I know of four brave cat photographer souls in the entire U.S. who will be dressing their cats as pilgrims, indians, turkeys and pumpkins for Thanksgiving photos. If you’d like to join their ranks, but hesitate because you don’t have a setup for cat photography, I’ll show you how to set up a poor man’s pet photo studio for less than $20. Camera not included.
Here’s all you need:
One backdrop-sized piece of foam core (I used 36″X24″)
One smaller sized piece of foam core (they come in colors!)
Paper tablecloth from a variety store or party store
How to Make a Backdrop
Foam core is my friend. For the backdrop, I start with a large 36″ X 24″ piece of foam core to which I adhere an Autumnal print. In this case, I got a $5 paper tablecloth at the party store. Since the print I wanted to use only ran down the sides of the cloth as a border, I cut the borders off and attached them to the foam core.
To do that, I first staple the short end around the corner of the foam core. Then I use spray-on adhesive, spraying about six inches at a time, smoothing down as I go. For the second strip, I cut around the border of the leaves so that I could “blend” it in to the panel that had already been affixed to the foam core. I use the same “staple the ends then spray adhesive” method to adhere it to the board.
In this photo, I’ve already affixed one tablecloth border panel, and am getting ready to affix the second:
Using the spray adhesive provides a way to smooth out the natural folds in the paper tablecloth. The “cloth” has a matte finish so it doesn’t reflect light, a factor you should consider with any possible backdrop material. This one is a little busier and more colorful than what I would normally choose, but because the pilgrim costumes I’m going to use are black and white, I decided on more visual interest.
The foam core can be repurposed over and over and over again as new backdrops or for Flat Pets.
Find a Spot with Natural Daylight
You should always try to photograph your cats using natural light. It avoids red eye and blown-out highlights. Also, many cats hate the flash and begin to instinctively squint when you point the camera at them in anticipation of it. (Most cameras have a setting that allows you to disable automatic flash.)
I have a spot I like to use that during certain times of the year provides nice indirect light (you don’t want glaring sunlight that casts hard shadows).
Use a couch to stage the backdrop
Set up your “stage” where the light is best. I use a couch. Just drop the foam core backdrop between the couch cushions, and add a smaller piece of foam core on which the cats can sit.
Seen in cross section, it looks something like this:
If this couch setup doesn’t work for you, fashion an easel back to your backdrop so that it stands up on its own. Then set it up on a tabletop. Yes, you can also set up on the floor, but then you need to get down at floor level to shoot the images. Let your knees make the decision for you.
Shoot the photo on the same level as your subjects
The camera should always be at the same level as your subjects. OK, there’s always an exception to the rule, but 95% of the time, you’ll get a better photo at cat level.
I also put a ginormous piece of foam core behind me to bounce light back onto the scene.
And oh yeah, make sure you have a good cat wrangler to help you position your pilgrims. You may have to yell at him a few times to quit blocking the light, cuz they always seem to manage to do that.
Does the setup look purrfessional? Decidedly not. Does it work? Well, you’ll just have to visit Mousebreath on Thanksgiving to see the final shot!