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Take Better Cat Photos (part 1)

The first part of my tips for taking better photos of pets at home, including real examples submitted by you!

In December I wrote a blog asking you to send in pictures of your cats, which I would then use to offer some simple tips for improving your photography.

Thank you

Thank you to everyone that submitted their photos. What’s interesting is that these photos are all wonderful as they are – they’re very clear, they have the subject in frame and in focus, and they all show the character of their felines! Photography is subjective, and my feedback is around what I would do to try take the quality up a notch – not to correct anything that is wrong – so you may or may not agree with me and that’s fine! I’ll be talking about some basic composition techniques that anyone can use – I’ll be doing my best to illustrate them with some examples but if you have any questions please drop me an email and I’ll do my best to expand on my point or link you to other online resources.

Right, let’s get started!

Picture 1 – by Charlie

A black cat lying on its back on a blue floor

I love this picture! You really get a feeling of playfulness and attention-seeking. The face is in focus, there’s adorable eye-contact with the camera, the paw sticking out to the right gives us just enough information to know they’re lying down, and the light blue background and light-coloured floor provide a lovely contrast to the black cat. The reflections in the eyes show that this was taken in environment with a lot of natural light, and this is really useful for bringing out the detail in the black fur. The whiskers help fill the frame as well. This is a really great photo, taken on an iPhone 8.

There are a couple of things that I would have been looking to do differently as a professional photographer. One is something that only a nit-picking photographer like me would be doing: the left eye is ever-so-slightly out of focus, so I’d be looking to widen my aperture to make sure it was in focus. Most camera phones don’t allow you to change the aperture setting manually, so to get around this you can back away from the subject slightly. This will increase the depth-of-field (the amount of the shot that is in focus) – just make sure that the camera is focussed on either one of the eyes, or the space between the eyes.

That also links to my second suggestion. I’d love to see a tiny bit more of the head. By moving the camera away slightly, the ears will come into shot, as will as a little more of the body.

This really is a wonderful photo as it is – great work Charlie!

Key points: Fill the frame, keep eyes in focus, strong contrast between background and subject works well, strong natural light for black animals will bring out details in their fur.

One caveat here that will apply to all of these photos – and indeed all pet photography – is this: Animals are lively! Everything I’m suggesting is in a best-case scenario. The “perfect” photograph is almost impossible – you’ll always be compromising on some aspect of the photo – the only really important thing is that you like it and it means something to you!

Picture 2 – by Rachael

A white cat with grey nose and mouth, surrounded by toys

Look at that cute little kitty! In many ways this picture is perfect. A perfectly central composition, lots of other items in the frame that are relevant to the subject (toys, litter tray etc.), and that gorgeous look of expectation in kitty’s eyes! The spot of light on the head provides a wonderfully-satisfying curve over the eyebrows, before the shadow kicks in beneath the face – this really helps draw attention to those gorgeous eyes.

Going back to my caveat – this is a great photo of a great moment, and that’s the most important thing – the only thing I would be looking to change in a professional shoot is removing some of the other items from the shot that are a little distracting: the grey and orange tag on the left-hand side, the cushion/pillow in the top-right corner, and the sock beneath kitty’s paw. I might also tidy up the litter tray and distribute some of the toys up the right hand side of the frame. BUT in doing this you are of course creating a false situation and relying on kitty to get back into the correct position for the re-shot, so it would depend on whether you are looking for an authentic or an ideal photo. Personally, I prefer authentic and I think this is a great photo as it is.

Key points: Frame is full of (mainly) relevant objects, strong eye contact, could be tidier for a “perfect” photo.

Picture 3 – by Staci

A cat wearing a red bow tie, on top of a hamper

A wonderfully colourful image! I love the contrast of the burgundy bow tie with the blue background. The hint of the Christmas tree behind our subject, and the wonderful warm colours suggest a cosy winter theme. I love the cat’s expression, and the relaxed paw positions. It was a great choice of shoot from below the subject as well – it’s a different angle to what we as humans usually see, and it really brings us into our subject’s world.

Capturing the perfect moment with animals is always tricky, particularly when the photographer probably had to stabilise their hand in an unnatural position to take this, but in an ideal world I’d love to see the top of the ear, perhaps with a little space separating that from the top of the frame. Something else you can do is crop the image to either a 1:1 ratio (square) or a tighter 3:4 ratio, and take out some of the hamper that is dominating the picture. I’ve posted examples below – both place more emphasis on the subject, but lose the sense of height on the hamper. Which do you prefer?

Key points: Lovely colours, warm and relaxed seasonal vibe, subtle crop can bring the attention more towards our subject.

Tighter 3:4 crop

Square crop

You can read part 2 here, and don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter to receive free photography tips and tricks, and to be entered into a draw to win a free photoshoot every month this year!