Have you heard these before? “Not another cat picture!” “Real photographers don’t photograph their cats.” “Social media is just a place to post cat pictures.”
Seems some of the photographic fraternity look down on cats as if they are faux subjects. Today, I am here to tell you, in a somewhat tongue in cheek way, why cats are a vital part of our photographic education. So with apologies to ailurophobics amongst you, here are some very good reasons why you should be using cats in your photographic training.
Action Shots: Ever tried to make a cat sit still? It's like trying to herd jellyfish. So if the cat is not playing ball, or maybe is playing ball, try to shoot some cat action shots. You can learn about continuous focus modes, pre-focusing, shutter speeds to freeze or add motion blur and of course getting into low down positions that only a contortionist would normally use.
Portraiture: Cats sleep up to 20 hours per day. It's a well known fact that the time they spend awake and active usually coincides with you pulling a camera out to take a portrait. Sometimes however, after a long and exhausting sleep, your cat might stay still long enough for you to get some beautiful portrait shots. So what can you learn here?
Well, first of all, setting up your lighting system very quickly and efficiently before the cat wanders off. Making sure you have pre-prepared everything before approaching the chosen feline. Correct lens, shutter speed and aperture preselected and camera prefocused for the split second the cat opens its eyes. Your cat will be one of the most challenging portrait subjects you have ever met.
Depth of Field: Leading on from portraiture, cats can teach us a huge amount about depth of field. We can go for the ultra shallow depth of field, focussing just on the cat's eyes. Increase that a little and the little fella’s ears and nose will become sharp too. Go for a maximum depth of field and we can get the cat in focus all the way from the nose to the tip of the tail. The cat’s fur is a wonderful indicator of what’s in focus and what blurred even if it does stick to camera bags like the proverbial to a blanket.
Low Light: Chances are that by the time you have set your flash gun up or have positioned your lighting, the cat will have wandered off for a bite to eat. Rather than risk this, you can opt to shoot in low light. By keeping the light levels low we not only prolong the cat in its current position but also learn about controlling noise and ISO, holding the camera steady at low shutter speeds, using wide apertures and controlling white balance.
Attitude: If you plan to shoot models in you photographic career, you will inevitably come across one or two with an attitude problem. Cats are remarkably good training for this. They can sucker you into believing they are sweet, then with a quick swipe of the claw and a hiss, let you know you have upset them. Not unlike some human models to be honest.
Street Photography: One area where you can really concentrate on getting great cat shots is out on the street. Be it your own domestic moggie, or the local street cat fraternity, there is one guarantee, the cats will be so busy with their environment that they will not notice you. Great opportunities to learn to shoot candid, understanding telephoto lenses and perspective and shooting animals in their natural and for some unnatural environment.
So there you are. At least one years worth of photographic education that can be learnt simply by photographing cats. Perhaps the most important thing that you might learn from photographing cats is patience. If you can remain calm, collected and focused when shooting felines, it will stand you in good stead for any other photographic subject.