PopSci mastered the Internet-age art of photographing feline antics in 1951, just four millennia after the domestication of the cat and 83 years after the Kodak box camera went on sale. In this article, renowned pet photographer Walter Chandoha describes his tested strategies for posing your kitty, lighting the shot, and framing those glorious whiskers.
Republished in full from our December 1951 issue (with our most prescient headline ever), here is “Cats Are Fun to Photograph,” by Walter Chandoha:
Cats are easy to photograph – if you can tap an unlimited supply of patience. Beyond that, all you need is a camera (I prefer a reflex) with flash attachment. An assistant, portrait lenses, a tripod and a flash extension are helpful, but by no means essential.
The best place to work is a spot the cat likes best and the best time is just after he has eaten. When the cat gets down to the business of washing, you can start clicking. Set up your equipment beforehand and keep backgrounds plain. If the cat happens to like a spot in front of a cluttered background, stretch a sheet behind him.
Make silly noises to get Tabby’s attention: miaowing, barking, hissing, squeaking, crumpling paper, or whatever you think might work. If the cat is uncooperative, a morsel of shrimp, liver, catnip, ground beef or sardines will bring him around. Shoot while he is looking for more.
You can use flood or daylight, but I favor flash bulbs. Their strong light enables you to use a small aperture and a high shutter speed – both requisites for getting good pictures.
An aperture of f/22 will give you sufficient depth of field so that any slight error in focus will automatically be corrected. And if your focus is right on the nose (you should take that literally – focus on the nose and whiskers rather than on the eyes) you’ll get an over-all sharpness that is desirable. As for shutter speed, remember that the closer you get to a moving object the faster your shutter will have to be. Working about three feet from a cat, I find that 1/250 second stops all but the fastest motion.
View the full story in our December 1951 issue: Cats Are Fun to Photograph.