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How to Take Awesome Photos of Cats
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- ebook $11.99 $15.99 CAD
- Hardcover $18.00 $23.00 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around July 7, 2020. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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When I first started taking photos of my cat, I was absolutely clueless. I looked around on the internet for guides, and while there was a plethora of photography tutorials online and in print, unsurprisingly, very few applied to animals. And, believe it or not, even fewer to cats. I began by learning general information about cameras and then read up on the basic principles of photography, especially portraiture and the use of light.
It became clear that if I was to move forward, I was going to have to figure out a lot of the specifics on my own—the vast majority of which would take place through trial and error. Like most acquired skills, we can look back and laugh at our first attempts. In fact, my social media posts are a testament to slow and gradual progress; the images from the beginning of my photo-taking days are a minefield of missteps and errors. But I improved. And, for better or worse, the evolution is painstakingly documented online.
What began as a hobby slowly morphed into a part-time job. I gained some recognition on social media at a time when taking photos with a real camera stood out from the sea of blurry, low-resolution phone photos. In my last year of college, I created a website, plastered some flyers around town, and began taking my first clients as a pet photographer. The majority of shoots started with family and friends, and god bless them for paying real money for those amateur photo sets.
It ended up helping me out more than they knew. Those initial sessions built my portfolio and boosted my confidence. After college, I stepped away from continued studies in the field of neuroscience to pursue pet photography full time. Since committing what my parents at one time considered a “grave mistake,” I’ve taken pictures of literally thousands of felines all around the world.
To date, I have published two books filled to the brim with cat photos: Cats on Catnip and Shop Cats of New York. My photos have been featured in numerous galleries and covered by major news outlets both online and in print. I’ve even appeared live on national television to talk about my cat photos. Most of you will probably know me from the internet. Say hi on Instagram @iamthecatphotographer. My partner Hannah Shaw (aka Kitten Lady) and I even have a nonprofit organization called Orphan Kitten Club. In the book you’re bound to see, and maybe even recognize, a bunch of the kittens we have rescued. Yup, it’s fair to say cats are (a big part of) my life.
In 2018, I started giving photography workshops at cat conventions all across North America. I’ve done a bunch of them now, but I used to be genuinely petrified by the idea of public speaking. The first talk I gave in New York City was in front of a few hundred people in a big conference hall. I had a lump in my throat the entire time. I was sweating. I was mumbling. I felt as if my words were virtually incoherent, but I did it. And I did it because I felt it was necessary to put my fears aside so that I could be of assistance to others. By others, I don’t mean people—I mean the cats!
Sure, it’s important to help amateur photographers get a better understanding of their craft. It’s also satisfying to explain how smartphone users can create lasting memories with their devices. But what has been most valuable has been teaching photography to those who work with or volunteer at animal shelters. I truly believe that by enabling people to take better photos of adoptable animals, the likelihood of those animals leaving the shelter system skyrockets.
In the upcoming pages, I’m going to spill all my photography knowledge and secrets in what I hope will be an approachable, easy-to-understand way. I want you guys to be able to read an actionable tip, put down the book, apply it, and (pending your cat’s cooperation) see immediate results. As you may have gleaned from my short bio, I’m not classically trained in photography, which means I’m going to break everything down in really straightforward terms.
Some concepts may come much more intuitively to you than others, but don’t be discouraged by those that take a bit longer to sink in. If everything clicks immediately, that’s awesome, but I will still encourage you to build on the ideas presented here and experiment with settings until you come up with what looks and feels right to you. This book is full of rough guidelines on how to land a successful shot, but your end result might look considerably different from mine and that’s totally okay.
Many of the principles we cover are basic and apply to photography in general, but we’ll also get into some nitty-gritty stuff for those who have or are interested in professional, or what I like to call dedicated, cameras. I tend to differentiate these from smartphone cameras with the name “dedicated” because these devices serve no other purpose than to take photos. There’s also an entire chapter on phone photography for those who primarily shoot with smartphones.
Near the end, we’ll cover editing and what to do with your newfound skills and beautiful shots once you’ve become a maestro. But before we even pick up the camera, we’re going to have to learn a bit about cat behavior. Remember: Every cat is a unique individual with their very own idiosyncrasies, so their interest and cooperation will definitely vary. However, with my guidance, you’ll be snapping beautiful shots worthy of framing and sharing on social media in no time! Lastly, be sure to tag your cat photos with #AwesomePhotosOfCats so we can all learn from each other—and drool over cat photos, of course. Let’s get to it.
Our Very Special Subject
Cat photography isn’t easy. If it were, I don’t think I’d be in business, and I certainly wouldn’t have the opportunity to write a book on the subject. It’s hard. So, right out of the gate, I want to do a quick exercise with you. Let’s begin our foray into the world of cat photography by taking a collective deep breath. Hold it in. Count down from five. Now, as we exhale, let’s drastically lower our expectations several notches. Once more. Ahhh! That feels good, doesn’t it?
Expecting perfect shots with every click of the shutter is a fast and easy way to become disheartened. No one takes perfect photos all the time. So let’s not anticipate that every shot is going to win Nat Geo’s photograph of the year. Instead, let’s set our sights on getting a handful of reasonably clear, engaging photos within every set we take. As we get better, the ratio between usable photos and shots destined for the trash can will grow in our favor, but it remains crucial to be realistic. We can do everything right mechanically and yet still not get what we’re after.
If we want a baseline opportunity to get decent shots, what must come first is a rudimentary understanding of feline behavior and how best to achieve the optimal outcome for both parties. It’s super critical to keep in mind the well-being of the cat as we’re taking photos. Animals are not props! They are incredibly complex, emotional beings and deserve to be treated as such. If we find that they’re becoming stressed, aggressive, or avoidant, we might want to reconsider our approach. And to maximize the quality time with our feline subject, it is paramount to set the tone for the shoot properly.
SETTING THE TONE
When I show up to a new shoot or go to an animal shelter to do volunteer photography, I always spend a generous portion of the visit gently introducing myself to all the subjects. The introductory period always comes first. Cats are creatures of habit and they’re often apprehensive around new people, so it’s best to leave your equipment tucked away while you get to know them. A good acclimation process involves soft, encouraging speech; hand extensions to allow scent swapping; treats; and sometimes even a pinch of catnip.
The pacing of your shoot will largely be dictated by the cat’s willingness to interact with you. You may end up spending more time hanging with the cat than behind the camera, and that’s okay. Getting a few choice photos of a comfortable cat is far more valuable than a lengthy set of a visibly uneasy cat. And, to be honest, the goal of all my shoots is to befriend the cats; the photos are just a bonus.
To allow a cat’s unique personality to shine in photo form, we’re going to want them to be as comfortable around us and our equipment as possible. If you’re photographing your own cat (which is likely the case for most of you), then you probably don’t need to spend quite as much time getting your cat to act naturally around you. You may, however, have to get your cat used to your equipment.
In the animal world, anything unfamiliar may be considered threatening. While you may be fully aware of your harmless intentions to take snapshots, that certainly doesn’t mean that your cat is. I take the trash out every week, and when I change the bags, my cat always looks at me like, “Ahhh, so today’s the day you’re going to try to kill me, eh?” and runs off with the swiftness. The sounds that cameras make can be startling, not to mention the lights that they give off if you’re using a flash.
If I find that the cat is deeply unsettled by the mere sight of my camera, I’ll place it down on the floor closer to them and step back. This allows them to check it out more thoroughly and hopefully realize that it’s not a threat. Sometimes this is all it takes. In cases where you’re doing a shoot with an unfamiliar cat, I cannot stress enough the importance of proper pacing. Employing patience during this part alone will make a massive difference in the experience for both of you.
The time frame in which a cat becomes comfortable around you can range from moments to hours, to days, to years. Some cats will immediately hop in your lap, smush their face into your face, and drool all over you. Others will avoid you by tearing a hole in the bottom of a couch and camping out inside until you leave. True story. Don’t be too discouraged if they end up being a bit wary of you at first. Take your time! Especially in cases of shelter photography, our goal is just to get a very basic, usable photo highlighting their personality. We’ll want to try to showcase them in the most positive, inviting way, so never be too aggressive in your approach to get the “perfect” shot. That’s a surefire way to sour the shoot.
READY OR NOT?
One of the first things we have to gauge is the cat’s willingness to participate. We can assess their behavior with some basic criteria:
• Are their ears pointed back?
• What sounds are they making?
• Is their tail moving about normally, pointed upward, or swishing fiercely with a vengeance?
• What’s their posture like?
All these questions will play a pivotal role in figuring out our next move. Some of the best indicators of their mood come from looking at their ears, tail, and body. There’s a broad spectrum when it comes to cats, but for our purposes, we’ll think about it in terms of the following continuum:
Anxious—Whenever my cat goes to the vet, I can always expect to see his tail tucked low to his body, between his back legs. The saying, “He came back with his tail between his legs” is so true! A bummed or fearful cat will often put their tail away in an effort to appear smaller or less threatening.
Content—A content cat’s tail will be still, or swaying slightly. It won’t be poofed out more than usual and will have a steady rhythm to its movements.
Aggressive—If you see a cat flicking their tail with vigor, this means war. Watch out! Our cat Eloise will always let me know with a few flicks of the tail before she decides to correct me with her claws. You may also see their tail grow to two times its standard thickness. This is a natural defense mechanism to ward off threats by making them appear larger than they actually are. They might not be poised to attack, but they’re warning you that they find you threatening.
Anxious—Similar to the tail, a cat who’s upset will slink extremely low to the ground. They will often flatten themselves and try to tuck all their limbs underneath themselves, minimizing their appearance.
Content—A happy cat looks confident. They’ll look at you, approach you, and have a fairly linear arch in their back.
Aggressive—This is what we like to call Halloween Cat, because if you’ve ever seen the imagery of a black cat with an arched back and a poofed-out tail that’s ubiquitous around the October holiday, then you already know what an aggressive cat looks like. This guy is the embodiment of fight or flight. Aggressive cats will often turn to their side and fluff out their fur to look much more substantial and scarier than normal. If a cat turns its side to you and does this, they’re really spooked and might be willing to do something about it.
For ears, it’s really simple. If you see them flat and almost pasted to their head, they’re not happy with the situation.
This is a warning sign to back off. They might not necessarily be ready to attack, but they’re letting you know that what you’re doing is upsetting them. Keep in mind that this is a very different look from “airplane ears,” whereby the cat is just homing in on the location of a sound.
Generally speaking, it’s best not to photograph a distressed cat, even if they’re your own. It might be funny to get a novelty shot of your own cat hissing, but if it’s a client’s cat or a shelter animal, the client or shelter managers will be decidedly less than thrilled that you have upset their animal. Cats can be extremely emotional beings and if their only shelter shot is of them with their ears down, back arched, and hissing, they’re really not going to fare well when people are perusing the adoptable cats section online.
HOW TO PET A CAT
This seems like a no-brainer, right? But the sheer number of people who simply don’t know how to properly stroke their feline overlords is astonishing! Being able to scratch the right spots can be the determining factor between creating a mortal enemy and a bff4ever.
Consult the image:
I’d like to think you know how to pet your own cat, so I won’t go into a whole lot of detail here. You probably know where they like to be touched and where they don’t. These are broad guidelines, so don’t @ me if your cat loves to have their belly rubbed and toe beans massaged. That’s great, but don’t expect the neighborhood cat to follow the same rules. The undercarriage of a cat is where all their vital organs are, so it makes sense that they would be evolutionarily predisposed to have caution signs strewn all over it.
Also, unless you know the cat really, really well, never try to pick them up. That’s an excellent way to catch some fresh red DIY cattoos on your body, unless, of course, you’re into that sort of thing. Just imagine how you’d react if you were at home sitting on the couch, minding your own business, and a stranger entered your house and hoisted you up by your armpits. You’d probably have a strong inclination to bop them on the nose. Same applies here.
For unfamiliar cats, start by extending your whole hand, fingers facing down so that your knuckles are exposed, almost like an unclenched fist. If, for whatever reason, the cat is keen on biting you, this method will also work as a safeguard. They’ll have a much harder time finding purchase on your knuckles than if you were to extend your hand palm up, fingers spread. Let them smell your hands. They might even swipe their cheeks on your hands. If they’re into it after the first sniff, you can try your luck by extending a single finger for them to check out. This will often be met by their nose, similar to how cats introduce themselves to one another. I’m not going to tell you not to boop the nose, but if you do, know the risks. The temptation is real.
Now, let the cat smell you! Cats have an extraordinary olfactory system, and, as is customary with most animals, you need to pass a quick “background check” before they permit you to hang. After they catch a whiff, as long as they’re not growling or in an anxious or aggressive position, I move immediately for the top of the head or the cheeks. Cats have several scent glands where they not only release some of their own specific markers, but they absorb others’ scents, too. The areas we’re going for are here.
The cheeks are a great initial target because the cats are able to track your movements head-on and can very quickly give you corrective feedback. If you get some solid scritchins in on the face, try moving up to the top of their head, their ears, and then down the spine to just above the tail. For the right cat, this is prime real estate. Aside from those spots, everything else is a gamble. Again, I highly discourage you from exploring too much, especially if you’re dealing with an unfamiliar cat.
Lastly, if your cat is anything like mine, you may have noticed that they typically vacillate between berserk disco-dancing and sleeping so soundly that they often require a prodding finger to check their vitals. While either end of the spectrum can offer some great photos, we’re going to be seeking that middle ground where they’re alert and playful, but not climbing the walls. Our calm, patient disposition can go a long way to ensuring that the tone is kept in the optimal range for the shoot.
CATS DGAF (DON’T GIVE A FLUFF): AN EXPLORATION OF ALOOFNESS
So we’re in: The cat has accepted us as one of their own and is keen on pets, pats, and scritches. Their guard is down, but now their total indifference to the camera is showing. Do you know why cats have so many muscles in their ears? To better ignore us. No, seriously. Whereas dogs will sit, roll over, and bark on command, cats not only march to the beat of a different drum, but to an entirely different instrument. Fortunately, we can utilize their natural instincts to draw their attention. It’s entirely possible to get a cat to stay still, pay attention, and look longingly into the camera by using a couple of key techniques. These techniques require two things: toys and a creative voice box.
- As someone who has shared a TV screen with hundreds of cats over the years, I can tell you this: cats hate cameras. Amazingly, Andrew has mastered the art of making the camera disappear, and the result has always been portraits of honesty, vulnerability, and beauty. If you love your cat family members, you should pounce on Andrew's invitation to learn his craft, and capture the true majesty of their everyday moments.—Jackson Galaxy (Animal Planet's My Cat From Hell)
- Andrew's powerful feline portraiture and playful writing style come to life in this fun and comprehensive guide on cat photography! Not only does he cover the basics, but he dives into topics like taking photos of black cats, shy cats, kittens in motion, and even cats in a shelter setting. How to Take Awesome Photos of Cats is for every cat lover who wants to step up their game and start sharing crisp, stunning photos of their feline friends -- up close and purrsonal.—Hannah Shaw, aka Kitten Lady
- Andrew Marttila effortlessly demonstrates the power of capturing the perfect shot of your furry one. How to Take Awesome Photos of Cats is a go-to field guide on how to make your best furiend look their absolute cutest, even in the most challenging situations.—Cats of Instagram
- On Sale
- Jul 7, 2020
- Page Count
- 240 pages
- Running Press