But there are ways to capture the beauty of black cats.
You'd think that it would just be a matter of lighting and
background, but it's a bit more complicated than
that. On this web page I'm going to explain ways to
photograph the beauty of black.
the Background Free of Clutter
Controlling the Background
Avoid Too Much Contrast
Finding Background Colors That Enhance
More Affordable Lighting
Bald Spot Angling
Looking where you want them to look
What You're Doing Poses
Summing It Up
Lord Byron said it best:
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies,
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meets in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellow'd to that tender light
Which Heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair'd the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress
Or softly lightens o'er her face,
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
And on that cheek and o'er that brow
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent;
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent.
In loving memory
of my sweet Bastet
who passed away too young from FIP
People tend to ignore the background when they take
pictures, but it makes all the difference when photographing
Keep the Background Free of Clutter
If you plan a photo-shoot it's best to choose an area that's
free of clutter. Clutter distracts you from the subject
With unplanned photo-shoots though, you sometimes can't avoid
clutter. This can be fixed with a bit of cropping, for
example, here is Vinny with his toys:
But you can see his beauty much better when you crop away the
clutter - look at that handsome face and healthy fur
The easiest way to control the background is to take a blanket
or sheet or towel, and drape it over a chair, or over a bed and
its headboard. This puts the background color below and
behind the cat so that you can take pics from any angle without
having any uncomplimentary colors in view.
Avoid Too Much Contrast
A common misconception is that it's best to use a
background that contrasts with the black cat, like
white. Although it's easier to see contrasting
colors in real life, it doesn't work at all when
photographing black animals.
Too much contrast is hard on *your* eyes (ask your
ophthalmologist), makes it hard to see *the cat's* eyes
and fur-sheen, and makes the cat appear to have no mouth
Too much contrast makes
it difficult for the auto-exposure and auto-focus on your
camera to work properly. You always end up
with fuzzy focus and eye-boggling contrast.
If you have complete
lighting control and can get a perfect soft light you can
use some light colors instead of the rich colors, but it's
easier if you keep it simple at first.
Finding Background Colors That Enhance
The first priority in seeing a black cat's beauty is to
accentuate its eyes. Black cats' eyes are in the green to
yellow to copper range. I find that medium dark-green and
deep gold work well to bring out the color of yellow-eyed
cats. Here the green doesn't contrast too much with her
fur and the gold brings out her eyes:
Because the green doesn't contrast too much, you can see the
subtle contrast of her fur-sheen. Fur-sheen gives
the cat a healthy look and a touch of elegance that is essential
for catly dignity.
Another consideration in choosing a background color that
appeals is that in reality, "black" cats are usually not truly
black, but rather very dark brown. Think about
colors that look good with brown like green and red. Here
we have the unusual almost truly black cat on the left and the
normal deep-chocolate "black cat" on the right:
This blue is ok with the blacker cat, but not so appealing with
the deep-chocolate cat; it makes her look muddy.
Mixed rich colors are nice:
Black on black usually works well too, and from a
practical point of view, I highly recommend black
furniture and carpets - it cuts down on having to clean
up the fur and you don't have to worry about stains -
you can spill red wine on them and you don't even have
to clean it up:
Medium brown works well:
But in my opinion, the deep greens are best:
Experiment with your cat with different background colors.
Each black cat is a slightly different shade of black, so
different colors enhance their beauty. Try towels and
sheets and blankets and tablecloths and large scarves and if
you're willing to go to a fabric store, you can choose even more
colors at reasonable prices. Throw them over the bed and
With black cats, depending on the direction in which the cat's
fur lies, light reflects off of it to create bizarre shapes
making faces look malformed. I call this mal-face
lighting. The way to avoid this is to use a soft light,
preferably indirect sunlight.
Below see two pictures of the same cat, with the same
background, but the lighting on the right is less harsh, natural
indirect sunlight, at the
right time of day
. See how the harsh light
makes her face look malformed?
And here's a a serious case of mal-face:
But the same cat looks beautiful with soft lighting and colors
that enhance her fur and eye colors:
Sometimes the mal-face can add a humoristic character to the
I know it looks like she's eating the ribbon in
this pic, but really she just
has the end in her
mouth. I took it from her before she could ingest
|If you want to spend the
kind of money that professionals do for perfectly
controlled lighting, you can get this effect with lights
pointed away from the cat at silver umbrellas which
reflect a softer light back on the cat.
This is an old "film" pic but you can still see how the
softer light makes him look softer. Even the blue
background, which is just a plain cotton sheet, looks
He also has excellent fur sheen in this picture.
Good sheen gives him that silky coat look - so handsome!
More Affordable Lighting
If you don't want to spend a lot of money on fancy lighting, I
recommend halogen lights, yes, those tacky torche lights that
they sell at hardware stores. Halogen torche lights give a
very white, sunlight-like light, and it is indirect; the
torche shines the light up to the ceiling and then it is
reflected back. If you place two or three around the room
they give enough light that the flash usually doesn't even go
off on your camera.
It's best to have the light coming from several sources: a few
lights and maybe the flash from your camera. This
soft-light-from-all-sides method reduces the "flat" look that a
harsh light gives.
Another way to provide light that isn't harsh is to reflect a
bright light off of a white surface, like a sheet or poster
board or a white wall. This is the same idea as the fancy
silver umbrellas that the professionals use, but much less
costly. Keep in mind that the white surface should not be
*in* the picture or you get the too much contrast problem.
Good lighting also helps reduce the red-eye problem (actually on
a cat it's usually yellow-eye but you know what I
mean). The idea with black animals is always soft
light makes soft-appearing fur and minimal mal-face.
Then of course there's free lighting - sunlight. It's best
when it's fairly bright but not direct sunlight. Sometimes
you can get this effect out of doors on a cloudy day or in the
shade, making sure that there isn't any unshaded sunlight in the
background to upset your camera's exposure settings.
Alternatively, look at how the sunlight comes into the rooms in
your home throughout the day and find a room where you can get
clear indirect sunlight. Note what time of day it is when
the lighting is best and plan to take pics at that time.
To get the right lighting, *when* is just as important as
*where*. Here we have very soft indirect sunlight on a
screened in patio:
See how his sheen is soft and rounded,
not giving the harsh, flat, planes
of bright mal-face lighting.
Always remember the most important point when dealing with
light is that you don't want it to be behind the cat or
there's too much contrast. Take the photo with
your back to the sun, otherwise the exposure settings run
Bald Spot Angling
Another thing that makes photographing black cats
difficult is the bald spots. The places where a cat's fur
is sparse really show up on black cats because the white skin
contrasts so much with the black fur. Their fur is
slightly sparse on their lips and chins, and they're practically
bald on their temples. This space between their eyes and
ears is where they have scent glands with which they mark you
when they rub their temples against you. As if the
contrasting white skin there weren't bad enough, many black cats
have tabby markings (stripes) on their skin which you can only
see through these bald spots. Note in this pic Nefret has
orange tabby stripes on her skin over her eyebrows:
You can avoid these bald spots showing up if you take the pic at
the right angle, not looking directly at the top of her head,
but rather having her nose up higher. Generally the
rule is that if you can see the front of her nose then the angle
is good for not showing the temple bald spots:
Alternatively, you can Photoshop them out. This shot has
both harsh lighting and bad angles so you see her bald temple
spots and she appears to have baggy eyes. Luckily
it's not too difficult to Photoshop these out with black cats
(not nearly as difficult as Photoshopping out *my*
|In the pic on the left
her baggy eyes make her look like she's hung over and
her skin markings on her temples look like little
devil-horns about to come in
||On the right, she just
looks miffed (she really hates that flash, and one day,
when I least suspect it, she's gonna kill it).
This is a nice Halloween shot.
Photos are also enhanced when the cat's personality shows
through. Generally, torturous props don't add to the
cat's cheery disposition, though they can be comical:
Also, the white in this pic does lend itself to the too
much contrast problem, but I think the personality
captured here outweighs it.
A ribbon is a much better prop because the cat enjoys
playing with it, but you have to be darn sure she doesn't eat it.
can get into the digestive tract and do really nasty
things there. Here, she looks like a ham, but she's
really only just trying, unsuccessfully, to eat the
Use your imagination and you will find many little
non-dangerous props around the house. One very
fashionable prop is a toy mouse placed on kitty's head or
post-it notes placed any old where. If you're too
cool to do something that's already been done (over and
over again, so help me if I see another mouse-on-head pic
I'm gonna puke), just look for small things that your cat
can't swallow and hurt herself with like this little
Scotch bottle that I stuck in her paws while she was
trying to sleep:
Here I was trying to do a prop-shot with Mr. Teddy bear
and as I was giving up on Vinny staying-put-with-the-prop,
he suddenly did his bunny imitation and I was ready:
Here are a few prop suggestions to get you thinking:
Glass of Champagne
Food (cereal box, fruits, milk
Salad bowl (with cat in
You can also combine background drops with props, for
example you can put a towel in the basket, or wrap a scarf
around part of kitty's body.
Eye Direction Note:
|Keep in mind that
as with the background, you don't want the
prop to contrast too much with black or your
exposure will be whacky like this Teddy that was
too big and just a little too light in color
(besides, I think he was cheating at chess).
Because of this contrast you can't see the cat's
fur sheen clearly and the auto-focus doesn't work
If there isn't too much contrast elsewhere in the
photo, you can toke up the contrast to see the fur
sheen later with Photoshop. But if there's
something too light in the pic then it will look
radioactive when you increase the contrast.
I used a feather
wand to get her to look up at Teddy. Her
"connection" with him lends personality and heart to the
pic (anthropomorphising is cool). This leads to the
where you want them to look
If you get your cat to look directly at the camera when you take
a pic it makes you connect "emotionally" with them.
You usually don't realize that you want to direct their eyes
until you're all set up and about to take the picture so you end
up making funny sounds to get the cat to look at you. Not
only does this make passers by think you're nuts, it doesn't
work as well as a feather wand toy (a stick with some feathers
stuck on the end, available at any pet store). With this
you can direct the cats eyes wherever you want them to
look. Always bring a wand-toy to your photo shoot.
Controlling their gaze is also important for bald spot angling,
and for creating a personality shot like this "look left" shot
which allows you to put a photo beside it and make any comment
showing off her new manicure.
don't think pink is her color.
|Mama: They are soooo catty.
Most animal photographers tell you to come down to the level of
the animal for better shots. Like all great truths, this
is true, but not always. Angle is very important. As
I said before, you want the front of the cat's nose to be
visible if you don't want to see the bald temples, but you can
do this and be slightly higher than the cat. This gives
you sweet "looking up at you" eyes:
Here's my little Sweetheart who
I lost in October/2007 to FIP
: - (
It's taken from this cat-in-drawer pic which I thought was going
to be a nice personality shot, but I found that it wasn't quite
as nice - too much clutter. But cropped it's a great
Of course it's not as simple as just getting her to look at you,
sometimes it's *how* she looks at you. Here are shots of
the same sweet cat above but with different lighting and
Black cats' eyes are their most visible and expressive feature
so it's important in capturing their beauty and character.
Lighting also can help make their eyes stand out.
In this low lighting shot Vinny has just enough light to
bring out his eyes and a dapple of sunlight is playfully
kissing his lips.
You can't see any fur sheen because of the minimal
light, but his eyes stand out as mysterious windows to
his mind and his hilighted whiskers add balance and
Shots showing personality are appealing even if the lighting or
background isn't perfect. An easy way to get good
personality shots is to have your camera ready right after you
feed them, which is when they lick themselves.
Tongue shots, which I call "good tongue-age," show off the
second most visible part of a black cat's face (after its eyes).
Just follow them right after they eat and take rapid
photos - they *will* lick themselves. And don't forget
backgrounds - you can pick them up right after they eat and set
them on the bed or chair with the background sheets/blankets
ready to compliment their eyes. Alternatively with a
tongue-age pic you can completely cut out the background and
just go for the face:
On this tongue-age shot you can see one of the easiest
Photoshopping effects for mal-face
(brightness/contrast). The darker shot may lose the
texture of the fur, but it brings out the eyes and tongue.
A nice Halloween shot.
Here, a tongue-age shot taken right after eating makes her
appear to be sticking out her tongue:
I call this a "Nah-nah-nee-nah-nah!" shot. It's great for
adult responses to emails asking you to do something you don't
want to do.
I keep a few of these around for every occasion:
Another opportunity for good tongue-age is just after they wake
up. I found these two sleeping and I grabbed my camera and
ran back to them and sure enough they woke up and did what cats
do when they wake up - yawn, several times. They have a
pretty good background (the green matches one of the cats' eyes)
and excellent tongue-age:
You can put lots of cute captions with this because they appear
to be singing or complaining: "What do we do with the
drunken sailor earl-ly in the morning!"
Please note that the only reason that the contrasting background
colors work here is that the lighting happened to be perfect
sunlight, filtered through the screened-windows in the patio.
Here's kitty mid-yawn, which makes her look like a vampire
kitty. Perfect for Halloween cards, or threats; I
gave this one to my vet with the caption - "You want a blood
sample? I do not *give* blood! I *take* blood!"
Another good Halloween shot
that you can sometimes catch
right after they wake up is the
Halloween cat stretch.
And here's "Don't
make me laugh!"
Drop What You're Doing Poses
Unlike good tongue-age shots which can be planned for after
they're eating or when you wake them, most good poses just
happen and you have to be willing to drop what you're doing,
grab the camera and shoot.
Here the lighting was perfect so I grabbed my
camera. She crossed her legs in a casual pose and
I was ready.
She looks like she's ready for a good gossip.
The sleeping-kitty look is charming. It's best if you can
get them to sleep on a chair (for good below and behind
background color) or on a bed. If you put the chair in
front of a window they usually like to sit on it and to look out
the window and then end up sleeping there giving you natural
light (indirect or late afternoon sunlight is better than direct
midday sun - less mal-face). Just keep the camera near the
chair and go about doing your domestic chores and as soon as
they're bored they'll curl up and go to sleep and you'll have
the camera ready to grab and shoot.
When I found these two asleep on their chair by the window, I
ran to get my camera and woke them up and they gave me a nice
There's a bit of mal-face, but the expressions on their faces
out weigh it. It's ready for a caption like: What do
The one-eared cat (i.e. I wanna play) is my favorite pose:
It's really hard to get because they only do it when they're in
a playful mood and they usually refuse to hold the pose while
you go to get your camera - how rude! The trick is to keep
your camera out in a location where they tend to do these cute
things, drop whatever you're doing no matter how important it
is, and take the pic. You won't regret it.
Cat's really do like to show off for you. For example they
like to show off their prowess when they scratch on the
scratching post, which is why cats don't use the scratching
posts that you stick out in the garage. They want to show
off where you hang out the most, be it your TV room or by the
computer or the bedroom. I keep a cat fishing-pole-toy
near where I sit to watch TV and play with the cats at this time
so for me, this is "The Location." Figure out where you
give your cats their quality time and keep your camera right
there because by the time you go to another room to get your
camera, the incredible cuteliness will be history.
I used to think that "photogenic" meant good
looking. I've recently come to see this is not at all
true. I suppose that's why the film industry spends so
much time and money on screen testing. I didn't truly
believe it until I noticed that one of my brothers, who is very
handsome in person, is not at all attractive in pictures.
Conversely, one of my neighbor's cats, Rumpy, who is not very
exceptional in "person," is adorable in photos:
Being photogenic is all about looking good flat, i.e. at any
*one* angle. Animals/people who aren't normally
photogenic can look good if you get them at just the right angle
for their "beauty" and with the right lighting (and of course
background). With black cats this is extra tricky because
you also have to get an angle which avoids the temple-bald-spot
Ramses is a sweetheart but not at all photogenic:
|To get good pics of a
non-photogenic cat, first take a photo and take a good
hard look at it, not
the real live animal. Try to analyze
what gives him/her a case of the uglies.
With Ramses, it's a mixture of:
Fur color: his fur color is not consistent
Eyes: he's got odd eyes. He usually opens
one eye more than the other, they're slightly crossed,
and they're slanted at an odd angle
Chin: he has a bald spot on his chin
Fur scruffiness: like many long-hairs, he's not
good at grooming his ruff (mane) so it looks scruffy
(Hey - he's just a kitten!).
Many black cats have inconsistent fur color. This can be
made to look even worse when adjacent colors reflect off of the
fur as with the red collar above. To make his color look
consistent he needs to lose the red collar. Alternatively,
if you want to bring out the red-brown in a black cat, you can
use lots of red in the background, but putting it in one place,
as with this collar, makes him look brown in just that
place. Softer light, the cure for all evils, will also
lessen the fur color inconsistency.
Then there are his eyes. Here are some ways to deal with
You can use a profile:
or a semi-profile:
Closed eyes works.
Here he is singing:
"Some - where over the
off key, as usual.
; - )
or looking up. Here he's pretending there's a
spider above my head, but when I looked he said "Hah!
Hah! Made you look!" He always gets me with
The slight chin angle gets rid of the bald chin look and
the odd-eyes and also shows the importance of the old
photographers' adage: When you think you've got a
good photo, take several more. A small movement of
his chin can change his look from average to
The only way I've found to get angle-eyed cats to look good and
still have eye contact with you is with a slightly tilted head:
Eye contact makes all the difference - you connect with his
fuzzy little mind.
With most long haired cats, you need to brush them before taking
pics unless they're extremely good at grooming themselves.
If you don't, they just look ratty especially around their
necks. After all, it's not easy to lick your neck - you
try it sometime... If you do this daily it will cut down
on hairballs and fur on your furniture and it's a bonding
experience with your cat. If the cat isn't keen on it at
first, give him a treat before and after each brushing
session. Start out doing just a little bit each day (1
minute) and work your way up to about a 15 minute
session. It doesn't take long for them to associate
the brushing with the treat and they will actually come to the
point of asking you for a brushing. If they don't seem to
like it, you're probably brushing too hard. Try brushing
your arm with the brush to test what feels good and what feels
like torture. Don't try to be totally thorough at first,
and avoid areas where they are sensitive like the tail and tummy
Another way to deal with long
haired cats with unkempt fur is to use a soft focus:
With modern digital cameras it has become fashionable to always
use the intense sharp focus that they give, but I think there's
still a place for a slightly artistic soft focus shot now and
then. It makes their fur look soft and wavy, instead of
ratty. All you have to do is move the camera a little
while clicking it - it's not at all difficult - I do it all the
time. ; - ) Alternatively, you can use
Photoshop to soften the focus with the "Blur" tool.
To make your cat look photogenic you always have to look for the
beautiful parts and the less becoming parts and then accentuate
the positive making them dominate the picture. Here you
can see that Nefret has a bit of a waistline problem, but her
facial expression is priceless:
So we crop off the bad bits making the good bits dominate:
She's clearly saying that she's going to get back at me for that
flash, late at night, running over me back and forth until I
wake up. I'm scared!
Now you've got the tools. Accentuate the
positive: eyes, tongue, fur sheen, and personality.
Try to catch them waking up or after eating. Find a soft
indirect light and minimize bits of bright light and contrasting
objects which will make fur sheen less visible. When you
think you've got a good picture, take five more, because you
never know when just a slight difference in the angle can get
rid of those darn bald temple spots. Throw down a few
towels and sheets on the sofas and beds, tantalize with some
colorful ribbons. Capture the beauty of black and remember
"all that's best of dark and bright meets in her aspect and her
My special thanks to my sweet cat models:
(In alpha order)