Say cheese! How to take great holiday cat photos


Dear Ms Kitty,

 The holidays are coming with more photo opportunities for the family. I’d love to include our cat Phrank in the family photos, but he often goes missing when we want to shoot them. How can I get him to stay?

Snapping in Silverthorne

Dear Snapping,

The web is full of memes of unhappy cats getting their pictures taken. We take a lot of great kitty photos of shy cats at Happy Cats Haven, so here are some tips to help.

The Setting

Change is scary for most cats and decorating for the holidays can make them anxious. When you get out your new decor, make sure Phrank is happily part of the activity.

If he’s a little shy of new things, rattle that treat bag and reward him when he joins in. Playing with his favorite toy while you decorate will also keep things fun and positive.

Dressing up cats for the holidays can be even worse than decorating. But if you put accessories on a string or clear wire, you can grab lots of cute photo ops while Phrank has fun playing!

If you have a kitty who is outgoing and on the other end of the social spectrum, consider not using your best breakable ornaments until he’s older and more sedate.

Most cats love the coziness of a tree, so making sure it’s weighted at the bottom for climbing and giving them a nest underneath will keep everyone happy and avoid situations like this!

The People

Once Phrank is feeling relaxed around the holiday decor, make sure he feels safe around any new people too.

Strangers in their homes—even our relatives!–can feel like a home invasion to cats. They appreciate introductions using their names and being asked to be touched, just like we humans do,

As Phrank’s parental unit, the more you can do to let him know the new people are part of the family, the safer he will feel.

Treats and playtime can make new people less scary. Let your company give him treats and he should stay out happily for more fun.

The Background

Our homes can be visually busy, especially at the holidays. Try to choose a simple background if possible. Bonus cat points if the background is a sofa or cat tree that Phrank already feels comfortable on.

If you want to get that intimate shot of him with a child or great aunt, take the person to him rather than trying to bring him to the person. Give them a few treats to dispense and make sure they use his name. If he’s relaxed and happy, your photos will be too.

If Phrank is dark colored, use a light background and vice versa if he’s light. Patterns (and Christmas trees!) are good at hiding animals, so choose a plain wall over a busy sofa if you want his photo to pop.

The Light

Skip the flash if you can. There’s nothing like getting everyone all set up and then popping light in the face to make a cat disappear, maybe forever if he associates that with whatever device you’re using.

If possible, place the activity near a window to capture that natural light (but avoid direct sunlight or backlighting). Natural light is great for humans too and essential for capturing the nuances of black animals.

If it’s too dark to go without a flash, tape a small piece of tissue over your flash. This will diffuse and soften the light while keeping it from scaring Phrank.

The Magic Wand

Cats don’t usually stare at each other unless they’re about to fight. That’s why slow blinks are the best way to tell them they’re safe and loved. However, a human wielding a device can feel like pre-attack staring.

To gently get their attention, we use a sparkle wand, a stick with mylar streamers attached. Many cats adore this toy and will look up whenever you wave it.

However, even that wand can be scary for some cats. If Phrank hasn’t been around one before, introduce it to him long before the photo shoot to make sure he likes it. If he ducks or acts fearful, use a small jingley ball instead.

Just make sure you’re ready for the shot when everyone looks up at the camera—including him!–when you say Cheese!

Sara Ferguson is the Director of Happy Cats Haven, a feline rescue and adoption center in Manitou Springs, Colorado. Special shoutout to Linda Seleski Omoletski, our Catographer!

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