On Photographing Cats

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This is a very delicate subject, one that can easily be disrupted by a laser pointer. Cats exist at the very heart of the internet, and photographing them isn’t something that just happens. They don’t smile dumbly like dogs do most of the time. They have a much more cynical view of life, and if you can’t catch their attention within the first several seconds, they’ll go somewhere else. This is a study, of course, in photographing unfamiliar cats. If you find that you’re feline-inclined, perhaps this guide may prove useful.

Cages

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Cages help with framing your subject as terrible as that may sound. This was taken at an adoption popup shop in Union Square where you’ll find a number of cats at various ages, all of them very listless. In situations like this, it’s best to focus manually. Autofocus may have some trouble deciding between the cat and the bars. Movement isn’t much of an issue here, so you can keep the shutter speed down. I’d have adopted all the cats here, but my living situation doesn’t allow for pets.

Moments

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Cats are predictable creatures for 15 hours out of every day. For the hours when cats aren’t cozy on your laptop’s keyboard, they’re moving, and oftentimes, they’re inclined to surprise you. This bundle of cuteness only had a sliver of space to work with, and it seemed like (s)he was looking for a way out. Given the amount of movement, I went with autofocus and a faster a shutter-speed. Fortunately, I had my camera at stomach level when this little laser-chaser shot his head back. These are the moments that can really make a shot.

People

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D’you want that cat to stay in place? Use a person! People are usually more than 50% at holding a cat without the risk of backlash. In the case of this adoption shop, the woman here has a deep connection with her kittens. She brought the furball up to her head for only a few seconds before setting it back down with its friend in her lap. If I could have had it my way, I’d have recomposed the image with her close to the left side of the frame, but there were some folks crowded near her just outside of the frame. I didn’t want to risk crowding the shot.

Be the Cat

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In order to understand the cat, you must bring yourself down to the cat’s level. Look at the world from a cat’s perspective. Stay perfectly still as if you were contemplating the nature of the bright red dot on the ground before you. Silently judge everything around you. Gently creep towards something curious, but don’t get too close, lest it should suddenly move. Be calm. Be cool. Be collected.

Gingerly place your camera on the ground, line up your shot, and press the shutter. Let autofocus do the work in a case like this. The best moments are ephemeral, and they necessitate a constant awareness of your environment. Focus.

One day, you, too, will finally pounce on the red dot. And just when you think you have it, you’ll see it on top of your hands.

Bonus Cats

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