How to Photograph a Cat

Get Ready:

First off, you’re going to need a cat.

Now, in my experience there’s usually loads of them lying around.  Check under your feet – that’s where they usually are.

There’s one now and it must be new – it’s still in the box.

If you don’t have a cat at home, perhaps consider getting one. Sure, it’s an 18 year or so commitment but think of the pictures you’ll make together!

Awwwww!   Come on.  You know you want one……

Now, if I am trying to take a picture of a cat in a particular spot, I set everything up and take a few pictures of the “stand in” before the live cat comes into play.  This way I can adjust lighting, white balance and see what the background looks like so I don’t waste the diva’s time on set.

I really just enjoy taking pictures of the stand in because it’s probably the last time during the photo shoot that I will see a cat sitting completely still, looking straight at the camera and smiling.

The Light:

We’ve all seen pictures like this;

Now unless your cat is a minion of Satan, these eyes are a result of a flash directed straight at the subject, as with a “point and shoot” camera.  Even if you can bounce it, diffuse it or set it off remotely in another part of the room, turn off your flash!!!!!

Remember you are dealing with critters that are already questioning your motives and are uncomfortable and suspicious, if not downright afraid.  Don’t make it worse.

Window light is beautiful and all you need for lovely portraits;

Or, go outside.  For the best lighting, use early morning or that golden late afternoon sunlight.

Cameras and phones now are so much better at dealing with low light conditions than they used to be.  Increase your ISO setting or open up your aperture to let in more light if you can.


The eyes have it!  Whatever else is going on, make sure those beautiful eyes are in sharp focus.  If your camera or phone focuses automatically, you may find the nose, as it’s closest to the camera, is in sharp focus and the eyes are not.  Put the focal point where you want it or focus manually (if you have the capability.)

It’s all about the eyes!


We see them every day and we look down on them.  Cats, in turn, often look down on us but that’s a different story.  Photos are much more effective if you change that viewpoint and get down to their level.  Get eye to eye.  Either raise them up to a table or you get flat on the floor.  See the world from their point of view.  These pictures will be far more engaging for the viewer.  Plus, you get some interesting facial expressions from cats who are wondering what you’re doing on the floor.  (Probably wondering who is going to feed them in the event of your death.)

Experiment with points of view.

Rules are meant to be broken and obviously you can take pictures from above.  Do remember, however, it is not nice to sneak up to someone when they are asleep and take a very unflattering picture from a nasty angle.  I’m talking cats and humans here people!


One of the most important things in all photography is to pay attention to the background.  There is nothing like taking a gorgeous portrait only to find out later that it looks as if a tree, telephone pole, lamp, or someone’s fingers making a v-sign, is growing out of the top of the subject’s head.  Even if you blur the background with a shallow depth of field, this can still be a problem, as can big bright blobs of distracting colour or patches of bright sunlight.  I try to use a blanket or plain backdrop for cat portraits.  Those faces are so beautiful, they deserve to be the focus.  (As any cat will tell you.)

Of course you can use the background for context about the cat’s world.  In that case, step back and include more of the background.

Or step in really close.

Or just find different ways of framing those furry little faces.

Use the wall.  Use the floor.  Just don’t use a forest of dining room table legs that has nothing to do with anything.

If you don’t like the background, change it.  Drop something like a piece of cloth or scarf down behind the scene.

This is just a pillow I stuffed down behind him.


You need help.  I am not kidding.  Do you have a friend who owes you a favour? A partner who will be glad to help, at least until the job requirements are explained?  Now is the time to call them.  Since a photographer is not an octopus, you need all the additional hands you can get.  Here is an example of a picture you will never get if you are flying solo.

The wrangler for this photo shoot had the patience of a saint as well as quick reflexes.  To get them all in the basket for the shot, and all looking roughly in the same direction took skill!  The fact that none of the kittens has their eyes shut is luck.  You need both.

If you get the feeling that all hell is going to break loose in a minute, you’re not the only one.  Which brings me to the next tip.


This is not a smile.

If you’re a cat person, you will be able to read the language.  Just like supermodels, they have their limits.  If you’re taking pictures of your own cat, you will know when you are testing someone’s patience.  Don’t push.  If this stops being fun for you or for your cat, pack it in and go for a nap (the cat) or a glass of wine (the photographer.)  You’ll both be there another day, in another mood.   Watch for tell-tale signs of impatience like a twitching tail, ears pointing backwards or teeth embedded in your hand.

Cats are fairly predictable. If you feed treats throughout the entire photo session (which you are required to do as per the standard cat modelling contract), you know you are going to get pictures like this;

If you bore the pants off your cat, you will get a picture like this:

Now we know these cats are not laughing, yelling or giving somebody the raspberry, but they are funny and cute shots and make great greeting cards.  (Now that I think about it, I think he was giving me the raspberry!)

Miscellaneous Tips:

Let your cat be a cat.  Have your camera ready. We all know they do the cutest and strangest things.  Let the cat choose the place and activity and photograph them just being themselves.

Or even leave your camera around and let her take selfies.  (You know they get up to some strange stuff at night.)

Have a full battery and lots of memory space for pictures.   Take hundreds of pictures.  Memory is cheap.  Remember that whenever you see an amazing cat picture, you are not seeing the other 99 shots that were complete crap taken at the same time.

Remember that when you are getting your equipment ready, kitty is behind the sofa getting his equipment ready!

Nail trims are a good thing but don’t do them the same day as the photo shoot.  That is called “pushing your luck.”

Also, all cats are not deaf.  They just seem that way when you’re trying to get their attention.

And sometimes, just sometimes, right out of the blue, they will look you in the eyes and strike the perfect pose!

Invariably, however, this only happens when your camera battery has just died.

Get creative.  There are lots of places and situations that lend themselves to interesting pictures.  Confer with your cat.  Chances are they will know what to do.  Make it into a game and have fun.

Regarding props.  In my experience, nearly all cats prefer to be photographed in the nude.

(Well, they’re not all quite as shameless as this.)

Also, keep in mind that most of them wear beautiful fur coats.

Even so, you may be tempted to dress them up.

Be careful.

This is where you really have to go slow.  When I say “go slow” I mean with persuading your cat that acting is an honorable profession.  You do, however have to go really fast when the props come out.  Be ready.

I had about a nanosecond to get this shot;

Be patient and if these photo sessions turn out to be fun for you and the cat, you could possibly end up, in time, with a total ham who loved dressing up and couldn’t wait for the photo equipment to come out.  I did.  Basil was a cat in a million and we had a blast over the years putting together stuff like this;

So, in summary, remember to bring your:

  • camera with lots of memory
  • a light source other than flash
  • a backdrop of some sort
  • lots of treats
  • a wrangler
  • a toy on a long wand
  • something that squeaks or crinkles
  • knee pads
  • bandaids
  • catnip and wine (for later)
  • all your patience
  • a sense of humour
  • but mostly

Of course, this blog is completely non-technical as so many people have camera phones.  I hope it is not totally useless, however.  I hope I have actually passed on a tip or two, or, better yet, inspired you and your cat to have some fun together.

Written by Liz McGill