How to photograph black cats (or any other black animal, as it happens)


Whether you regard them as lucky or unlucky, black cats need a little photographic care and attention.

 Black cat in close-up (photo by Haje)

Black cat in close-up (photo by Haje)

'When I photograph my black cat, I end up with a photo of a black blob with eyes. What am I doing wrong?' It's a common problem for people with black pets, not just cats. And if they don't turn out a black blob with eyes but no definition in the coat, they get a grey fluffy mass that isn't black at all. While the kitten, puppy, or bunny might not be too concerned by this sudden change in appearance, anyone who loves her or him might. With a little bit of know-how, it's something that can be overcome, though.

1. Lighting

As a general rule, you don't want to photograph anything in bright, direct sunlight. It'll produce harsh shadows and difficult contrasts. This is especially true for black-coated animals. What you want is soft, diffuse light. If you're taking photos outside, look for the shade from a tree, awning, or building, or take advantage of a cloudy day. A bit of fill-flash to balance the ambient light might help you on your way if it's unavoidably bright.

 Panther the cute black kitten

Panther the cute black kitten

When you're inside, light coming through a window is great. Should you be dragging out your flashes–nothing wrong with that–you'll find that soft-boxes or light coming through an umbrella is your best bet. 

And don't forget the portrait photographer's friend: golden hour light around sunrise and sunset.

2. Exposure compensation

Just as taking photos of bright white frame-filling subjects can give you exposure difficulties, so can photographing dark black subjects. The solution for black cats is the converse of that for white dogs: negative exposure compensation. If your black animal is showing up as washed-out grey, deliberately under-expose by a stop or two and the tones should come back to black.

 Roger the RSPCA cat (photo by Haje)

Roger the RSPCA cat (photo by Haje)

3. Think about the background

We always recommend clutter-free backgrounds for just about anything, and black pets are no different. But you get to a have a little fun with black cats if you fancy. Any kind of mid-toned background will look terrific, from a verdant lawn to an azure sky via a sumptuous magenta curtain. 

 Okay, so it's a monkey. But it's a black monkey on a green background. You get the picture. (Photo by Haje.)

Okay, so it's a monkey. But it's a black monkey on a green background. You get the picture. (Photo by Haje.)

4. Eyes in focus

We can't write an article about portrait photography without reminding you to keep the eyes in focus. It's all-important to ensure that your audience is baited and hooked from the moment they look at your photos.

 And this is a coot. Not a cat. But the same principles apply.

And this is a coot. Not a cat. But the same principles apply.