Tuesday, May 19, 2015

5 Tips for awesome black cat photos

Troy the black cat on his red couch

Black cats like Troy aren't always easy to photograph. In fact, they're notoriously hard to light and snap. That's why most photos of black cats end up looking like black cardboard cutouts with illuminated eyes. All of the depth and beauty goes right out of their ebony coats unless you take a little time to set up the shot just right.

I'm not a professional photographer, and I haven't invested in fancy equipment. In fact, about 95 percent of the photos I put on this blog come right from my Apple tablet, using only ambient light. But, I still manage to get snaps of Troy that have some contour and depth to them. If I can do it, you can, too!

Here are my five recommendations.

1. Try a dark-colored background. 

Putting Troy in front of a black background makes his fur fade away even more, while popping him in front of something bright like white highlights the shine without giving him any depth. He does best in front of backgrounds that are deeply colored but not quite black. This red couch works wonderfully well (which is why most of his shots are taken right here), but he also looks great in front of the blue walls of my writing studio.

With a little experimentation, you can find the right background. And with tight crops, your viewers might never realize that all of the snaps are in the same spot. Those tightly focused shots contain very little visible background.

2. Make sure the room is bright, but avoid direct sunlight. 

A bright background is the key to perfect black-cat shots, but the best light is indirect. I like to take shots in the very early morning or in the late afternoon. At both times, my ideal photo spots are in rooms that are bright, but there's no band of direct light on the spots in which I'm shooting.

In a pinch, you can cheat with overhead lighting. But, I find that using a bright source of direct light often results in photos with backgrounds that look unnatural when I correct for color. They're so well lit and so vibrant that brightening them for Troy's color means creating pockets of too-bright color. By steering clear of direct light, I avoid that problem altogether.

3. Take the shot from above or below (not head on). 

Taking a photo of a black cat head on contributes to the lack-of-depth problem. Straight-ahead photos give you only eyes peering out of very dark fur. By taking photos from a different angle, slightly above or slightly below, you're providing a bit more visual information, which can give the face a lot more depth. 
Troy the black cat poses for photos

4. Move around as you shoot. 

I can't tell you how many times I thought I had the shot set up perfectly, only to find that I was off by a degree or two when I sat down to upload my masterpiece images. In general, it's best to take way more photos than you think you'll ever need, so you can be sure to get a ton of photos you can actually use. 

And as a bonus, some of your added shots might make for nice additions to long blog posts (like this one!).

5. Don't be afraid to color-correct by hand.

Most Apple products come with an automatic color-correcting function. In theory, you can just tap that button and all of the colors will magically morph to their proper places. In reality, it rarely works with black cats. When I use that button on Troy shots, he comes out looking washed-out or just plain strange. Instead, I go old-school and use the sliders to get the colors I want. I fiddle and tweak until he looks deep and dark, and I don't pay much mind to the colors around him. When I can see his nose and eyes clearly, I know I'm done.

That's it! Here's to great photos of our pretty friends.

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