Getting a nice-looking cat portrait is tough. Most shelters don't have an outdoor cat area, so a lot of shelter cat photos tend to be taken in cages. Below are my tips for getting a nice, well-lit cat photo with limited resources, even if you have to take them in a cage. These photos can be taken in pretty much any shelter. I never use a flash or artificial lighting. All you need is one window to light your portrait.
- Try to use a quiet, empty room for photos, preferably with at least one window. It's always better than a cage.
- Always make sure the cat is facing the window. Depending on how the room is set up, the window can even be to the side of the cat. This lights up their face and eyes. If you have to work in a cage, try to get the cat to look towards the closest window.
- Use a large aperture (like f/1.8), especially if the cat is in a cage. This will put a sharp focus on the cat's face, and blur the cage so it doesn't stand out much.
- Have someone dangle a cat toy just above your camera to get the cat to look up and alert. If they don't respond to toys have a helper pet/scratch the cat and take their hand away right when you're ready to snap the photo. I'll usually count to three so they know when to move their hand, and they should always move their hand above the camera. This usually gets a nice alert expression with the cat looking up towards the hand (and your camera). You can also use a crinkly bag or the sound of a can of food opening to get their attention. The important thing is to coordinate this action with the camera snap so you're ready to get the picture.
- If the cat is nervous about being out of their cage, try a heating pad. Put it under a nice-looking blanket for pictures. If you don't have a heating pad handy, throw your blanket/backdrop in a dryer to warm it up and make it inviting for the cat to lay on. I rarely have a cat that doesn't respond to a nice warm spot to snuggle in.
Learning to shoot in Manual mode is so important, especially when taking pictures of cats and dogs. In shelters, you don't always have the option of choosing a great location for photo sessions. You have to work with what they have, and the ability to quickly change your camera settings to fit the situation is essential. If you can spend a day to learn f-stop, ISO, shutter speed, and how to use them together, you'll see a huge difference in the quality of your photos. I'll try to cover these in a future post!