By Kath Guellard
Most cats are natural posers – or should that be poseurs – and will lap up the extra attention from an admiring photographer, provided that they are in the right mood.
The golden rule is to keep your distance initially and to telephoto in. I find that 10 feet away is about right. It’s important to begin shooting quickly while your subject is still trying to figure out whether you’re using a Nikon. Any closer and he/she will instantly decide either (a) to run forward in friendly greeting; otherwise (b) just to – vamoose!
Window sills – with the cat snug inside and the photographer out in the cold – make excellent locations because the window pane helps the subject to stay put. Remember to clean the glass first – that will also keep him/her interested. Windows are also great for providing your images with ready-made frames!
Apart from the window setting, cats don’t much care for being placed in shots. If you are hoping to catch some interesting interaction with particular props or artefacts, it is best to set these up, together with your camera, well out of view of the cat. Most cats are naturally curious about new objects in their environment, but only for as long as it takes to update their personal ‘cat-nav’ – which is pretty quick!
If you want a nice plain background, most cats will be unable to resist sitting on a comfy rug (in just the right colour to compliment their fur). On the other hand, many cats are inclined to test out the sitting properties of virtually any bag, box, magazine etc that appears before them– just so long as they come up with the idea first!
I have experimented with strategically placed ‘treats’ to encourage more ‘spontaneous’ behaviour, but have had better results with catnip spray (reputed to elicit some sort reaction from 80% of cats). This has the advantage of leaving no visible traces which might otherwise need ‘cloning out’ in Photoshop!
For the purpose of adding a little more gravitas and technical expertise to this article I recently interviewed Professor Cat:
Professor, is there any advice you’d like to add for the benefit of our readers?
Ah, indeed! The secret of capturing great shots is much like catching mice: first you must get onto the same wavelength as your…er ‘subject’; then put in many patient hours of watching and waiting…
And when you are ready to – as it were – pounce, Professor?
Most important: not to use the flash!
You mean, to avoid ‘red-eye’, Professor?
No, no! The correct term for us cats is ‘eye-shine’: green, yellow, blue or white. Only you humans (and a few squinty Siamese) get the red-eye!
Can you explain that a bit further, Professor?
Of course! Only we excellent night hunters possess the retro-reflective tapetum behind our retinas. The colour of the tapetum varies in different animals: hence the range of colours. The phenomenon of eye-shine occurs more readily than red-eye from the retina, and is not so easy to correct.
I see….Do you have any other thoughts, Professor?
Yes. Watch out for ‘whisker shake’.
Whisker shake! What on earth is that?
Well, some of my feline colleagues like to show off how they can twitch their whiskers while keeping a totally straight face for the photographer.
Is that really an issue, Professor?
Only for the purist, I suppose. Some would claim that blurry whiskers can look quite ‘arty’.
Finally, Professor Cat, can you give us your views on manipulating feline images in say, Photoshop?
Well of course, I’m of the Old School. There are far too many kittens doing silly things on the Internet these days. As for Photoshop, what I always say is: Think claws.
CLAWS, Professor ?
Yes indeed! A little bit of extra ‘sharpening’ never hurt anybody!
Thank you very much for those invaluable tips, Professor Cat