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Pet Portraits: Cats

Lesson 9 from: Integrating Animal Photography into your Business

Norah Levine

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Lesson Info

9. Pet Portraits: Cats

Lesson Info

Pet Portraits: Cats

Like we talked about earlier, kittens and cats are very, they're not as used to being in new environments. They're a little bit different than dogs. We're gonna guarantee that something will work and that something will not work in this situation. We've got two kittens, Ethel and Lucy, They're very different personalities, so I understand. Lucy is, loves laps and Ethel loves play time, so that's, you know, Ethel might have higher energy and Lucy might be a little bit more subdued, so very different. It says here that Lucy is a little afraid of dogs and takes a minute to warm up to people, so that's really good information to know, and that Ethel is pretty fearless and doesn't love the vacuum, so no vacuums in the studio. We'll keep that in mind, and, any words, you know cats don't typically respond to words as much as dogs would, and they both love treats and wire toys, that's all great information we'll take with us today. I'm going to take a look at, you know, we've got the similar l...

ighting situation here. I'm probably gonna stick with the natural light. I'm able to keep my shutter speed high enough to work where I'm comfortable. What that does mean is that by prioritizing my shutter speed, my aperture has to remain pretty wide, so that's kind of dictating my creative choices at this point. My ISO is up pretty high, I'm shooting at about 1600 ISO, and I'm pretty comfortable with that for my portrait clients. I mean, these images aren't going on billboards, and I think at a 1600 ISO, as long as I properly expose it, I'll be good. But cats move quickly, and so I wanna make sure that I have enough. If we start shooting and I realize I don't have enough shutter speed to capture them, we might have to move to a light, but we'll see. We'll try to do it with natural light. Again, I'll try to aim for some close up shots, some full body, some sweet detail, and something totally unplanned. Let's meet the ladies. I think we'll need that table. Let's pull that table out this way, I'm gonna shoot that way, yeah, I think that's what I'm gonna do. (metallic squeal) Hi. So we've got one or both of them here? Both of them. Oh we do, okay. We can pull one out at a time. Okay. So let me pull ... Let's pull ... Love your dress. Let's pull Lucy out, right? Lucy was a little bit more- Lucy's the mellow one. And you said it takes her a little bit of time to get to know people? Yeah, come here, sweet pea. Oh. Hi. Hi sweetheart, where are we now? Hi. Gonna be curious? Gonna be curious? Oh, you're so cute. Okay. So I'm actually thinking, she's pretty startled, so I'm probably gonna start with the other one. Actually, I think, because she's getting pretty responsive to the noises out there, so let's get you back in here, and give me one minute before you take them out because, Ethel's got energy, right? Oh yeah. Okay. Let's see. Let's take, I'm thinking if we can get her, do we have our toy, my bag of tricks? Let's get that out, and we'll just try to start engaging with her over here on this table and see if she'll be into it, so you never know. We'll try it, yeah. Are you gonna be a good girl or are you gonna be a rascal? So in a normal situation, I might even let them just, like, roam around for 10 minutes or so, you know. Just to kind of get their bearings. Yeah and that might happen in here, just on, we'll see if we can give them some time, so, yeah. Oh, it's the trucks. Yeah, the trucks, yeah. Hey, hi. Whoa, (laughing), there she goes (laughing). Yeah, so I'm probably gonna have, Danielle will probably be like a spotter, here. And we'll try, and we're not here to stress anybody out, so we'll try this, we'll give it some patience, and then we might have to swap them out, and that's okay. So, ideally, let's see. Let's kind of distract you. Look at that. What is it? Ethel. (clicking tongue) (humming theme from Jaws) So I'll have you do this. I'm gonna try to get her down at the end of the table. And, there she goes. Yeah, let's have her down at this end. Okay. No problem. Kinda crazy in here today. Yeah. (imitates purring) Whoop. Did she go under? She's under the couch. (laughing) That's okay. You might be able to get her out with a toy. Let me try to get a couple of shots with, are you okay being in, as a body? Sure, sure, sure. Okay, so I'm gonna take that toy from you. You can just kind of lean over here. Hey, what do I have? What do I have? What is that? What is that thing? I know it's scary. Yeah. A little wild. You're a little wild. Here, let me have you sit on this side, maybe kind of put her in your lap a little bit. Okay, let me try this. See if I can hold her for a second. You don't have to sit on the table, just lean up against it, yeah. (laughs) Keep it safe. All right. You're not liking this at all, are you? Yeah, she might need to... (soft whistling) Are you a good girl? It's okay. These are your fosters? No, no, they're mine. These are yours, okay, good. They're my babies. Yeah, you're so pretty. So the other thing we can do is maybe have you just sit down in this chair over here, and, (laughs) Laura Yeah? Just so you know, we do have Phoebe who is ready as well. Yeah, okay. If we need to switch out. Great, yeah we might do that in a minute, let's see. Yeah, in a normal situation, I would be able to let her walk around the entire room, give it 15 or 20 minutes, let her just settle, but it doesn't seem like we have that opportunity today so in order to stick to the learning opportunities I think maybe we'll give them a break and then we might swap them out after we do a little bit with Phoebe, how does that sound? Sounds great. Okay. Let's do that. Okay. Great. They're really young, too, did you say they were like Five months. Five months old, so they're young. Hey. Okay, there we go. You guys are buddies. Awesome. (laughs) Thank you. Yeah. Thank you so much. You guys got fired. Nope, they just got a pause. Yes ma'am. While we're waiting for Phoebe, what is the ideal scenario for cats? Because they can be perhaps even more skittish than dogs, do you look for a smaller, more enclosed space? Yes, that's a great question. With cats, I try to contain the space as much as possible. So they don't have as much opportunity to run out a door or down, it just kind of simplifies things. So when you can shut doors and put up baby gates and things like that. That's always really helpful. Ideal spaces, I mean, I personally feel like going into people's homes is already more ideal than having cats go into the studio. Just because, like I said, they're more used to their own environment and smells. But when I am in somebody's home, or in a studio environment, I would like to keep it kind of a smaller space is more ideal. We're in a really big space here with lots of room for them to go and lots of external noise. Definitely not an ideal scenario for kittens. In general, giving it time. Giving them plenty of time to get comfortable and sometimes I'll be at somebody's house for a few hours. The shoot might take that long for me to be able to have them relax and let them come into the space and be comfortable with me being around. Great, and one more question. To that regard, what is it that- or do we have, oh. We're just going to go ahead Okay. since we've got, we've got Phoebe. We've got Phoebe. Okay, I'll take a minute to set where I'm going to be. I'm thinking maybe we could grab that maybe we'll do on the couch here. Yeah, I'm going to go onto the couch. Do you want to take those off of there? Yes, that would be great. So in reviewing, as we're getting set up here, reviewing my notes about Phoebe, she loves food, so that's good to know. She's a little bit shy of strangers in her home but she's really friendly. And she's a little bit toy motivated but not super toy motivated, and she's a little bit older. She's very sweet and mellow. So I'm looking forward to meeting Phoebe. So you wanna bring her out? I think we're going to do this couch here and see if we can have kind of this become a little bit more of a contained space rather than an open area. May I please I have my trick bag? You want her on the couch? Yeah, I think so. You okay? Yeah, I'm fine. Alright, so this is Phoebe. Hi! Hi sweetie, oh she's pretty. She has one eye. One eyed. Hi. Do you want me to- is it okay if I handle her? Or would you like to- Yeah, it's okay. Maybe she'll come out. Yeah, maybe let her come out on her own. Come on. She may or may not. Give it a minute. Let's come on out (laughs) Come on. And how old is she? She's probably 10, 11. Okay. There you go, oh sweetie. We'll let her just hang out with you for a minute. I'll put this carrier to the side if you wanna take this, Danielle? Hey, girl. What's all going on? She's been pretty relaxed. Yeah. Wandering around, exploring. She's beautiful. She met the other kittens. You make some friends? Well they didn't like her very much. (laughs) No? They're immature, so. They're not used to seeing any strange kitty. Are these her toys? These are her toys. Okay. She's not real motivated at this point. Okay, yeah. Sometimes less toys when there's so much going on it's harder to be. Yeah. No problem. Well we will try to get some nice pictures of you, Phoebe. That would be great. Pretty eye. Her color is so pretty. She's ready for her close-up. Alright. So I'm going to see, do you think she needs the towel here? No, probably not, that was just if she wanted to lie down on that but I don't think so. Okay, I'm going to see if I can get her comfortably tucked into this corner here. Will she show up? I think she will, yeah. There you go, hi. Just going to kind of love on her for a minute. Okay if you want to sit right there, you're going to be fine. Okay. You'll be out of frame, so that's okay. Just to keep her kind of comfortable. (camera beeping) (camera shutter) Oh, thank you. Can I get that bag? What's this? We're going to keep you kinda settled. There you go. Do we have any of her treats? Is she allowed to have treats? She's allowed to have treats. She will? Let's see. Not interested? Oh, okay. (imitates purring) What about catnip? She likes catnip. She does? Yeah. Yeah there's a lot. Can you go that way a little bit? Thanks. She's really soft. What's this? Yeah. Okay. Do you want me to hold her? I think we're okay for now. She's doing great, don't worry about it. Yeah, we're just gonna let her be curious. Might have you move over just a little bit if you're okay with that. I'll sit over here. (camera shutter) She's doing the army crawl (laughs) Not play time. (whispers) You're being good. Have you had her since she was a baby? No, she's a foster kitty. She's a foster one, oh. Is she available for adoption? Yes, she's definitely available for adoption. Oh, good to know. Yeah, and I've had her since October. Okay, perfect. I'm going to scoot around the edge of this table here. Do you want me to move? No, you're good, yeah. I'm going to need, camera guy, thank you. Nothing. I wouldn't mind if she went on the back of the couch, but I don't necessarily- She'll jump down. She'll run away. Yeah she wants to run away, that's okay. That's good. Oh that's perfect, where she's at right now. Just leave her there, that'd be great. Do you want to put her in your lap for a couple shots? Sure. Come on. Okay, I'm going to move this. I'll actually have you scoot over just a little bit if you could. Perfect. Okay, I'll move around. In the corner? In the corner would be great. If you're okay with it. Yeah, and so maybe put her right in the center and face your knees towards me? If you could, perfect. Yeah. That's great. So much to listen to. And don't worry, if you just hold her, just kind of keep your hands soft, and I'll try to get her attention if I can. At this point, I feel like she's kind of looking around and I'm waiting for that moment. (camera shutter) She's pretty interested in the camera crew I think. She's looking at that. Yeah. I'm going to go this way. And Danielle if you could move that green chair out of the way, that would be awesome. Perfect, thank you. Hi. (camera shutter) I'm wondering if she'll go on.. I'm wondering if she'll go on that green chair. Yeah. You think it'd be worth a try? Just to change it up? We could put the towel on it. We could put the towel on it, mhm. Okay. Oh, we're going to actually move the chair, sorry. We'll bring it to you, yeah. So I would like the chair... White or leather? Against the white, yeah. And if you could do like the sideways, yeah. That'd be great. We'll see what she thinks. I'm not sure she'll stay. Yeah. And maybe.. Actually would you mind picking her up one more time? Let's flip the chair around. Let's see if she'll do without this. Like all the way around, the other way. Yeah, perfect. Thank you. Okay, awesome. Okay, great. It's okay. (camera shutter) Hey. Do you want me to grab her? Yeah. Yeah one more little round. That would be perfect, I don't know if she'll do it but- Laura? Yeah? You just have a few more minutes with Phoebe and then we can take a look at some of the images Okay. But we also have Kobe ready to go for another 10 minutes after that. Okay, yeah, let's do that. So I'll just do a couple more here, and then we'll wrap it up. Perfect. Perfect. (camera shutter) I'm going to come over here. Hey. (kissing sounds) There she goes. I think we'll let her have an exit point. We're almost done, I think she's doing great. Well, yeah. So that was a bit of a challenge and Phoebe, really sweet sweet personality for sure. But a little bit nervous in the space, as you could see, and that's okay. It's like, we got to work with the situation that we have, I mean it was a pretty stark contrast from working with Judy, you know? Very different, you could see the different kind of response to the environment. But even within that, my option was to like quit and walk away, or make the best with what I had. So I tried to really work within just the small space, I put her on that couch to kind of have her a little bit more contained rather than putting her in a big open area and I think that was a little bit helpful. Also couches are kind of a more normal space for cats to be in. I did my best to work within that environment and get as many angles, really worked with the angle and composition and play around with that. I'll just pull out a couple of images that.. Tried to do some wider shots with a little bit more environment, little bit more information. And then, sometimes it works, and sometimes it's needed, to put animals, use the people as props even if they don't, sometimes I have clients that don't necessarily want to be photographed, they're willing to at least be kind of supportive, play a supportive role in the portrait process and just be there to make the animal feel comfortable and hang on to them a little bit. So we tried that, and I think that worked pretty well. The biggest issue that I ran into was that she wanted to look away from me, and she has one eye, so I wanted to at least photograph either her good eye or her whole face. Didn't necessarily want to focus on the side without the eye, so I had to kind of position myself with what was happening. So she wasn't really responding to my noises or anything so I had to adapt to the situation. And so I moved around, and got her from a different angle, a different perspective and while I did that, while she was looking somewhere else, rather than make her look at me, I just decided to take advantage of that and photograph a nice profile shot and use kind of a back light situation. When we moved to the green chair, she's just definitely unsure and so in this situation if this were with a client I would, for this shot, I would absolutely retouch that arm out of there and be happy with that shot. I love the green against the color of her eye so that was a choice there with that color. And again, playing with the compositional opportunities within that space it's like "If she's going to be there, what can I do within this space and where she's at?"

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Norah Levine Book Coupon Code
Norah Levine Resource Guide
Pet Packing List
Pre Shoot Questionnaire

Ratings and Reviews


Norah is really great and I learned a lot watching her. Even non-pet related things, like how she's continually trying to better herself were really inspiring to me. Since watching this, I've learned to take every shoot as a learning opportunity by evaluating what went right and what didn't, and thinking of what I can do next time to do better. I liked the way she showed interacting with animals in a way that doesn't stress them (well, depending on the animal there may be some level of stress anyway I guess...) too. Great class.

Chelsea Beauchamp

So inspiring! Great information on both family pet photography as a craft as well as the business side. Norah obviously knows what she's doing and has tons of experience, so it's a good chance to hear/see what it's really like to take this on as a specialty whether it's the focus of your work or one of many parts of your work. She focuses not just on the mechanics, but on the personal side of working with people and animals. You can tell she's passionate about what she does, too. It's only been one day of class and I already feel totally inspired!

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