I always thought that cats are fascinating animals. These little felines have such a strong personality that I can’t do anything else but admire them. However, I never had the chance of having a cat as a pet. I really wanted one when I was a little girl. My mom always said that cats are beautiful animals…from a far! So as you can guess, she was not inclined to share our place with one of them. Four years ago I moved to Israel. Even today I am still surprised by the amount of street cats that you can find here. There are some that even adopt you as “their human” and come every day to check on you and see if you can give them some food. I started to take photos of them. I really love these little wild animals. Today I want to share with you some of the things I learned about street cat photography.
Street cats are not going to wait for you to take the camera out of your bag and adjust the settings. I missed a lot of shots because I was not ready. Although you think you are fast, you won’t be faster than them. Remember that after all, these little guys are felines! Which are the best settings? You will usually need to use a fast shutter speed. So in order to get photos with enough light (not too dark) you will need to adjust the aperture and the ISO.
I am almost certain that if you use the flash to take a photo of a cat he will be so scared that he will run away and maybe he won’t come close to you in a while.
I prefer to take cat photos with low ISO (100-200) because then I avoid noise that can distract the viewer’s attention from the animal. However, if in order to take a photo I need to choose between increasing ISO and decreasing shutter speed, I don’t think twice: I increase the ISO. I have been working a lot of years with a camera that doesn’t handle well high ISOs, but even then it was better to have a picture with noise than a totally blurry photo. Good news for cat lovers: new cameras handle pretty well high ISO values. You can check at which ISO you start having noise with your camera. You can do it shooting at a black surface and comparing the results using different ISOs. Once you know your ISO threshold, try to keep under it. But I wouldn’t obsess with it. If you need it: increase the ISO. Also keep in mind that you can decrease some of the noise in post-processing.
After a while living in Israel I started recognizing all the street cats of the neighborhood. Cats are quite territorial, so they like to be inside the borders of what they consider “mine”. If you pay attention, after a couple of weeks you will realize that you always meet the same cats. From time to time you see a new one, but the main group keeps the same week after week. Each cat has his own personality. Knowing them well will help you to take decisions about the lenses you need or how to approach them. For example, some of them are bossy. These guys are usually bigger than the others. They are quite self-confident so they don’t run away so easily. For them you don’t need a tele-lens, but you will need something more than 50mm because they won’t allow you to get too close (around 100mm should be fine). Remember, they think that you are a simple human under their mandate. They could attack you if you get too close. Others are fearful and the closest you can get to them is 50m. You will need a lens that will allow you to zoom from far because they will run away as soon as they see you. Others are a bit more naive and you can get really close to them. With them you can use a 50mm or even a 35mm.
The most part of the cats have habits. They have a favorite place to sleep, they visit a garden at certain time of the day, they go to the house of that neighbor to eat second breakfast… when you recognize a pattern, you can anticipate there moves and be ready to shoot. You can even hide somewhere as if you were a National Geographic photographer (I love doing this, I always have a lot of fun!!)
You can’t tell cats to pose or do what you want, so be patient with them. You will probably need to take a lot of pictures before you get one you like. Keep your mind open. Maybe the cat is not doing what you expected, but probably it will do something good. Or maybe he will run away and leave you frustrated and wanting… If this happens, just accept it. Don’t get mad at the cat. You will have more chances in the future.
Cats are curious by nature. And this is good for photography. Some of them are already curious for the noise that the DSRL’s mirror does when you shoot. You take a photo of them and they just stare at you as if wondering “What is this noise?”. This is your chance to take a good picture. Other cats need a bit more. But usually if you play with something in front of them or if you make some subtle noise they will look at whatever you are doing.
When we are looking at a photo we usually pay attention to the eyes, so try to keep them sharp.
Do you have any experience photographing street cats? Tell me how it was and if you tried some of these tips. I would love to know about your experiences! Have a happy shooting!!