Cat Portraits:

Tips and Hints for getting a great picture in a busy shelter or foster setting

By: Sherry Acevedo

Getting a great picture of adoptable cats can sometimes be a bit of a challenge in a high volume shelter. With overpopulation or low adoption performance that is common in many shelters, we have to be adaptable considering space and time constraints. When we’re trying to take that amazing picture that will get Snowball into a loving home, we must keep in mind a few things that will make for an eye-catching photo, even with our phones.
  1. Cats are more varied in patterns. The more striped or colorful a cat, the more we want a muted background. We want the cat to be the star of the photo, not an extravagant backdrop. For example, the cat on the right is predominantly solid gray. I used a simple patterned blanket to make her color more vibrant. The cat on the left is predominantly tabby striped. I used a solid color that accentuated the stripes, and made them stand out more.  
How were these accomplished? After cleaning an empty kennel, or closing off one side of a clean occupied kennel, you can use a folded throw blanket or rug to cover the bottom. Alternately, you can use a few command hooks or tape to cover the back or side wall of the kennel with a throw blanket. If it slides down or bunches up no worries, a little added texture can add a new dynamic. Keeping in mind the cleanliness and standards that need to be kept in a shelter setting, the kitty can take the background blanket back to his kennel to snuggle up with! You prevent any potential illness spread, and kitty gets some extra comfort, it’s a win-win! If there is one dedicated area that can be used with pictures, that is great. If not, a kennel can definitely be a great place to maintain a calm and stress-free photo experience, since cats do best in small areas. Having a kennel available in a room of kennels where the cat is already familiar can help streamline photo taking, and will be an efficient way to take pictures of a happy cat!
  1. Speaking of happy cats… is your photo subject a talker who loves to meow? Do they have distinctive or distinguishing marks? Let’s show off their uniqueness and personality! We as cellphone photographers have the opportunity to really showcase beauty from our prospective. From an extreme close up of beautifully colored eyes, like the one on the far left, to an adorably candid tongue blep, simply using Portrait Mode and controlling the distance from your subject can make a huge difference in what is the focal point of your photo. Portrait Mode blurs the background slightly, as well as makes your subject appear more crisp and vibrant. When using this mode, your distance from the cat can dramatically change what is most noticeable in a photo. Ideally, you can be a few feet away from the cat, but in some instances, closeness is key. An example of being too close is on the far right, where the lettering of the newspaper can easily take focus away from the cute orange tabby. How do you keep the attention of the kitty, or get them to look at your camera? Treats, dangly toys, or just a pspsps sound can get their focus. Just be ready to take a quick pic! Or pics, by holding down the shutter and taking a burst of shots to choose your favorite from! If you can’t get their attention, a poignant side view is always compelling.
  1. So, we can make a lovely setting, and know our placement, but what about lighting? Typically, shelters and foster homes will have mainly fluorescent lighting. Is it a bad thing? Nah, fluorescent lights can capture the beauty of a cat just as well as natural or artificial lights. Is natural light best for pictures? Sometimes, but if the natural light is a bit too bright we can run into problems like hooded eyes or color misrepresentation. For instance, in the picture on the left, this little cutie looks perfectly comfortable amongst the brightly colored foliage. The cutie on the right is in direct or harsh light. The problem? It’s the same cat!
In the harsh light, she looks gray instead of her panther black color. While cats aren’t squinters like dogs, we still want to avoid shadows over their eyes, allowing the light to catch just right. When in a foster setting, usually cats have free reign over an area. You’ll learn quickly what their favorite spots are, and then it is a matter of choosing a good time to snap a picture in the best lighting. A spot by the window will make for a great photo op with lovely natural light. You can take pictures whenever you can throughout the day to figure out a great time when the light is bright but not too harsh. Fluorescent lighting will also achieve the desired effect any time during the day. On the left, bright fluorescents leave a beautiful shine, and in the middle, look at that compelling side view! The flash function isn’t really necessary unless you’re taking night time pictures. And if there’s enough light, you probably don’t need it! The pic on the right was taken at night, so they weren’t too happy about it…
  1. To selfie, or not to selfie? Realistically, potential adopters don’t really need to see your gorgeous face. But, if you want to showcase just how much Mr. Fluffins loves being a shoulder cat, by all means take a cute selfie and capture that moment! If you’re shy, cropping can be a great way to show your focal point, as well as cutting out clutter and undesirable backgrounds.

Another very useful tool in our cellphone arsenal is something that influencers love… that’s right, I’m talking about filters. Are we adding some curves and photoshopping our cat pictures? Absolutely not. We strive to represent our featured pets as accurately and in the most flattering way as possible naturally. However, if you took the purrfect picture, and it’s a bit discolored or not as crisp, an auto filter can drastically improve your photo quality while maintaining the original image’s integrity.

In closing, I hope that I was able to provide you with some helpful hints and insights that can be used to take better photos of adoptable cats using your cellphone! I utilize these tools and it has worked well for me in a high volume shelter. A picture can mean life or death, quite literally, for shelter pets. Transports and potential adopters are more likely to rescue those pets who they can make an emotional connection with, and what better way is there than capturing a moment of happiness to make a cat’s loving heart shine through?

About the Author:

Sherry Acevedo is an animal lover at heart, and her family is too! She has a house full of cats and a doodle puppy, along with her husband and two children. Sherry is an active volunteer and foster at the Marshall Pet Adoption Center in Marshall, Texas, where she is a lead volunteer and “Cat Captain” with Friends of Marshall Animals. Her duties entail everything from cleaning and cuddles to medical assistance for cats. Her commitment and dedication is in hopes that all animals are able to find loving homes, as she’s found such love and care within both MPAC and FoMA.