Last week, our friends from the Daily Pip said in the comments, “Although I am OK at photographing our dog Ruby, I can never seem to get good shots of the cats. Any basic tips you would like to send my way, I would appreciate.”
I don’t consider myself much of a photographer, but I’ve taken a ton of photos of my cats and cat-related things for this site. My knowledge is your knowledge, so this is the start of a two-part series on cat photography tips.
Today’s post is all about my number one tip for better cat photos:
Have enough light for your camera
This is the most important thing about better photos of your cat, especially if you have a black or dark-colored cat. Ashton’s thickly marbled sides show up as a nearly-black blob without sufficient light, so I think of this every time I get out the camera.
I wish I could give a yardstick of exactly how much is enough, but it really depends on what kind of camera you’re using. Different cameras need different amounts of light to get a good image. If you don’t have enough light, photos look grainy because your camera’s sensor starts to group pixels together together to try to capture more light. Generally speaking, more expensive cameras have bigger sensors, which are better at gathering light, so they give less grainy images. In the examples below, the photo on the left was taken with an iPad Mini 2 and the photo on the right was taken with a Nikon D5300.
You can see there’s a lot more grain on the image on the left, especially on the wall where the color doesn’t appear uniform as it does on the photo on the right. In better-lit photos, the grain is much less noticeable.
You may be able to compensate for the lack of light if you have a camera that has a setting specifically for low light or by manually raising the ISO, but you’re better off just making sure you have enough light to begin with. Do a little experimenting to see how much light your camera needs before your photos start to look grainy.
Now, where can you get that much light for photos of your cat? This is one way that photographing dogs is probably easier, since dogs are often outside in abundant, natural light. If you’re trying to take a picture of an indoor cat, you have to rely on the light in your house. There’s a reason why nearly every photo you see on my blog is taken in one room of my house: I live in a cave. Well, not really, but my house has very little natural light except in one room, so that’s the room where photos happen.
Why natural light? Your camera has a built-in flash, why not use it? Two words: red eye. (Though with most cats, it isn’t red at all!) With their ability to see better in the dark than you or I, a cat’s pupils can open up and accept a lot more light. They also reflect back a lot more light than yours or mine when the flash hits them. If you must use a flash, having it turned away from your subject so that it flashes at the ceiling or wall will let it spread out and not turn your kitty eyes into something that would do the basement cat proud.
Another reason I prefer not to use a flash is that most flashes have a “pre-flash” that the camera uses to read the available light and figure out how to expose the image. Sometimes the pre-flash is so close to the flash itself that you wouldn’t notice it, but cats often do. They close their eyes in reaction to the pre-flash and all you get are photos of cats with closed eyes.
This is Pierre’s pre-flash face:
Other lighting options
You can also get stationary lights to help illuminate things for photography. I have an inexpensive set, which helps for objects that are close to the lamps. They aren’t really a substitute for natural light. For one thing, Ashton is afraid of them, even if I set them up ahead of time.
Even worse, since they have to be fairly close to the subject to spread much light onto it, I have to move them closer and closer to the cats, who eventually decide that Ashton was right, the lights are scary. They might be a better solution for you, so it’s good to know the option is out there.
Put the light in the right place
Plenty of light won’t help you if it’s in the wrong place. You want the light behind you, not behind the cat. If you take a photo with the cat sitting between you and the light source, you’re going to be a silhouette, not a detailed image of your cat.
This poses a problem for those of us with indoor cats because their favorite places are usually windowsills, which by default cause this backlighting problem. You can solve it by moving to the side of the window and shooting photos parallel to the wall. This allows your camera to capture the light against your cat rather than just seeing the light that shines around your cat.
That gives you some ideas about things you can do to improve your cat photography with light. Join us Tuesday when our Topical Thursday is on a special day of the week due to the holidays for part two of this series.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means the cats get a small commission for their cat treat fund if you purchase after clicking the link on this page.