David Sutton explains the fine points of photographing a
cat, you listen. One of the most skilled pet and
portrait photographers in the business, heís had his
work exhibited around the world, and he has a steady
stream of four-legged clients visiting his Evanston,
Ill., studio. (Take a peek at his website,
a cat, he says, can be ó not surprisingly ó
challenging. But not impossible.
donít think any cat is unphotographable," he
model for the day was Clifford, a year-old orange feline
who was awaiting adoption at Paws shelter in Chicago.
Clifford took a morning off from lounging to pose. But
Sutton was working at a disadvantage.
are very sensitive to changes in their
environment," he says. "Theyíre homebodies.
So (their home) is the ideal place to do it."
them to a studio or other location adds pressure on
them, he said. Riding in a car and being in a carrier
are not their favorite pastimes.
letís assume you want to take a photo of little Bucko
on his home turf. Youíll need some planning.
attention to places the cat likes to be," Sutton
says. "There are probably three or four. And pay
attention to the light. Cultivate an awareness. Where do
lighting and background come together nicely? What time
of day? Itís almost more of a meditation."
suggests using natural light, coming from the side or
behind you, "so youíre defining the shape of the
animal with shadows and light."
professional-looking background is not essential; you
may want some elements from your home in the photo. If
they detract, scrap them. If they enhance the shot, keep
you have your session mapped out, get an accomplice.
This will be much easier with help. They can be in the
photo, or they can simply be a second set of hands to
keep Bucko in line. And being a cat, Bucko will need
some gentle correcting.
you keep putting a cat in the same place over and
over," he says, "theyíll eventually get
frustrated and park themselves and let you take the
your assistant is in the shot, have her hold the cat
with a firm grip, a hand under the back end supporting
its legs and tail. If the hind quarters are supported,
the animal wonít twist.
the cat feel comfortable and get the faces together. You
only have to look good for a 60th of a second."
are more of Suttonís tips.
various points of view. You can stand above the animal
and shoot, getting a birdís-eye view, but Sutton says,
"I find portraits are more compelling at eye level.
Either put the animal up on something or you get down on
the floor. I think itís more natural." Another
shot he uses is of the owner from the shins down, with
the cat around their feet.
draw a crowd. The more family members in the shot the
less compelling the picture will be. Sutton suggests two
people and one pet.
at the entire frame. Most amateurs look at the subject
in the viewfinder and snap right away.
off the flash. It can frighten the animal.
contact is key. To get the cat to look into the lens,
use a toy (Sutton used a feather on a stick). Hold it
high, get the catís attention, then bring it down to
near the camera so the cat is looking right into the
animalís expression is important. "With some
animals, if their ears are back they look suspicious,
tentative, scared. If theyíre looking at you and their
ears are forward, the animals look most accessible,
a lot of pictures, then winnow them down to one to three
on spending 15 to 30 minutes shooting. "Cats and
dogs will put up with you that long, then everybodyís
worn out," Sutton says. "Donít expect to get
the job done in a minute. Photography now is so easy,
people believe itís a really simple process. But the
key word is Ďprocess.í if you want a good portrait,
you have to take some time."
of difficulty: Hard (well, maybe it depends on the cat)
needed: Camera, cat toy, human helper, patience