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Ideas for Photographing Cats in Outdoor Settings

When you take photos of your cat outdoors, there is a high chance that you will end up with a background that looks plain and boring. Here are some ideas for photos with a touch of uniqueness. (Reported by: punkuma)

Cat photo, shot with the EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM


I started out photographing landscapes, and as an extension of that, I began to photograph seasonal flowers as well. I took in a cat that came to play in my garden as my pet, and before I knew it, I had fallen for their charm. Since then, I have been photographing cats that I come across at the various locations where I go to photograph landscapes. Because cats alone do little to evoke a seasonal feel, I like to intentionally photograph them in combination with flowers.

Cats are fickle creatures, so whether you are able to get them in the same frame as flowers is mostly a matter of luck. However, if you observe closely, you will find that cats do often play with flowers. I am sure many of you have seen a cat amused by the scent of flowers or playfully chasing insects that are gathered on plants.

The trick is to predict the cat’s behaviour and, having ascertained the weather conditions as well as direction of light, use a lens with a relatively long focal length, such as a macro lens or telephoto zoom lens, set to maximum aperture. If you actively apply a bokeh effect on the flowers in the foreground and background, you can make your photos of cats, which might otherwise appear ordinary, look more interesting.

Cat with flowers, shot with the EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM

EOS-1D X/ EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM/ FL: 200mm / Shutter-priority AE (f/2.8, 1/1,000 sec, EV+0.7)/ ISO 400/ WB: Daylight


Idea 1: Add some colour by creating a defocus effect on nearby flowers

Cat with hydrangea, photographed with the EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM

EOS 7D/ EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM/ FL: 100mm (160mm equivalent)/ Aperture-priority AE (f/4, 1/160 sec, EV±0)/ ISO 160/ WB: Daylight

In the above photo, a defocus effect was applied to the hydrangeas. I positioned the hydrangeas so that they occupied more than half of the frame, and placed the cat in the resulting gap. I used a 100mm macro lens and got up close to the blooming hydrangeas from a lowered position. The defocused flowers added some colour to a photo that might otherwise have a plain background, without distracting viewers’ attention from the cat. Your choice of flowers could also add an ambience to the photo, like how the hydrangeas here evoke the idea of the early-summer rainy season in Japan.


Cat photography with yellow flowers, Cat photography with pink flowers

Yellow flowers
EOS-1D X/ EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM/ FL: 190mm/ Shutter-priority AE (f/2.8, 1/1000 sec, EV±0)/ ISO 640/ WB: Manual
Pink flowers
EOS-1D X/ EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM/ FL: 200mm/ Shutter-priority AE (f/3.2, 1/320 sec, EV±0)/ ISO 1250/ WB: Manual

The use of a bokeh effect for yellow flowers in the foreground, which are reminiscent of the sun, gives the photo a warm impression. Pink and other pale colours give a clean and soft impression.


Idea 2: Photograph a cat climbing a tree

Cat climbing tree, shot with EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM

EOS-1D X/ EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM/ FL: 102mm/ Shutter-priority AE (f/3.5, 1/320 sec, EV+0.7)/ ISO 100/ WB: Daylight

If a cat flattens its back while crouching underneath a tree and looks upwards, this is a sign that it is about to climb up. It was a cloudy day when I took this photo, so I adjusted the exposure to EV+0.7 to make the photo brighter, and this enabled me to beautifully capture the cat's white coat. I used a 102mm telephoto lens to draw the red flowers in the background closer, and applied a defocus effect on them.


Idea 3: Photograph using semi-backlight to create a rim light effect

If you photograph cats with long hair using semi-backlighting, you can create a rim light effect on the body so that the cat looks like it is outlined in light. This will make the photo look more impressive. Furthermore, with a focal length of 200mm and aperture of f/2.8, you can create bokeh circles with the light reflected off plants in the background to enhance the impression given by the light.

Cat in rim light effect (semi-backlighting), shot with EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM

EOS-1D X/ EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM/ FL: 39mm/ Shutter-priority AE (f/2.8, 1/160 sec, EV±0)/ ISO 400/ WB: Auto

When taking photographs of cats that are at an elevated position, there is great flexibility in the angle you can shoot from, making it easier to adjust the angle of the light.


Recommended lens: EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM


EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM

Because the 200mm telephoto end has a strong perspective compression effect, with a bright aperture of f/2.8, you can create a colourful background effortlessly by drawing distant flowers closer to you while applying a defocus effect on them. I like how I can use the zoom to make fine adjustments to the angle of view.


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Born in Miyagi Prefecture in 1958. A photographer of stray cats who is a member of a cat lovers' association, and is actively engaged in TNR activities that include feeding and caring for cats and ensuring that they are sterilised.