Cat photography: four simple steps to take your skills to the next level
Dr Keefe Tay BVSc
Pet Photographer, Furry Munchkins Pet Photography
Pop quiz. Which of these do you agree with?
The hardest part about taking photos of my cat is:
1. They will NEVER look at the camera.
2. They don’t stop moving.
3. They run away or stop what they’re doing when I take out my phone or camera.
4. I don’t have enough patience.
If you agreed with any of the first three statements, the following tips will definitely help you take better pictures of your cat. If you agreed with statement number four, you’ll need to get in touch with someone else to help you!
1. Get down low or put them up high
Always try to get onto the same eye level as your cat. This either means coming down to where they are or putting them up high, for example, putting them on a cat scratching post or table. This makes an almost instantaneous difference. Your cat will pop out as the main focus of your photos.
2. Play to your cat’s motivations
One of the questions I’m asked most often is “how do you get cats to look at the camera?” I make it a point before every cat photo shoot to ask what most motivates your cat. I’ve had people tell me they love “food” or “toys”. Other people will say, “absolutely nothing”. If they love something, great! I’ll use it for our cat photo shoots.
I’ve found Dine creamy treats to be particularly helpful. I’d smear a tiny piece of wet treat on my hand. Let your cat smell and lick it, before bringing it up to your camera lens. This works for cats who love food, of course.
A bonus tip here: Hold off on giving your cat food a few hours before the photo shoot. Don’t starve your cat, but feed 30-40% less food in the morning. This will increase your chances of getting good photos.
Other times, I’ve used wand toys with bells to get the attention of cats. Once again, lift it above the camera lens (same for a smartphone). It takes knowing what your cat wants and working with that. For example, one of Frankie’s favourite things is playing with bubbles. We got our bubbles out during our photo shoot to capture these action shots and portraits of her.
3. Build a routine around cat photo shoots
Cats need routine in their life. Taking out your phone and putting it in front of their face, expecting them to model for you won’t work for most cats. It takes time and patience for them to get used to the camera/phone. Spend time associating the camera with something they like (whether it be play or food treats).
Next, find a time when your cat is most active and curious about new things. For example, my cats are usually very active before noon or after their dinner. You’ll catch them doing “zoomies” and checking new things out during that time.
If you’re after specific shots, for example, of your cat sitting or lying down on the couch, I recommend being mindful of when they do this and fit your photo shoots around their schedule. We know our cats are creatures of habit, so take advantage of knowing their habits to get great photos.
4.Go slow and be respectful
Cat photography cannot be rushed.
Always remain respectful of your cat. A scared or stressed-out cat will not let you get any photos of them. The key here is to make cat photo shoots fun! Playing with them while getting candid photos and rewarding them with lots of treats.
Start doing this five minutes a day, then going upwards to 10 minutes or longer. Taking many slow steps is important.
During my cat photo shoots (between one to two hours in length), I break up the photo shoot into several shorter parts. There will be at least five to six breaks to let cats and their humans rest.
If you are photographing a cat who doesn’t know you well, I’d spend the first 20-30 minutes sitting with them. Let them sniff you and check you out. Be gentle, patient, quiet and move slowly.
It’s going to take time getting to know a cat and their behaviour very well. The best way to do so is by talking to the cat mums and dads. They know their cats best – what they’re like during the day, what they’re most motivated by, what makes them feel safe.
Cats need a lot of time, patience, gentleness and respect in all things. But especially in cat photography. A cat who doesn’t trust you isn’t going to let you take pretty photos of them.
Dr Keefe Tay is a cat dad and veterinarian who’s worked as a vet in clinics around NSW but today focuses on photography and videography, of pets (as well as vets and their clinics). He is the owner and cat photographer at Furry Munchkins Pet Photography.
Want to see beautiful cat photographs & cat family stories?
Keefe’s latest book, Cats are Family Sydney is out now. It shares 40 heartfelt stories by cat parents in Sydney, celebrating the special bond with their cats.
The goal of the book is to show everyone that cats can be an integral part of the family. Dr Keefe Tay believes that if more people see cats as part of the family, fewer cats will be out on the streets. He has generously supported Cat Protection with a portion of the funds raised through the project, helping us to find loving families for more former street cats – thank you Dr Tay!
You can purchase the book here.
This article first appeared in Spring 2022 Cat Affairs magazine, Cat Protection’s members’ magazine. You can become a member of Cat Protection here.