How to Photograph Cats

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure for more info.

Cats are some of the most photogenic creatures on the ENTIRE PLANET.

A great photograph of a frazzled, grumpy cat.
Image source: Wikipedia

Well, not that one. But you know what I mean.

Effortlessly gorgeous.

So why is it so hard to take good pictures of our cats? In this post, I will show you how to take incredible pictures of your cat. Some of these tips may sound obvious but I promise: if you put a little work into each step, you will have AMAZING images of your cat or kittens. And whether these kitties are your own forever pets or they are foster animals who need marketing material, the world alway benefits from more fabulous pictures of cats.

A beautiful photograph of a stunning long-haired orange cat.
We all need more of this in our lives.

Cat photography basics, step-by-step

First, clean your cat

This note applies more to kittens than to adult cats, since adult cats are generally self-cleaning entities. But if you have a kitten with food smudges on his face or paws, or a cat with some eye goop, grab a damp towel and a dry towel (paper towels work fine). Give the dirty parts of the kitty a light damp scrub – think “gentle massage” – and follow with a rub down with the dry towel. I like to give kittens a quick full-body rub just to fluff up their baby fur. It sounds simple but it works wonders for shining your rough-and-tumble kitty up and getting her photo-ready.

A highly photogenic cat is licking its paw.
All clean and ready for a photoshoot!

Find a location with indirect natural light

Identify the areas of your home (let’s be real, your cat’s home) that receive natural light through the windows. You’re looking for light that isn’t direct sunlight that your cat might like to sunbathe in. Direct sunlight produces strong shadows, which can be very difficult to photograph well. Light that is diffused gently through the windows, or through sheer curtains, or through clouds on a bright cloudy day, will produce beautiful, softly lit images of your cats. You can also use artificial photography lighting, but it may be difficult to get your cat to pose in the brightly-lit area. A window with light from a bright, slightly cloudy day is basically a ring light for your cat.

Eddie the kitten is glowing as a result of the soft window lighting and his fabulous smize.

Tidy up

Straighten up your photoshoot area. Take a few pictures of it, with or without your cat present, and check out what you can see in the background of the photo. Less is more, so move any knickknacks, pencils, post-its, mugs, or cat nail clippers to another space. If you want, put a pretty blanket or sheet down to bring the background together. Just make sure the blanket is neither too colorful or too bland. Your pictures will be better if it’s not 100% beige sheet background + cat. You’ll also want a few props available for your cat to interact with. A scratching post is great for those stretchy, claws-out photographs we all love. Grab a handful of your cutest cat toys, and anything that will get your kitty to jump, lounge, or perform other photogenic feline functions (which is, almost all of them.)

A light orange cat with light green eyes is sitting on a blanket and gazing intensely just past the camera.
A clean cat, a tidy space, a neutral blanket: this photo is checking all the great cat photo boxes!

Your camera

If you have a nice camera, you probably already know how to use it to take incredible photos, so you’re probably not even reading this article. But, real talk for a second: your smart phone is likely a better camera than professionals used 30 years ago. And the easiest thing you can do to take stellar photos is to clean your lens. Grab a clean bit of soft cloth (your shirt will probably work in a pinch) and wipe any smudges off the lens part of your camera phone. Just like cleaning your sunglasses, your camera will be able to see SO much better, and your pictures will be much more crips.

Then, be sure to turn the flash off. You’re taking photos in a well-lit area, so if the flash goes off, it will only create unattractive shadows. The last thing to be aware of is the focus of your camera lens. On most smartphones, you can tap different parts of the image on the screen to change focus or light adjustment. When you’re taking photos, your cat will likely be moving around, so keep an eye on the focus and lighting on your screen, and adjust it so that you can always see your subject (cat) best.

This kitten is adorable on camera and off.

Action!

Lure your cat into your designated space at a bright time of day with whatever means necessary (food, treats, catnip, etc). Take photos from all different angles, including above and below your cat. Getting down at your cat’s level or slightly below will give you the best close-up shots. Try to get pictures of your cat facing the light source, which means you’ll need to be right next to the light source (say a window) pointing (in at your cat), or down are your cat. Capture different angles of your cat’s face. Use the “burst” feature on many camera phones, and take many pictures and delete the blurry ones later.

Foster cat Sam is ready for his close-up!

Here is a quick summary:

Taking great photos of your cat

  1. Make sure your cat is clean and photo-ready.
  2. Find a location with indirect natural light.
  3. Tidy up your photoshoot area and bring in props or toys.
  4. Clean your camera lens.
  5. Attract your cat with toys, food, or catnip. Get down level with your cat and snap lots of photos while your cat eats, plays, bathes, and stretches.
This kitty is sleeping on its back in a highly photogenic manner.
Getting down level with your cat helps a lot with taking engaging photos.

For more information

If you’d like a deeper dive on feline photography, grab this great book on the subject.

In this lighthearted guide, Andrew Marttila walks you through every step of cat photography not only with your phone but with a professional camera setup. Accessible to amateur photographers, this book is detailed enough for professional photographers with tips for lens choices, focal length considerations, and more. He even has suggestions for themed photoshoots to do with your cats. And of course, the book is filled to the brim with stunning photos of kittens and cats.

Cat video tips

As a note, most of these tips also apply to taking videos of your cats. However, we all know that the best videos of cats are often unprompted. But if you remember a few of the tips above, you’ll elevate the quality of your video. By keeping lighting, a clean camera lens, and clutter in your photo shot in mind, you’ll get more laughs and “aw”s from friends, family, and followers.

Horizontal vs Vertical video footage

One addition note about videos: Consider what platform the videos are for. If you’re planning to share the video of your cat on Instagram, you probably want a vertical video (holding your phone like you’re talking on the phone). If you’d like to share the video on a platform like Youtube, you’ll want to hold the phone sideways to better fit that format. If you’re sending the video directly to family and friends, use whatever orientation captures the shot best.

A photograph of a cat mid-meow with an open mouth and opinionated eyes.
To get action shots, take many photographs while your cat is moving. You can sort the clearer ones from the blurry ones later.
Two tabby
These kittens fell asleep near a bright window, making for an excellent photo opportunity.
It's easy to take great pictures of tabby cats like this, especially when they fall asleep near good lighting with their tongue sticking out.
This sweet kitten fell asleep near a window and next to a nice neutral pillow. And even better, he had his tongue sticking out in the most adorable, photogenic manner.
This kitten is getting his photo taken while playing in a basket.
Placing a cute basket or box in your photo area is a sure way to get some fun, silly photos.
A nap on a soft blanket near a light source is great opportunity to photograph your cat.
A big beautiful orange cat is yawning hugely during a photograph.
Soft lighting? Check! Cats look much cuter while yawning than people do.
This white cat is standing up against a scratching post while having her photo taken.
A scratching post offers the opportunity of action shots of stretching, scratching, playing, and posing around the post.
Two tabby cats snuggling in a bright window, which provides great lighting for the photograph.
Soft window lighting will make your cats look beautiful in photos.
This cat is lounging in natural light.
This cat is cute and shiny in the natural light.
A torbie kitten looks wide-eyed to the right of the camera.
Capture your cat’s face from different angles to get a wide variety of shots.

Leave a Reply