"My Cat Would Never Pose For A Photo"
".... Unless it wanted to"
Now and then, students get in touch with a list of questions. I had one recently that, for the first time, asked explicitly about cat photography. She was thrilled to have come across my website since she hadn't found many other pet photographers who photograph cats too.
I believe this is because unless you are very familiar with cats, you probably don't understand them, making it very difficult to photograph them. It's so important to know about the subjects you work with and in my experience, most pet photographers tend to be "dog people." It's the same reason why I don't advertise that I photograph horses. I don't know much about them, it would be much better to hire an equine photographer who is very much a "horse person" and has likely been around horses for many years rather than me.
Deep down, I'm a cat person.
Now, this doesn't mean I prefer photographing cats over dogs or that I don't understand dogs as much, not at all. Dogs are still a massive part of my business, and I love nothing more than going out into the countryside, photographing adorable pooches! I've spent a lot of time learning about our canines, their behaviour, and how to handle them. However, I mainly grew up around cats and so I naturally developed an understanding of them over time. There is even science behind why you may be a dog or cat person depending on your personality traits, but we'll just focus on the photography side of things for now!
I have to mention it though because this is probably my biggest secret when photographing cats.
Cats love to show off and be photographed - on their own terms. Gaining your cat's trust is very important and I will spend the time needed to do so. Cats have been a bit of a mystery for a long time, but there have been a lot more studies in recent years. Cats are sensitive to our emotional gestures, like dogs, and have learned over time whether their owners are happy, sad, or angry. These studies have shown that perhaps cats aren't as indifferent as people accuse them of being and it's just a case of their response being far less evident to us. I do plan to expand more on this in a different post. However, knowing this, I realize that cats will pick up on my positive energy when meeting them. Your actions will then play a big part in gaining their trust.
Approaching cats is very different from how you may approach dogs. Cats are generally calm overall, and so the last thing they want is a human who is making lots of noise or rushing up to them. Most dogs don't particularly like this either! It's always best to take it slow and don't raise your voice. Similar to dogs, you should let the cat approach you. I'll probably spend most of a session sitting on the floor, keeping relaxed and level with the cat. I am also familiar with cat behaviour and body language. This knowledge allows me to determine my next moves, which I know will be reciprocated positively by the cat.
I'm not saying all cats are this straightforward; I still can't stroke my mum's cat without having her needle-like claws dig into my hand. Although, this wouldn't stop me from being able to photograph her! She's usually playful and is still comfortable with my presence. I know this because she'll roll over on her back and go to sleep, the ultimate sign of trust. Sometimes they prefer to be admired from afar, and that's totally fine too.
On a cat shoot, with you by my side, the owner, food, and attention giver in their life, you will be a big part of keeping them calm and maintaining their focus. Most cats (not being as exuberant as dogs) are happy to pose in a stately manner and love to show off their agility leading to a stunning variety of action poses. No matter the personality of your cat, its character can be caught through images. In the session guide I send you before the shoot, I recommend preparing their favourite treats and toys. As well as using my own experiences, we'll discuss your cat's likes and dislikes which we can use to our advantage.
Timid cats usually require more time and patience, but it's not always as impossible as it might seem to get good photos if this is your cat's nature. An owner with three beautiful and very different Ragdoll cats almost wrote off the idea and didn't expect to get any photos of one of her felines because of her shyness to strangers. I focused on the timid cat last, so she had time to get a bit more used to me. The trick with cats is that you need to make them believe it's their idea. I would rarely place a cat on the spot, I encourage them to want to go there, or even out of there for that matter. When the shy kitty curled up under the dining table, I slowly went to join her and give her just a little bit of attention; knowing she wouldn't be a massive fan of this, she soon went off and found a new spot on the arm of the sofa - perfect!
It's common during sessions for owners to say that they are surprised by their cooperating behaviour compared to other visitors. I'm not 100% sure what the reason for it is; I'm just going to go with the fact that it's my cat lady vibes. As I said, it's my big secret!
I also want to note that cat sessions generally take a lot longer than dog sessions as we have to work at a much slower pace. So please make sure you don't schedule anything too soon after your session! Like dogs, it's important to give cats a bit of a break during the session too.
For those keen to book a session but have been holding back, I hope this article has helped. Or, if there is something else you're worried about and is stopping you from having a pet portrait session, feel free to get in touch, and we can work out the solution together!