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Cat Photography: Catchlights and Other Tips for Lively, Adorable Kitten Portraits

When it comes to cat photography, who could forget kittens with their cute movements? This article explores ways to emphasize their eyes and capture their lively expressions, including the use of catchlights. (Reported by: Nui Ishibashi)

Bright-eyed kitten in a bag, shot with EF50mm f/1.4 USM

EOS 5D Mark III/ EF50mm f/1.4 USM/ FL: 50mm/ Manual exposure (f/5.6, 1/125 sec)/ ISO 125/ WB: Manual


As an animal photographer, some of my assignments involve photographing kittens at the home of their owner. Although the kitten may already be in the home it is familiar with, the presence of a stranger might make it nervous, so the first thing I do is try to create a comfortable environment with my setup so as to put the kitten at ease. To bring out the expressions and cuteness of the kitten, I select the simplest possible background.

During the shoot, I control the camera with one hand while using the other hand to attract the attention of the kitten. For this reason, I prefer to use a bright prime lens, which is lightweight and easy to handle. However, if I shoot at maximum aperture, the kitten itself becomes excessively blurred out, and it becomes more difficult to focus on the eyes of a moving kitten. Therefore, I usually will use a narrower aperture of around f/4 to f/5.6. I use catchlights to emphasize the dewy eyes of the kitten, and capture its lively expressions at a low angle to make its cuteness stand out.

Bright-eyed kitten, shot with EF50mm f/1.4 USM

EOS 5D Mark III/ EF50mm f/1.4 USM/ FL: 50mm/ Manual exposure (f/5.6, 1/100 sec)/ ISO 125/ WB: 5,500K


Tip 1: Before the shoot, always make sure to wipe around the eyes of the kitten

Kittens tend to shed tears easily, and any dirt or tears around a kitten's eyes is immediately visible in photos. Check the surrounding area of the kitten's eyes before your shoot, and use a wet tissue to wipe away any dirt or tears. You should do this carefully, as kittens will not like it if you wipe too hard. Cats with large eyes, particularly the exotic types, shed tears easily so the fur around their eyes tends to be damp. Check for this many times over during your shoot.

Example of matted fur around the eyes

EOS 5D Mark III/ EF50mm f/1.4 USM/ FL: 50mm/ Manual exposure (f/3.2, 1/125 sec)/ ISO 125/ WB: Manual
Tears will cause the fur around the eyes to become matted.


Tip 2: Create a hiding place to make the kitten feel at ease

To be able to capture kittens showing their cutest sides, it is essential to create an environment where they can feel comfortable. Kittens don't like places where their paws will slip, so I recommend placing an item such as a piece of cloth on top of slippery surfaces so the kitten has more grip. Furthermore, if you prepare somewhere that the kitten can crawl into, such as a bag (or even a towel, as below) the kitten will relax because it has a hiding place available.

Bright eyed kitten hiding in a towel.

EOS 5D Mark III/ EF50mm f/1.4 USM/ FL: 50mm/ Manual exposure (f/5.6, 1/125 sec)/ ISO 125/ WB: Manual
Towels are also effective hiding places
Kittens are skilled at hiding in narrow, dark places. Try photographing the kitten while it is hiding—that often makes a cute picture, too.


Tip 3: Use catchlights to make its eyes sparkle

Having catchlights in the eyes of a kitten makes it look even livelier, so I used a monoblock flash and bounced the light off an umbrella in order to have catchlights in the photo. Be careful not to shine light directly on kittens. Always diffuse the light.

Umbrella only

Kitten eyes with catchlights (umbrella only)

Used in combination with a softbox

Kitten eyes with catchlights (umbrella & softbox)

As opposed to the round shape of the umbrella, diffusing light with a softbox causes the shape of catchlights to become square. You can use separately according to the type of ambience you want to convey.


Use a monoblock flash to provide stable lighting for a smoother shoot



For the lighting, I generally use a monoblock flash, which emits stable light. Where possible, use a battery-type flash (such as a Speedlite) that does not require a cord, as kittens may play with and pull on cords.


You may also be interested in:
3 Ideas for Cute Cat Photos
Ideas for Photographing Cats in Outdoor Settings
“Hamketsu” Techniques: Take Even Cuter Shots of Your Hamster!
2 Ideas for Cute Rabbit Photos


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Digital Camera Magazine

Digital Camera Magazine

A monthly magazine that believes that enjoyment of photography will increase the more one learns about camera functions. It delivers news on the latest cameras and features and regularly introduces various photography techniques.
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Nui Ishibashi

Nui Ishibashi

After working as an assistant for the photographer Yoneo Morita, Ishibashi became a freelancer. She began specializing in photographing dogs, cats and other small animals in 2009. Her photos have been published in magazines, and she also photographs for commercially-available calendars. She continues to photograph the wildlife of Japan.