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  • Mike

Simple tips for photographing cats.

This is an award winning cat portrait.

Cats are a wonderful part of our lives. For many of us they are to us no different than our children. Like parents we want to photograph them growing up, their accomplishments and cute fails, and share why we love them. Cats often are a huge collection of fond memories for us, and so like many things that we cherish, we want to photograph them. But all too often we find ourselves with blurry photos of cats streaking across our images. Well here are some tips to help you take better cat photos and eliminate that.

1. Mistakes and bad photos are common so shoot in bursts.

All professionals learn to shoot moving subjects over and over because no matter how good they are, they are not magicians. Cats are always moving. If you don't think this is the case then just sit down and watch your cat for a few minutes. You'll soon realize that even sitting still and looking out a window your cat is constantly moving in sporadic and unpredictable bursts. This is not a bug, its a feature of cats, cats are good at catching prey off guard through these movements. Unfortunately we can't predict the exact ways a cat will move, so we have to use trial and error. Shooting the same shot over and over waiting for a cat to stop moving at exactly the right time will catch that perfect moment that looks natural and pleasing.

2. Use a fast shutter speed.

A fast shutter speed is important because cats are always moving. Moving subjects will be blurry at slow shutter speeds no matter how hard you try to avoid it. Faster shutter speeds mean you'll need more light or wider aperture though so you'll need to think about that when planning how you want to shoot your photos. Daylight is awesome but if you don't have that available you'll need to increase your ISO as well.

3. Lighting is important.

Always be thinking of how lighting will play a part in your cat photos. Natural lighting will help compensate for the fast shutter speeds you'll want to use. A flash can also be useful but it will need to be used with a modifier or bounced off a wall. Cats have sensitive eyes and will learn to look away from your camera if you keep flashing them in the face.

4. Be patient.

Patience will be rewarded when it comes to cats. in order to catch them at their most interesting moments you'll need to be ready as they present themselves. You might also consider having someone else play with a cat while you try to photograph their play. But even then catching a cat mid pounce or with their mouth open will require patience and dedication.

Some interesting and cute poses will also come about out of context. In this case a fast shutter and King Cuddles grooming himself without context takes on a whole new meaning.

5. Get at eye level and focus on the eyes.

Eyes are the windows to the soul. It's very important to treat your photographic subject with the respect it deserves. The eyes tell us a great deal about our subject and shape our emotional opinion on the subject as an individual. Cats have huge eyes that are the dominant feature of their head. As such they should always be your focus point. Everything else can be blurry and still make a good photograph, but if the eyes are out of focus your photo will not "feel" right. Fortunately it's easy to tell if you've nailed your focus with a cat. Cats have a focus meter built right in to their eyes.

If you have achieved sharp focus on the eye of a cat, the reflections of the world around it, including you will be sharp. As you can see above the silhouette of me taking the photo is very clear along with the light sources around the cat. This is because cat eyes are spherical (nearly so) and reflect the world around them with no magnification. You can think of that as the same as a crystal ball and how it reflects the world with distortion like a spherical mirror, but never bringing anything out of focus. Looking for reflections in a cat's eye will always tell you if you've done a good job with your focus.

Also consider that as a cat is moving around they will be falling in and out of focus. So this is yet another reason to shoot in bursts of photos. The chances of nailing tack sharp focus the first time is low. The chances that you do it after several tries, very high.

Getting both cats to look at the camera at the same time? 15 shots! Yes, 14 wasted photos for just one that turned out correctly. Don't be afraid to burn digital film. Shooting over and over again costs nothing and the reward will be great if you nail everything.

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