After photographing just sooo many cats at this point, it’s high time I wrote this post, to give some tips for preparing your cat (and your home) for his or her ‘picture day’. Everyone knows that cats don’t like being told what to do, they don’t listen, and don’t like their space invaded, so getting a cat photographed seems like an impossible task, with a teeny bit of luck thrown in. I’d say there’s good reason that many pet photographers specialize in photographing dogs as opposed to fickle felines; they’re usually trained at the very least to sit and stay but I’ve only met stage cats (for film) that will do that! It’s the challenging nature of cats that actually draws me to them though. Nervous cats can be extra challenging, but I mostly photograph cats in their usual/familiar environment and this helps a lot with their comfort level. Cats are homebodies so following them about their business at home suits things just fine.On the matter of creating the right kind of space in your home to help me get the best images that I can, the number one consideration for every photographer is the light…light, glorious light! If there’s a room or a space in your home that has gorgeous natural light streaming in through the windows, that’s the place I need to shoot! Luckily, many cats just love looking out the window, watching birds, and lying in the warm sun, so it’s often a fab spot for me to get kitty in her element. I can get photos though, in many different lighting situations, when needed; I am able to use light modifiers such as a reflector in order to bounce light back in, and I’m also adept at using flash if I need to as well. Cats are a lot more accommodating of flash than you’d think, but if I don’t have to use it, I won’t. I can even add a single light to a room. Which reminds me: artificial light, like in a bathroom, is probably the worst for photos (minor cringing happens when I realize that’s my best option!) but if I have to make it happen there, I will. Luckily that mostly happens with the most nervous of rescue cats, who prefer a small space to feel safe in.
In the most basic terms for getting cat photographs and the best environment for them, is there a room she is likely to hide in, and will it be hard for me to coax her out? Is the cat enclosed in a small room and liable (and able) to hide under the bed the whole time? This happens quite a bit with rescue cats and it’s less likely to happen with a cat more comfortable in a permanent home. It’s sometimes fine to have kitty in just one room so they feel safe, but with others they may feel cornered. Is your cat comfortable roaming the house and doesn’t mind new people? Then I’m happy to just figure out how to get images based on their movements. I have become quite adept at being as stealthy as I can following cats around for the right shot! For the sake of making the photos as clutter-free as possible, so as to keep the focus on the cat, it’s helpful to me that you clear away items in your space that won’t look great in the final images, like computer wires and so forth, have the carpet vacuumed, that sort of thing. I suppose if your kitty is insanely happy about lying on your recycling pile of papers, we may want to keep something like that out.
For the most part, there’s usually little that has to be done to get a cat ready for photos in terms of grooming and appearance. They are fastidious groomers after all, as you probably know. A quick brush to tidy up stray hairs is helpful, and often long-haired cats need some extra brushing so their fur looks as luscious as it should do; I’ve seen quite a few lovely scruffy kitties, but if the hair is a big mess, we probably can’t have that, can we?! Sometimes there’s a kitty who has eye ‘crusties’ and maybe a bit of a snotty nose; while it’s true that I can correct some of these things in post with editing, that can take up precious time so if those things can be cleared away, that’s super helpful.
There are a couple of other things that are helpful to think about before your session. One is activity level. If your cat is wildly active (and we’re not specifically going to be taking a ton of ‘action’ shots), it may be a good idea to get the cat some exercise with toys beforehand; this is great for very young cats and a breed like the active Bengal. I know that cats do spend a ton of time asleep (they’re professionals at sleeping) but we also probably don’t want all the images of them to be with their eyes closed, so completely pooping them out isn’t helpful either. Unlike babies or young kiddos, cats really don’t have set awake/sleep times, so planning a session around a cat nap is just not a factor for scheduling. It’s great to have our little model alert, but not fast asleep. I want to see those pretty eyes!A few more things to think about: does your cat have special/medical needs? Are we doing a ‘golden years’ session for a senior or geriatric cat? These images could be to capture a beloved older cat in their last days and it’s important I attend to this in a special way. Are there special toys or blankets that are favorites of the cat that you want in the pictures? I have props, blankets, backdrops, all of that, that I may think will work well for your cat, but it’s helpful to consider what items of yours may work well and will make you happy when you see them in the finished images. Photographing your cat without a collar is usually preferable too; cats are beautiful without any adornments, when they’re ‘au naturel’, but I’m not opposed to doing some shots with a cute kitty necktie or something similar. Some images like that are fun to do, so let me know if you have ideas for novelty shots. Also, if I’m taking those coveted photos of you with your cat, consider earthy, complimentary tones for your clothing, with respect to your cat’s fur colors. But beware the clothing colors and fabrics that will highlight your cat’s fur shedding.
Does your cat like treats? Feather or laser toys? Does catnip work to get him/her rolling around on the floor in an adorable state? Does it take a long time for your cat to get relaxed with new people? All of these things are über helpful to think about and for me to know.
Since I just mentioned something about get the cat relaxed, I don’t have too much of an issue coaxing them into pictures when they are already family members. This is different when it comes to rescue and foster cats, and it can sometimes take quite a while to get the shot that is needed for adoption purposes. I’m usually able to coax even the trickiest kitty into photos but it’s still sometimes a challenge and I’d say that in every case of cat photography (easy and difficult cats both included), my number one need is my having patience. Sometimes it can take quite a while to get those shots that I know you will love (and I know I want to get); it may seem to take some time, while you’re sitting by, but just trust that I know what images I am after and what will work well.So how can you be assured that I know what I’m doing around these often aloof, independent, intelligent animals?! I want you to be comfortable for me to get down on your cat’s level and also be able to leave me to get on with the photography. I’ve been around animals my whole life and am very familiar with cat behavior in particular…cats fascinate me to no end. I’d like to think I’m kind of on their wavelength (it’s not total coincidence that I’m called Mama Kat…) and connect easily with cats. Working as a vet tech, and at the cat rescue, and always having cats as my companions at home, has meant my always trying to understand their behavior and character. I truly love cats and what the rescue photography has taught me in particular, is that they are to respected and to consider their underlying wild nature. There’s a little tiger underneath every cat’s clothing! It’s not enough for me to be able to photograph in all the crazy places and positions I’ve found myself in to that magical shot. It’s also not enough for me to know how to work my camera manually and adjust settings in a pinch when the cat wants to move from room to room and the light totally changes.
At the end of the day, I hope you have the confidence in me to get beautiful images of your cat(s) and I will do whatever I can to do just that! If you can help prepare your cat and your home with some of the tips above, all that can go a long way to making the session go smoothly and I can just focus on creating memories on camera for you. I hope I’ve shared some helpful and interesting information on preparing your cat for picture day. If you have ANY questions about any of it, feel free to ask me. I hope this wasn’t overwhelming…taking your cat’s photos will be fun! I hope to meet you and your cat soon!
xo ~ K