“Taking Better Cat Photography“
Story & Photography by Nawfal Nur
© July 2006 Nawfal Nur
All Rights Reserved
Have you ever wanted to take better cat photographs? Do you find that your cat just does not cooperate?
It’s not easy taking pictures of cats. Cats work according to their own schedules. They are lazy. The are insensitive to everyone else’s concerns and time limitations. They don’t care about much else other than eating, sleeping and looking good. However, I love cats and I have three such rascals: two Calicos (Tortie Whites) and one that I call a “Malaysian Hook-Tail”.
There is a strange breed of cat here in Malaysia that has a hooked tail. I’m not sure if it is a genetic defect, or, perhaps it is just a natural attribute of this genealogical line of Malaysian cats.
The bone at the end of my cat’s tail is like the hook of a clothes hanger – it is very strange – it gives me that “Ee’ak!” feeling inside. I have never seen a cat like this in the United States (which is where I’m from).
Believe it or not, the ‘hook-tail’ is actually my best ‘cat-face’ model – she is very pretty; however, she has this skinny body. If you only see her face, she is the most beautiful of my three cats.
If you see her body, you would probably scream at me: “Don’t you feed your cat!?!”
Yes, I do!
They get all the food they want, 24/7! She is just a stick with fur, but she has this very beautiful face with emerald green eyes.
The Torties are pretty too, but they are so lazy and don’t cooperate much when it comes time to be cat models. They expect me to be a good slave-to-cats, and they expect me to wait…and wait…and wait some more.
Eventually, after many frustrating moments, and missed frames, I eventually get some nice portraits of my cats. Never fear, there is hope and virtue in having patience!
So, if you want to take Cat Photography, be long-suffering. If you lack patience, find another subject to photograph.
Cats move to a different beat altogether, and most of the time it’s slow, and definitely it’s totally on their terms. When you least expect it, they race around like a bullet as if a demon is chasing them. In the next moment, they are off to the food bowl and in this house, the food must be fresh, meaning it must have been poured into the bowl within the last 3 or 4 hours. My cats start panicking if they can see the bottom of the bowl; they freak out, so that is viewed by my felines as a MAJOR infraction in cat care etiquette.
Most of the time my cats do four things: Eat, Sleep, Groom, and Play. In fact, I think that’s all that cats do. If they tried to fit in a fifth activity, I’m sorry, but it just wouldn’t fit into their hectic schedules; these activities take up all 24-hours of the day.
As a photographer, you just have to work around your cat’s busy schedule, be aware of photo-op’s, and this is going to take tenacity. There’s no trick in waiting, just try to stay alert, a few cups of coffee and positive self-talk helps. Attempt to visualize a cooperative cat posing for you and being as photogenic as a Cover girl model at a photo shoot. Ah, yeah, right…on second thought, maybe just follow the few general rules below:
1) You can’t force a cat to have her portrait taken; you just have to catch them at the right time.
2) You also can’t count on every cat to be good subjects, so to cut back on your time, locate a cat that seems to want to get your attention, and then focus on that one.
3) When taking close-ups, if you can, cut back the flash by -2 EV, or you will burn out part of the photo. I prefer the tone of the early morning light, or, late afternoon sunlight, these are the best times of day for cat photography outside. In post production, you can adjust the color, brightness and contrast with photo-editing software to suit your taste.
4) A little fill-flash will help with unwanted shadows.
5) Make sure your own shadow is NOT in the picture. You need to move if you notice this issue.
6) When the cat moves, you move, but don’t get them irritated, or they will become fussy little models and not cooperate any more.
I think you get the general ‘picture’: Cats can make wonderful photo-models, but this is entirely on their own terms.