I have owned only one breed of cat for the last 20 years, and it is the Birman Cat. Among other benefits they are particularly photogenic cats, but also because of the mix of very dark and very light fur, quite challenging to photograph well.
Rather than being about one particular image, this is going to include a range of images from when I first got my S3IS then to the 40D and then finally the 7D.
Cats move quickly when in the mood, and unless distracted tend to head towards the person with the camera, which can be frustrating. Backgrounds are often an issue. Key is lighting, and particularly with these cats because they are a combination of lots of white fur, and the faces can be very dark brown, so contrast is an issue, along with either blown out highlights or shadows (shown in the image below)
What have I learned?
Photographing animals is difficult, particularly if they are your pets. The best way to get a good shot is by lying on the ground with a telezoom. However if the animals aren’t sufficiently distracted, you end up being smooched up close by your furry target, and no images to show for it.
I pick a day that has high but bright overcast cloud. Enough light but not too bright or harsh shadows. If you can, use a handler to distract the cats (and help get good poses) or food works quite well.
For the Birman with the dark face, be prepared to use a fill flash to bring out the shadow details if the light is not at the right angle. DOF is important as the faces are also very 3D and you need to get as much as you can sharp. Most people say that if the eyes are sharp its OK but I tend not to think that with cats as they have small faces. For a big dog or a horse, a nose out of focus is to be expected.
Patience is a key thing with photographing animals, especially if you are after a particular shot. However sometimes you get that one ‘moment’ when all you can do is click and hope you get something good
Details also matter, if you have a cat in a serene frame of mind, then macro can give you some interesting opportunities
The trick to get a good shot, is as far as I have been able to establish from personal trial and experience:
- have your camera ready for those ‘moment’ shots
- know your cat, how they think and function, and plan a shoot around their mood if the weather outside is cooperating
- be patient, patient, patient
- have a cat wrangling assistant if at all possible to dangle bits of string as distractions and to get faces looking in the direction you want
- plan the shoot where distractions are minimal and use DOF to your advantage
- use a long zoom to give yourself room to manoeveur, and to bring the subject out from the background
- lie on the ground as low as you can get to get an intimate angles (and be convenient for smooches)
- with Birmans and the dark faces, work the angles to get good light, use fill flash if need be
This shot is a good example of many of these factors, Sky was sitting outside my bedroom window in an area that is quite well shaded, meowing for attention. I stuck my head out the window and he sat there looking up at me, so I grabbed the camera, framed up the image and snapped with the trusty S3IS.
The background is poor, being overexposed on the top corner, but it is out of focus. I cannot remember if the flash was used, you can see the reflections of the windows in his eyes. His coat tonings are good due to the shaded light and you can see his lovely eye colour. His face is sharp and in focus, I have possibly cropped it a little tightly.
But sometimes you just have just the one opportunity, this was taken when I knew little about photography and was just a snapper, the camera was on auto, but I still ended up with a memorable image.
With better kit and more experience, hopefully my images have improved. What do you think?