatic Mode (Green Mode); the camera will select all of the exposure settings. However, Program Mode allows the photographer to override the camera’s recommended exposure. It is a better choice for cat photography than Auto Mode. If you are comfortable using your camera on Manual Mode, feel free to use that mode instead, but we’ll keep things simple.

    Frame the picture and take a test shot.

    Adjust the Exposure

    Program Mode works well in most situations. Sometimes, however, you may find that an image is too dark (underexposed) or too bright (overexposed). The camera’s Exposure Compensation control can help fix exposure issues.

    Exposure Compensation forces the camera to let in more or less light, brightening or darkening an image. Refer to your camera’s user guide, if you do not know how to apply Exposure Compensation.

    If the image is too dark, set Exposure Compensation to +1 (plus). If it is too bright, apply -1 (minus) compensation. If the image is still too dark or light, further increase or decrease Exposure Compensation and take another test picture.

    When you achieve the desired exposure, remove the stand-in. Place your cat on the stool or wait for him to discover the seat and jump onto the perch.

    Start shooting

    Focus the camera on your cat’s eyes. If one eye is closer, focus on the eye that is closest to the camera.

    Review the first image or two on the camera’s LCD. You should find your cat well illuminated with soft shadows on the unlit side of his face as shown in the example image.

    Once you confirm the lighting and exposure, stop checking the playback and focus your full attention on capturing a beautiful expression.[​IMG]

    Don’t Have Time to Hang a Backdrop?

    If you don’t want to take the time to set up a backdrop, use a chair instead of a stool and drape a towel or fabric remnant over the back of the chair and down onto the seat. Use spring clamps to hold the fabric in place. This staging technique is illustrated in the image below.

    That’s all there is to it. With practice, you can stage and shoot a beautiful portrait in less than 5 minutes.


    Give Your Cat A Treat

    After the shoot, give your cat a treat. Eventually your cat will associate yummy delicacies with photo sessions and look forward to seeing you with your camera. Happy shooting.

    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. mama africa
    Missy doesn't want to sit on my lap, but since she was a little kitten, she has been posing for pictures as if she has never done anything else. Flashlight or click sound do not scare her off. It keeps me motivated to snap her as much as I can.
  2. lavishsqualor
    Hi Rick -- These are all such great tips!  I never would have thought to softly light one side of my cat's face and leave the other a little more shadowed.  You have a really good eye for color, too.  Your orange tabby is framed so well by the purple/mauve background up there.  Even the pinks of his ears and the green of his eyes are all complimented beautifully by the back drop.  And he's just so spectacular in your avatar!  He looks so soulful and contemplative. It really is an amazing photograph.  Thank you so much for sharing your tips. You've totally inspired me.   I have my camera in one hand and my garbage bag diffuser in another . . . all I need now is a cat!
  3. sivyaleah
    Bookmarking! Thanks!
  4. rickr
    @foxxycat, Of course all cats are different with unique personalities.  In my experience though, most cats enjoy sitting on a soft perch by a window.  Try leaving the perch (or draped chair) out and letting your cat discover it on his own.  I've used this technique to photograph many cats in different homes; it almost always works.  It just takes a bit of patience.  Also, treating your cat during or after each photo session helps.
  5. foxxycat
    I envy those whose cats tolerate this. Mine gets a really grouchy look on her face-as my profile pic shows-she looks sweet and loving until I whip out the camera/phone..then she turns her head away-or she wont open her eyes for me...cats!
  6. mservant
    Great tips!   Thank you.
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