“Smile!” How to take the perfect picture of your cat
Every cat is unique and, in the eyes of every 'pet parent', the most beautiful animal to ever walk the earth. And that's just how it should be. But how do you capture that spirit, that personality, that 'special something' about your cat in a photograph that you'll always treasure? Well, the good news is that the advent of affordable digital cameras has made it easier than ever… The techniques for capturing a stunning image of your cat are pretty much the same that you'd use for taking photos of any other kind of wildlife - immense patience; flexibility over lighting and exposure; awareness of the feelings of the animal; and lots and lots of shots! With a digital camera it doesn't matter how many images you take, so you can snap away to your heart's desire - the more shots you take, the better chance of catching that one perfect image. Even so, it's a great idea to be prepared so here are some handy tips you may want to consider…
Before you even pick up your camera to photograph your cat, think about what it is you really want to capture for posterity. Is it the way she manages to take over an entire sofa when she's asleep? Or the way she leaps like a gazelle from the floor up the top of the bookcase? If you have a specific objective, time your 'photo shoot' accordingly and wait for the moment. Focus is also important from the perspective of achieving the sharpest image. Remember, a camera's autofocus system will have more success locking onto a solid object (like an eyeball or a collar) than a clump of fur. And if your cat is moving and changing her distance from the camera, remember to keep focusing and refocusing all the time to compensate, so when that perfect moment happens, you can capture it in 'pin-sharp' resolution.
Your cat doesn't understand that you're trying to take her picture - that's why she refuses to obey commands like "stay still, right there!" or "move just a little to the left". So you're just going to have to wait for her to strike the perfect pose in her own good time. Let her relax, don't chase her. If you want her to look at the camera, try holding a favourite toy above your camera to grab her attention.
As a general rule, flash photography and animals don't go well together. Some cats are alarmed at the sudden bright light, and flash does tend to 'bleach' out the rich colours of an animal's markings. Natural light - either outside or streaming through a window indoors - is not only far less 'traumatic' for the cat but also gives far better results in terms of colour reproduction. And if there's not quite enough light, the beauty of digital is that you can always artificially brighten the shot later on your PC.
Before you start shooting, make sure you're using the right lens and that your camera is set to the right 'shooting mode'. If you're using an SLR camera, you may want to use a higher magnification zoom lens to enable you to take detailed 'close-up' shots from a distance without being in your cat's face. Because animals move very quickly, you should have your camera set to a fast exposure time otherwise you'll end up with a series of motion blurs every time your cat moves her head. On an SLR, choose the 'shutter priority' mode and opt for a fast shooting speed ¬- 1/200th of a second or faster - and let the camera work out its own exposure setting. Or if you're using a 'point & click' camera, choose the 'sports mode' which will be pre-programmed to capture fast-moving events. If your camera has the facility to shoot continuously, set it to this option as well - you could be lucky and take a whole sequence of fantastic shots of your cat in action.
A good photo doesn't just happen by pointing the lens at your subject. Consider everything that you want to be in the picture as well as your cat. What will the background be? A sofa, a tree in the garden, her scratching post? Or perhaps you'd like the focus to be solely on the animal. If your camera allows you to set the lens to a wide aperture (with a low f-stop, maybe 4 or lower), you can create a very artistic effect using 'depth of field' to give a blur to everything behind your cat. Think about camera angles. Do you want to capture your cat looking thoughtful, shot from the side; gazing off into the distance, shot from behind; or looking straight into the lens? Get down to her level on the floor - not only will this give a better perspective than shooting down onto the top of your cat's head, but it will also help her to relax.
Don't be afraid to have humans in the shot. How much more special will that photo be in the future if it also features another loved one. Sometimes, the simple inclusion of a hand stroking the cat is enough to lend a real additional emotional warmth to the image, and it can also be a 'sneaky' way of keeping an overactive cat still long enough for you to get your shot! Watch how the human and the cat interact with each other. If you're lucky, you might just capture that perfect, candid moment when a look passes between them or when the cat relaxes and breaks into that beaming smile.
Finally, the best tip of all…
If at first you don't succeed, keep trying. The more your cat gets used to being around you and your camera, the more she'll learn to ignore it and behave naturally.
And that's when you'll get the shot that will always melt your heart every time you look at it in the future!