Recently I had the pleasure of doing some photography for a pet rescue organisation. They wanted me to photograph several kittens and cats on the same day. This was a dream come true to me. Not only am I a photographer but I am a cat lover. I found this job a lot of fun yet very challenging.
You may have heard that pet photography is very challenging. It’s hard to think that photographing sweet little kittens could be very difficult. What is so difficult about this type of photography? It is the same thing that makes other types photography difficult; fast movement. Let’s discuss ways to overcome some of these common challenges.
If you are photographing kittens the first thing to understand is that you will be working with an unpredictable subject. It is very rare for a kitten to just sit and look at the camera. You must use prompts to direct your kitten without intimidation or fear. It is imperative to keep the kitten as relaxed as possible. A playful kitten is very hard to photograph. A relaxed kitten is ideal.
How can you relax a kitten? One of the ways that kittens relax is by letting them expend as much energy as possible. Once they start to tire then you will have a better chance of getting the photographs you want. You can ask someone to jingle a toy or blow a whistle over your shoulder so that the kitten looks like it’s looking in the direction of your lens. You can also give them a little bit of food and as soon as they pull their head up after eating, shoot the photo. Try to get them to look at the camera if possible. This can be difficult if they are still in play mode. This is why a say it’s better to photograph them when they are starting to relax.
If you would like a spontaneous playful photo then it might be at a good idea to let your kitten play. You can take some wonderfully spontaneous photos this way. You can take a photo of your kitten reaching up and playing with toy. You can also take a photo of your kitten being very interested in something. These spontaneous and candid photos work very well as an alternative to the standard portrait photo. You may find if you are unable to get a standard portrait photo of your kitten the spontaneous photo might be ideal. I have taken many spontaneous photos this way.
What are the right settings to use for kitten photography?
Many who have not mastered manual mode properly tend to shoot in semi-automatic settings. I do not believe you can get the right exposure when the camera dictates the settings for you. You are smarter than the camera. I always shoot in manual mode for absolutely everything. Kittens included.
Why is this? I want to have complete control over my aperture because I want to control my own depth of field. If you let the camera dictate your f-stop then you are leading the camera dictate your depth of field. I tend to use an aperture between F5 .6 and F8. (Occasionally F4 if kitty is very still and I can get close.) This allows me to have a reasonably short depth of field without focus problems.
I use a shutter speed of over 200th of a second. Your kitten can move very fast and you want to be able to capture the action without blur. If you are using the flash you will find that you do not need to worry about shutter speed. Flash will freeze the action at around 250th of a second. This is quite handy to work with because all you have to do then is set your aperture.
If you set your aperture to wide, like F2 .8 or F4, you may find sharpness eludes you. This may be because your kitten has moved out of the focal range and is no longer sharp. However, if you use a slightly small aperture you may find you do not have this problem.
Aperture and depth of field a closely linked. It is important that you get the right aperture for the distance from your subject. In other words bigger the aperture the close to your subject needs to be. Think about this when you are photographing your kittens.
What happens when you can’t use the flash?
Just before one of the shoots my flash decided to stop working. Thankfully I was using continuous lighting. I decided to take my flash off the camera. I then shot my photos at 6400 ISO, 200th of a second and F 7.1. I used a very high ISO to compensate for the soft lighting. I wanted to get as much light as I possibly could. I also wanted to use a high ISO so that I could use a fast shutter speed. Using and F stop of 7.1 enabled me to get some clear and sharp photos.
How to photograph kittens creatively
I took a combination of standard and candid yet playful photos. I decided to create a series of these photos in black-and-white. I call this my black-and-white kitten series.
Just remember the key to photographing kittens is light and movement. It is ideal to get as much light on the scene as possible. Window light is nice but you also need to light up the scene from the opposite side. You may want to use reflectors but it may distract the kittens. Alternatively you may want to bounce the flash off the ceiling as I did. (Before my flash stopped working.)
Bounced flash is best. It is also helpful to have a white card on top of your flash. This white card helps to direct the light from the ceiling down onto your subject. It is not good to blast your kitten with flash. The flash may hurt their eyes and frightened them.
Post processing your kitten photos in Photoshop
One thing you may find is that your colour can appear washed out. The camera may not pick up the lovely colours and features in the kittens fur as you would like. it’s important to set your custom white balance with a grey card to avoid this problem. If you do not have a great card, then try adjusting your white balance in Camera Raw in your post processing time. You may also want to add a little colour contrast too. You can do this in Photoshop using the levels tool. Bring the white and black sliders into the middle by just a small amount and you will see a noticeable change in your photos colour contrast.
You need to be spontaneous and flexible when you photographing your kittens. Always get on the ground and shoot from a low angle. This will help you focus on the eyes. Be prepared to move about with your kitten. It is important to give them encouragement along the way. After you photograph them give them a little treat. Animals know when they are appreciated.
Photographing kittens requires technical skill and good lighting. It also requires the photographer to be calm and relaxed. Some days are better than others. Sometimes your kittens are not afraid of the camera. They will look at the camera and even come up and sniff your lens. This is a great shot if you can get it. If you are working with frightened kittens then be very gentle and very patient.
Photographing kittens is a fun and challenging experience. Always treat your animals with utmost respect and love at all times. A sensitive creatures and need to be treated with respect.
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