Taking kitten pictures can be extremely daunting from managing the kittens, to figuring out the right set up. Believe it or not, you actually don’t need an expensive photo booth and digital camera. Been there done that and it was a bigger hassle in all honesty. While it’s taken me close to 3 years to find the perfect set up for me, I finally nailed it! Not only have I streamlined my process but, I am pleased with my pictures and even get compliments!
If you are a breeder, a pet owner sending your breeder photo updates or shelter/rescue/foster advertising available kittens, pictures are your selling point! Being able to take quality pictures to keep your owners in the loop or for the world to see is essential, especially if people can’t see your cats and kittens in person.
If you follow my set design, your setup will be fairly simple and won’t cost you an arm and a leg plus it is super easy to store. What else could you ask for?! You’ll need the following:
TV table- you want something on the small side. This prevents other cats and kittens from jumping into the pictures as well as less space for your kitten to move. This means you won’t have to move with them all over the place risking that blurry picture or missing the perfect shot. This is extremely useful if you have no one to help you and you have to man the kitten, camera and teaser all at once. In addition the TV table easily folds up so that you can just store in a closet.
Metal Reflector light and stand WITH WHITE light bulb. You really only need one of these. Having a stand that adjusts is helpful for positioning the light properly so that it evenly covers the space and avoids shadows and other impurities that may affect the quality of your pictures. Using a white light bulb will also further ensure true to life photographs. We have used the full set up as well but we came across a few issues. It required a lot of space to set up. It would get very hot with all the lights (four) around us and the kittens. The kittens were constantly playing with the cords, jumping up the stands, chewing, biting and otherwise playing with the reflectors which caused a lot more wear and tear than the set up should have received.
Painted Wall and/or fabric used as a backdrop. At this point in time I primarily use a painted wall and a blanket or chenille bath mat. In the past I have used the basic backdrop that comes with most photo booth set ups (which constantly needed ironing and lint rolling by the way) and Panne Velvet fabric from a fabric store. This was a nice option because you have two effects (front and back) on one piece of fabric and there was a wide color variety however keeping the fabric wrinkle free on and off the the piping was a hassle as well as preventing cats and kittens from spraying or climbing the fabric was not the most fun to deal with while taking pictures.
Finally you need teaser toys….lots of teaser toys. How do you get cats and kittens to pay attention, stand in specific positions, looking certain directions and have expressional faces? Toys LOTS of toys! You should have a stash of toys that are novel for your cats and kittens. This means they do not have access to these toys every single day. They are special toys just for this activity. It keeps them excited and engaged. Make sure you have a plethora of toys to appeal to any kitten. We like this set! It comes with tassels, myler strands, feathers, jingles and comes in fun colors.
Preparing your Cats and Kittens
The first step is to make sure your kittens are fed and their nails are clipped. Hungry cats will go nuts while you are trying to take pictures and it will be harder to get them to focus on toys and the camera as well as keeping them on the table. Unclipped nails are noticeable in pictures but they can also get caught on toys and fabric not only causing pulls in your fabric but also making kittens and cats get stuck while you are trying to engage them for the pictures either on backdrops, table mats or toys. You should also check over your kittens. Are their ears, eyes and nose clean? Is the fur smoothed appropriately? You want to put your best images forward which means your cats need to be in their best condition (on and off camera).
Make sure your backdrop and table fabrics are smooth and wrinkle free. In addition make sure your background or wall isn’t dirty with fuzz, cat hair or anything else that doesn’t create a clean image. It's easier to fix that before a picture is taken than editing it later.
Setting the Scene
There are some really fun backdrops and backgrounds you can use but keep in mind your cat is the focus. You don’t want to use a background that is going to distract from your subject. We want to highlight the cat. If you have a patterned cat like the Bengal for example you don’t want to use a patterned background, a solid color that compliments and enhances your cat’s natural color is the most ideal.
I am not as familiar with other breeds as I am a bengal breeder however for my bengals I used to regularly use black and white, it was just clean and classic however I actually have gravitated to color. A lighter blue or teal really makes my silvers, seal lynxes and silver charcoals stand out however it's not a good color for my browns. The browns do better on red, green and brown/orange tones. Purple also looks nice for silver charcoals.
As mentioned previously wrinkles in the fabric really caused problems with the smoothness of the background which also increased impure shadows affecting the quality of the picture. We now use a simple piece of fabric on the table and a painted wall to create the smoothest background for our pictures.
Lighting is important. It can greatly influence the true color and clarity of your pictures. You do not want to have to edit your pictures as you want the images to be as true to the subject as possible and you don’t want to trash a perfect picture because the shadowing is wrong on the background or over the cat.
*These are the same cat (pictures taken a few months apart). Background color does also affect pictures so pair carefully
Many opt for photographing their cats outside. It’s a natural environment that can bring out the uniqueness of your cat, removing them from a more artificial set up. If you so choose to do this it is best to photograph right at sunrise or sunset or otherwise on a grey overcast day. Direct sunlight can really blow out your cats and kittens color and detail as well as make their eyes squinty.
Try different positions of our subject in the space as well as yourself to acquire the desired effect of lighting.
Don’t forget the lighting can attract other things like shadows from you taking the picture, of your camera or other objects. Make sure none of these things appear in your pictures.
It’s important to make sure your pictures are framed correctly. Not only does this mean centering your cat in the image but also making sure the background is framed as equally around as your cat or kitten.
Posing Your Kitten
Make sure you are positioning and playing with your cat in a way that you will be accentuating breed specific traits. This means if your breed standard is meant to express full round nocturnal eyes, make sure you kittens and cats are excited and show off those beautiful eyes, not squinty eyes. If your breed standard calls for a long, lean cat, position the cat so it is stretched out not bunched up in a stocky ball. One goal of using toys as recommended above is to allow you to take pictures more naturally so you do not need to include your hands, arms or even body to show off the cat in the picture.
Posing for Different Ages
I personally take pictures starting at 2 weeks of age. Some ages can be quite challenging. For example 4 weeks - 5 weeks tend to be the most difficult for me. Up until this age I take pictures in the Nursing and Delivery Suites with mom but after this age I start taking the kittens from the room in small bursts (mainly the five minute photo sessions once a week). At this age they are starting to develop fine motor skills and play but they still have a hard time seeing movement so at this age waving around teasers either scares them or they just aren’t interacting with the toys like the older kittens. So all you can do is take pictures when they naturally move.
As the kittens are more accustomed to being played with and handled you will be able to quickly do pictures and more easily get the pictures you are looking for.
I will warn you, you may still take 100-200 pictures depending on how many kittens you have just to get a few pictures you can actually use.
Taking the Picture
A few other things should be noted before taking your pictures. As best you can take pictures from eye level. Taking pictures looking up at your kitten or down will distort features making ears look bigger than they are, making the head look too big or too small and many other issues that just makes your cat or kitten look strange and disproportionate. Don’t spend too much time taking a picture then looking at the picture. You have a limited amount of time that your kitten will want to cooperate. You can view your pictures and edit them later. This also means you should take 2-3+ pictures of each angle you want in case the first one is blurry or unfit to be used in another way. You increase your chances of a good picture preventing you from having to reset up and retake pictures.
Now you have all the tools to take your pictures.
One goal is to take perfect pictures that really only need a crop. You don’t want to alter your pictures much. Most people that will be adopting your kittens won’t be seeing them in person so taking pictures as true to the cat as possible is essential. There are a few editing programs I use. 1. The Photos app that comes with all iphones and apple products 2. Photo Editor by Axiem Systems (available in the apple store)
Both have numerous editing tools to help you achieve the right look without needing expert professional experience with photo editing.
Tools I use the most are
Crop- this tool helps you make your photo the right size, focusing your cat or kitten in your photo with the perfect amount of background around it.
Brightness - this button adds light to your picture
Vibrance- pops your picture just a hint to make the colors truer and crisper in your photo
Occasionally I use
Blur- in case I miss a very minor spot on the kitten or background that I missed in my setup
Sharpen- this crisps up the picture making all the lines more clear and defined.
There are many other tools (16) within each app to perfect your pictures and with the convenience of using the adjustment tools you can literally see changes right in front of your eyes.
The number one tip I have for editing kitten pictures is DON’T USE FILTERS! Almost all filters alter your pictures in an unnatural way and many filters often put a color over your picture altering the color of your pictures as well.
NO FILTERS. PERIOD!
Secondly NEVER and I repeat NEVER blur or alter an image to make it look like your cat is better than it is. I recognize this is a bit straight forward but I've seen it happen. Ears are blurred to make them look rounder or nose bridges are straightened. People can naturally tell when something is off and with a phone’s ability to blow pictures up nowadays anyone can easily pinpoint these faux pas.
Regardless, fooling around with the various tools available on the editing application will further help enhance your pictures in a natural way before debuting them to the public.
When to Trash a Picture
Sometimes pictures just don’t turn out right and the amount of editing would be ridiculous and time consuming. Sometimes it's just better to delete the picture. Reasons to trash a picture may include:
Sometimes you have to become loose with a few rules. Not all cats and kittens will cooperate even after several sessions and hundreds of pictures. Sometimes you just have to take what you can get.
Aside from running a healthy and well socialized cattery, taking pictures of your cats and kittens (especially in the midst of a pandemic) is the number one thing you can do to keep yourself relevant and connected online and with potential kitten owners. Taking pictures regularly fulfills numerous purposes. You create records of your kittens’ development to evaluate and track trends now and for looking back in the future. You supply the public with regular interest in your kittens as well as owners regular updates on their babies. And finally your kittens get used to being handled and posed. Whether your kitten is going to a breeder, being shown or going as a spoiled pet taking pictures is an invaluable aspect of socialization for them. Soon enough you’ll have picture taking down pat and you’ll be complimented left and right!