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Photographing Shelter Cats

How to Take a Great Photo of a Shelter Cat

Welcome to week 10 of our 52 Week Pet Photography Blog Circle. This week’s topic is Depth of Field, and I’m going to talk about how the use of DOF can help in taking great photos of adoptable cats in shelters. This week I visited Cat Tales Rescue in Seabrook, NH to photograph their new cats, along with a few who needed an updated glamour shot.

First of all, what is Depth of Field? It’s defined as “the zone of acceptable sharpness within a photo that will appear in focus”. There are sever factors that will control what is in or out of focus in your image. These are: the aperture (f-stop), the distance that your subject is from the camera, and the focal length of the lens that you are using on your camera.

Lets first talk about “aperture”. When photographing shelter cats, I use an 85 mm prime lens. My aperture for this lens goes from f/1.8 all the way up to f/22. I usually shoot somewhere between f/2.0 and f/2.5. The lower the number f-stop, the smaller the depth of field, meaning there is much less that will be in focus or sharp. I’m usually working on focusing the eyes of each cat, and blurring out the background of items around the shelter. What I do love about the shelter where I photograph cats is that the cats are in open rooms – it’s even more of a challenge when they are in little crates.

Here is an example of my 85 mm at f/2.0. This is adoptable “Chestnut”. This image was actually taken of Chestnut sitting in the window. As you can see, the background is blurred out. It is also extremely overexposed but I”m ok with that as there is a hallway, other windows, and a parking lot full of cars right behind it. Taking this at f/2.0 the focus is on Chestnut’s pretty eyes.

Cat Tales Rescue in Seabrook, NH

Because adorable Chestnut has a brother he is bonded with and hoping to go home with, I must share him, too. Meet sweet “Tang”. This was also taken at f/2.0 and because my light was coming from above, I pointed the camera downward to catch those “catchlights” in his eyes. The shallow depth of field gave me the “blurred” floor which works well to make adorable Tang be in the spotlight.

Cat Tales March 6 8

A huge challenge when working in the shelter is the lighting. Keeping the f-stop at a lower number means not as much light is needed since less will be in focus. These two images were taken at an ISO of 800. This was in a front room that had both window light and overhead lights. Other rooms at the shelter will need more light and a higher ISO, even keeping the dof shallow.

Another factor I mentioned in the beginning is the distance your subject to the camera. The poor little cat in the next image was a bit worried and tucked close to the wall – we made it quick and painless for this little gal, Bridget. I was in closer, and as you can see how close the wall is, that stayed more in focus than I would have like. Ideally I would have pulled her away from the wall – but a lot of these cats are so worried and have no idea what they are in for in the shelter. I try to make things quick and painless and make sure they are comfortable. Another great tip for the cats is fun, colorful blankets to have them sit on – or attempt to keep them on the blanket as that’s a challenge!

Photographing adoptable cats

I have a favorite cat room at the shelter! The walls are painted a vibrant blue which make a fantastic backdrop. Two sides are window light, so it’s the best room to get some good light shining in. Meet beautiful “Sammy”! She’s sitting up on the cat tree posing perfectly! In this image the cat tree is slightly pulled away from the background, giving the painted flowers a nice little “blur”. This was also taken at f/2.0.

Cat Tales March 6 9

There you have it! Depth of Field plays a big role in photographing cats indoors without any special lighting. Keep the f-stop at a low number and you will be on the right track to great images and helping cats find there forever homes!

To learn more about Depth of Field check out Pawparazzi Pet and Animal Photography presented by Shae Pepper Photography and see what Shae is up to in her travels with adorable Truffles this week! Have an amazing weekend!

Click here to book your Spring pet photo session!

7 thoughts on “How to Take a Great Photo of a Shelter Cat”

  1. Fantastic job with the cats! Are you using natural light in all of these? Just looking at the catchlights in the eyes, and looks like you might be using available light.

  2. Great explanation on how you are using depth of field for each picture. All the cat pictures are excellent. The 85mm is a excellent portrait lens & a good lens for small areas.

  3. Photographing at shelters is tough, I know, but these look great, light and bright. Well done and such an important gift to the organization and the cats themselves. LOVE the yellow background on Chestnut and the Mac and Cheese overlay!

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