Today we would like to introduce you to the book How to Take Beautiful Pictures of Your Cat by Rick Reichenbach.
If you are still not convinced we would highly suggest to check out the excerpt of the book which can be found at the bottom of this post.
Now on to the giveaway! Two lucky readers can win a copy of the book. If you are based in the US this will be a print copy while for those of you abroad it will be a Kindle copy.
And soon you’ll be able to take photos such as this one yourself
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Book Extract Below.
But Cats Are Hard To Photograph
Yes, it’s a rare cat that will sit still while you tilt her head just so or arrange her torso in a regal stance. If your cat is anything like mine, by the time you raise the viewfinder to your eye, your companion will have rolled into a less interesting position or trotted out of the room completely.
Because cats wont sit still or hold a pose doesn’t mean they are difficult to photograph. Rather, it suggests that you should understand your cat and turn her habits to your photographic advantage.
The easiest way to take great images of your cat is to catch her doing something interesting when you are ready to take a picture. All that’s required is familiarity with your cat’s daily routine, a little advance preparation and a bit of patience. Some luck doesn’t hurt either. Which brings us to a few tips.
Tip: Be prepared; keep your camera out and ready to go
You never know when your cat will surprise you with a remarkable pose or beautiful expression. If you have to hunt for your camera, most likely you’ll miss the moment. So be prepared. It’s also a good idea to keep the lens cap off and the camera ready to go with the settings you typically use to photograph your cat.
Tip: Take lots of pictures
Cat photography is largely a game of percentages. The more pictures you take, the better your chances of capturing that perfect moment when your cat steps into beautiful light and shares an enchanting expression. Shoot a lot of pictures. Review the results and strive to understand what went right and what didn’t. With practice, you will improve your percentage of keepers.
Tip: Clicker train your cat
If you want to train your cats, consider Clicker Training. It’s a simple technique to teach your cat tricks or extinguish unwanted or dangerous behaviors. For example, Archie likes to get underfoot in the kitchen. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve almost tripped over him. Now he’s clicker trained to sit on a stool when I’m busy cooking dinner. Karen Pryor’s book, Getting Started: Clicker Training for Cats provides a great introduction to the method. Clicker Training is fun; most cats enjoy it – mine sure do.
Turning Your Cat’s Habits to Your Advantage
Cats crave routine. Predictability provides cats a needed sense of safety and security, a warm feeling that all is well in their world and that they are in control. No doubt, you’ve noticed the patterns your cat follows throughout the day.
Here’s our typical routine. Archie wakes me up at 6am. After breakfast, he and Lucy lounge by one of the windows in the laundry room. They sprawl for a few hours and then Archie joins me in my office, while Lucy climbs the cat tree in the bedroom and bird watches thru the window. Throughout the day, she roams from window to window following the arc of the sun and chasing the always-elusive birds. Archie tends to stay close by, trotting along side when I venture from the office.
After dinner, they crawl up on one of the couches in the TV room and hang out with me till bedtime. They follow this pattern almost every day, unless some random event like a visitor, a thunderstorm or a stray dog in the backyard disrupts their habits. And if a bug gets loose in the house, all bets are off. The opportunity to chase and catch a live critter trumps everything.
If you aren’t familiar with your cat’s routine, spend some time observing his behavior. Pay special attention to the timeframes when you are available to take pictures, maybe after dinner or perhaps Saturday afternoons – whenever you generally have free time. Look for times and locations that afford bright light such as near a window or under a skylight.
Not only do cats crave routine, they want their caretaker to embrace a schedule as well. Following a reliable timetable builds confidence and helps your cat relax. Consistency fosters predictability.
If you find that your cat doesn’t seem to follow a pattern, take a moment to reflect on your own schedule. Do you feed your cat and play with him at the same times every day? If not, try to bring more consistency to your daily routine. After a week or two, you will probably find that your cat has settled into a more predictable pattern.
One last point – cats’ routines aren’t static; they evolve over time. The seasons, changes in their environment or your schedule influence their habits. And sometimes cats just feel like doing something different. They’re cats. If you find your companion isn’t where he used to be at a particular time, he may have developed a new schedule. Keep an eye out.
Awareness of your cat’s habits affords the opportunity to plan and prepare for a photography session. A little advance preparation increases your chances of capturing a memorable photograph.
For example, if I want to photograph Lucy in natural light (sunlight), I typically choose the laundry room in the morning when she is stretched out on the exercise machine or the dining room in late afternoon while she bird watches. If I want to make a portrait of Lucy with flash, I might select the TV room in the evening where she typically lounges on the couch.
I don’t mean to suggest that these are the only times and places I photograph Lucy – far from it. But planning a photography session around her schedule offers a high probability of capturing a good image. Knowing where Lucy will be, allows me to prepare the scene and take test shots in advance so that everything is ready when she arrives. Investing only a few minutes to stage the location pays dividends in more pleasing photographs.
The following provides an overview of the process. Future chapters explore the concepts in greater detail.
Prepare the Scene
Once you have selected a location, spend some time cleaning up the scene. Temporarily rearrange the room if necessary to minimize distractions. If you plan to shoot low enough to show the floor, vacuum or sweep. You don’t want any dirt, cat hair or other debris visible in the final image. Yuck.
Take Test Shots
Take test shots to establish the proper exposure and evaluate the composition before your cat arrives. I use stuffed animals as surrogates for Archie and Lucy to help assess the lighting and exposure. I have one that is about the color of my orange tabby Archie and a black one for Lucy. But you can use anything that is about the size and color of your cat.
Wait for Your Cat
Once you have prepared the scene and established the right camera settings, all that’s left is to wait for your cat. When she arrives, pick up your camera and start shooting.
Example One: Portrait of Lucy
I shot Image 4 in the laundry/exercise room where Lucy likes to soak up the morning sunlight. Before feeding the cats breakfast, I draped fabric over the seat of the exercise machine, holding it in place with a few spring clamps. I set Lucy’s stand-in on the seat and took test pictures until I was satisfied with the lighting and exposure. Then waited for Lucy to finish eating and climb onto the fabric.
Image 4: Portrait of Lucy in the Laundry Room
DSLR: 135mm lens, ISO 400, f4.5, 1/30sec
Mixed Lighting: Direct sunlight from camera left; flash bounced off sidewall from camera right
Example Two: Exploring the Refrigerator
One day while stocking the refrigerator I reached down to grab a grocery bag. When I turned back around, there was Lucy, sitting pretty inside the fridge. We both enjoyed a good laugh before she jumped down. Over the next few weeks, investigating the refrigerator became her new, favorite game.
I thought an image of Lucy exploring the refrigerator would make a charming photo. I cleaned up the fridge, placed Lucy’s stand-in inside and took test shots to adjust the exposure and lighting. I left my camera on the kitchen counter, waiting for Lucy to act. When I noticed her trotting into the kitchen, I followed her, picked up the camera and opened the refrigerator doors. Lucy jumped in; I snapped the picture (Image 5). Simple.
Image 5: Lucy Explores the Refrigerator
DSLR: 28mm lens, ISO 200, f5.6, 1/50sec
Front Lighting: Flash bounced off ceiling
Tip: Attract your cat to beautiful light
To entice your cat to lounge in areas of your home that receive beautiful light, place cat beds or cat shelves near the windows in those rooms. If you don’t have free space, lay a fleece blanket on a couch, table or other furniture near a window. Position an anti-skid mat underneath the blanket if the surface is slippery. With luck and a bit of encouragement, your cat will incorporate these windows into her daily routine.
A related trick is to put a bird feeder outside the target window. Besides creating many photo opportunities, bird watching provides endless hours of fun for your kitties.
Hands On: How To Shoot A Portrait With Soft Natural Light
Because Front lighting is somewhat challenging to achieve with natural light in most homes, we will devote our attention to Side and 45-Degree lighting. These techniques are easy to create with natural light. The examples that follow use the One and Five-Minute Studios, but you can omit these elements.
Use Soft Light
A simple technique to take great cat portraits (and people too) is to use soft light. Soft light is easy to work with and always flattering (Image 37).
Image 37: Soft Light Portrait Example One with quick draped chair– notice the soft, diffuse shadows on Archie’s Face (camera left)
DSLR: 150mm lens, ISO 800, f5.6, 1/60sec
Side Lighting: Soft natural light from camera right
Creating Soft Light
There are several ways to obtain soft natural light:
- Northern Light: Rooms with windows that face north always receive soft, indirect light. If you are fortunate enough to have northern facing windows that your cat is attracted to, perfect. Alternately, eastern facing windows produce soft light in the evening, while western facing ones create indirect light in the mornings.
- Overcast Days: Cloudy and overcast days also produce indirect light. Simply wait for the weather to cooperate.
- Diffusor: If you don’t have northern facing windows or you are too impatient to wait for an overcast day, soften the direct window light with a diffusor.
Prepare the Scene
Place a stool about 1 to 3 feet from the center of the window. A distance of 1 foot usually provides a good starting point. I like to use a stool or table that is tall enough to place the cat above the bottom of the window frame. This height ensures adequate light falls on the cat’s chest when he is sitting up. A higher position is also easier on your back if you handhold your camera.
Drape a towel or fabric remnant over the seat to create a soft, attractive perch for your cat. If the wall behind your cat is cluttered, hang a blanket or fabric behind the stool to serve as a pleasing backdrop.
If possible, position the backdrop at least 3 feet behind your cat; 4 to 5 feet is even better. Generally you want the background to be somewhat out of focus; the farther away you position the backdrop, the easier it is to achieve this goal. See Figure 5. Or skip the backdrop and use a quick draped chair as shown in Image 37.
If the light streaming thru the window is hard, place a diffusion screen over the window(s).
Zoom the Lens
Zoom your lens to its telephoto position or mount a medium telephoto lens (something in the range of 90mm – 200mm).
Take Test Shots
Before calling your cat, take some test images. I like to place a stuffed animal in the scene to help evaluate the composition, lighting and exposure. Set your camera to either Manual Mode or Program Mode:
- Manual Mode: Set the ISO to somewhere between ISO100 and ISO400. Choose a medium aperture, like f4 or f5.6. Take a meter reading and set the camera’s shutter speed accordingly.
- Program Mode: Place your camera on Program Mode. Set the ISO to Auto ISO.
Adjust the Exposure
Adjust the exposure up or down until you achieve the desired result. If the image is too dark (underexposed):
- Manual Mode: Choose a slower shutter speed. Select a wider aperture only if you want to decrease depth of field.
- Program Mode: Use the camera’s Exposure Compensation to add “+” (plus) compensation.
If the image is too bright (overexposed):
- Manual Mode: Choose a faster shutter speed. Select a smaller aperture only if you want to increase depth of field.
- Program Mode: Use the camera’s Exposure Compensation to apply “-” (minus) compensation.
It’s a good idea to review either the Histogram or the Exposure Alert Warning to determine if any areas of the image have clipped (pure white or black). Pay special attention to clipping if you shoot JPEG, as blown highlights are almost impossible to recover.
When you achieve the desired exposure, remove the stand-in. Place your cat on the stool or wait for him to discover it and jump onto the perch.
Focus the camera on your cat’s eyes. If one eye is closer, focus on the eye that is closest to the camera. During the session, use an attention gaining technique to help direct your cat’s head and eyes.
Review the first image or two on the camera’s LCD. You should find your cat well illuminated with soft shadows on the unlit side of his face as shown in Images 37 and 38. Once you confirm the lighting and exposure, stop checking the playback and devote your full attention to capturing a beautiful expression.
Image 38: Soft Light Portrait Example Two with stool and backdrop behind cat
DSLR: 120mm lens, ISO 800, f3.2, 1/50sec
Soft Lighting: Natural soft light from camera right on cloudy day
That’s all there is to it. With practice, you can stage and shoot a beautiful portrait in less than 5 minutes.
Treat Your Cat
After the shoot, give your cat a treat. Eventually your cat will associate yummy delicacies with photo sessions and look forward to seeing you with your camera.
—-End of Extract—
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