Published March 22, 2013
The Internet, as we all know, is primarily a medium for viewing cat photos. Most recently, Grumpy Cat, who lives with her owner in Arizona and whose real name is Tardar Sauce, has become the reigning queen of Lolcat memes thanks to her signature frown.
Maybe you've got a cat with personality or amazing acrobatic skills. All you need is one great photo; but that can be tough to get. Cats are not known for their cooperative natures.
"They're not like dogs," Tonya Schabacker, the photographer behind Tonya Pet Photography, told us. She's shot for Whole Foods, TEEN magazine and Kraft Foods. "Cats don't listen."
However, Schabacker shared some tips that could help pet owners snag captivating photos of their cats. First off, prepare to take a lot of photos before you get one that's Internet-worthy.
"Most of those pictures happened by accident," she said about the best photos. "It's the thing that happened in between what was planned."
Turn off the flash and get as much natural light as possible into the area where you will shoot. This is especially important when photographing black cats, which can appear gray when a flash is used. In the studio, Schabacker uses strobes, but for those shooting at home, the sun is the best light source.
If you're using a DSLR camera, set a wide aperture (f2.8 or lower) to soften or blur the background and make the foreground (your cat) sharp. You can get a similar effect when editing on your smartphone. For instance, use the blur tool in Instagram for what professionals call shallow depth of field.
Clear the set
Before you start shooting, clear the area of clutter; that means choosing a place with blank walls and little furniture (you will blur them out, anyway). And get rid of the empty Coke cans or any other objects that could distract from your cat (or distract your cat). Make the space as clean, open and simple as you can, Schabacker said.
You'll get better photos if you get down on your cat's level. "Lay there in front of the cat and shoot into its face," Schabacker said. Cats can have a surprising variety of expressions, from Grumpy Cat's frown to Lil Bub's forever-startled look (thanks to her unusually large eyes).
Also, find the thing that you love about your cat, the one trait that makes it unique, like a crooked ear or unusual markings, and make sure you capture that feature in the photo. "Those are the little things that make a picture," she said.
To get a cat to be absolutely still, make a moderately loud sound, for example by dropping a book. Your cat will freeze for just a moment, so be ready to press that shutter button.
Play into your cat's natural inclinations. Ceiling Cat, the picture of a curious cat peeking through a cutout in the ceiling, is considered the cat that started the lolcat craze back in 2003 when the picture was first posted. It later became a meme in 2006. The trick is to create a "trap" that your cat will find irresistible and in which you can get a good shot.
If you want to take an action shot, you'll need to use a treat or toy. You could throw a ball, dangle a string or shake a bell (this is where a partner comes in handy). If you can keep the toy out of the shot, (or edit it out later), you're likely to get one of those mid-air shots that have been so popular online.
But if your cat is skittish, you may have the best results when your pet is settling down for a nap or grooming. Sleepy Shironeko, aka Basket Cat, has become Internet-famous for balancing objects on his head — while catnapping. [See also: Cats Drink with Delicate Balance (VIDEO)]
Editing is a critical step for professional photographers and one that amateurs should do as well.
"You're not done when the photos come out of the camera," Schabacker said. "Everyone has access to basic editing tools like iPhoto and should use them." She suggested people adjust the brightness, contrast and white balance.
But the most important part of editing is cropping. For most cat pictures, it's the facial expression that captures the attention of cat-loving Internet users, so you may want to crop away much of the area around its face. And clean up your cat with tools designed to erase things like dirt smudges, but don't take editing too far. An obviously Photoshopped picture will likely be spurned.
There are many online, free editors, but since we're talking about cats, you might try Photocat. It includes all the basics, plus blemish removal (an easier alternative to cloning) and more than 30 filters, 11 of which are for portraits. They work as well on cats as on humans. Photocat is available for free at photocat.com and as a $0.99 iPhone app in the App Store.