“How do you get such beautiful pictures of Shorty? My pictures of my black cat turn out like black blobs!”
It’s a common frustration of owners of black cats: how to take great pictures of them so look as beautifully in photograph as they are in 3D reality? We can see with our own eyes that black-furred cats and dogs are among the most striking to observe because the depth and uniformity of their colour actually makes their physicality stand out more than their brightly-coloured brethren. So why do their pictures look like black blobs and dark smudges?
In fact, not being “picture-perfect” is a reason why some people won’t adopt black cats at all, compounding an issue known as Black Animal Syndrome. It’s true! The social media age has fostered an image-conscious and selfie-obsessed generation to the point where our pets must have colourful markings and unique physical characteristics.
Now, I don’t want to begrudge anyone from wanting to have a beautiful animal nor from wanting to capture them beautifully in photos. But black cats are beautiful and they can be incredibly stunning in photos. Whether you’re shooting with a camera phone or a high-end DSLR, here are my 5 simple tips for getting a great picture of your black cat. And it all starts with lighting, lighting, lighting! Watch the video below for a tutorial and read on for more details.
And by lighting I don’t mean using a flash. Often a flash will flatten the features of your cat subject instead of highlight them, not to mention temporarily blind their sensitive eyes which will make them hate the camera and turn away when you point it at them.
Instead, take pictures near windows that afford a lot of natural light. This is the best way to accentuate their features, where their lines, curves and whiskers will catch the light.
Direct light, whether it’s from the sun or an overhead bulb, will wash out your cat’s features and the colour of their eyes.
For the same reasons photographers like shooting on cloudy days, you want a general soft illumination on your cat from indirect sunlight or from a soft lamp placed beside or in front of your cat.
3. Use Direct Light
Remember what I said about avoiding direct lighting? It’s still true but you can use it to your advantage to capture very different images than your typical portraits.
Being backlit isn’t always a bad thing, especially for black cats, because you can catch dramatic silhouettes and interesting scenes with a light background.
If you’ve got a lot of light, whether direct or indirect that would wash out your cat’s features, try shooting at an angle perpendicular to its source or just off to the side. This technique will highlight their edges and avoid the “flashlight” eyes they get in direct light.
When you’re several feet away, your camera may not be able to focus on your black cat because it needs a lit subject.
Getting up close to your kitty so that their body or face fills the frame gives your camera the best chance to focus on their eyes which should be the main focal point.
Many people have asked if I painted my accent wall blue to provide a perfect backdrop for cat photos. The answer is no, but it sure works well, doesn’t it?
Generally a solid background will allow your black cat to stand out whether it’s blue, black or even white.
But that doesn’t mean a busy background makes a bad photo. Again, it all depends on lighting and, in this case, blurring out the busy-ness.
Set the aperture on your camera
Many camera phones do this automatically when you tap your finger on the screen to select your focus. If you have manual functions on your camera, you can do this by using a wide open aperture (lowering the f-stop) thereby creating a shallow depth-of-field so that your focal point is clear while the rest of the image blurs away.
You can also use spot metering, which is helpful with moving cats, so that your camera will focus on your black cat and retain the exposure based on that focal point, and then you can move the camera and recompose your shot.
On the iPhone
With the iPhone and its latest operating system, after tapping to focus, you should see a little sun icon appear. Then you can swipe up or down to change your exposure if your lighting isn’t ideal.
It also has a way of spot metering. If you tap and hold the focus until the message “AE/AF Lock” appears on the screen, that means the auto-exposure and auto-focus have locked and you or your subject are free to move a little bit while you take your photo.
Of course, many apps like Instagram have filters that can adjust exposure and blur out the background after you’ve taken the photo, but knowing how to get the photo first will help ensure you get more great shots to choose from.
I hope these tips help you turn “black blob” images into stunning photos of your little black panther. If you’ve got any other questions or suggestions, please post them below.