Incense

by Bart Arondson

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I have cats, but I imagine it's the same with dogs too... They never want to sit still, they get distracted easily, and when they do look at the camera they usually try to rub against it or grab it!

What can I do to help calm them down or get them to be more photo-friendly?

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We've got this question, but it seems to focus pretty much on dogs. "Bring leashes", for example — not so much, with the cats! –  mattdm Nov 8 '11 at 4:28
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Catnip? Take photos while they're crazy-eyed then again after they calm down. My favorite cat photos are when they're playing with their favorite toys (especially cardboard boxes) and when they're tired (yawning, stretching, or just calmly laying around). –  drewbenn Nov 8 '11 at 6:06
    
I keep a cat and as a general thing to keep in mind, is elder cats are more calm. Younger cats can sometimes seem hyper-active. Catnip will drives them crazy and can potentially make an interesting shot, but I think you may not want them to be any more active for now lol –  Gapton Nov 8 '11 at 6:22
    
@Gapton I don't want to focus too much on the catnip idea, since my favorite cat photos had nothing to do with it. I mentioned it, though, because in addition to the early shots where they're focusing on the catnip and then acting crazy, half an hour later they will settle down and get really calm. They'll still be a little wide-eyed, which may not be what you want, but they won't be moving around as much anymore. –  drewbenn Nov 8 '11 at 7:24

5 Answers 5

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I have found that the biggest problem with cats is getting them used to the camera. If the camera is something new they will be fascinated by it which is why they rub up against it. Also never use flash with a cat. It annoys them and they will disappear next time they see the camera.

When you want to take shots of your cat you have to be patient and wait for the cat to do things that are worth shooting rather than trying to get them to perform using toys. Toys just get them excited and all you will tend to get are blurred shots of the back end of a cat disappearing out of shot. Best thing to do is leave the camera out where the cats can see it for a few days then snap shots when the cats are at ease, that way you will end up with nice natural shots. Once they are used to the sight and sound of the camera they just ignore it.

Also try using a long lens, something like a 70-200, which will allow you to get closup shots from the other side of a room. The cats won't know your photographing them and will just carry on doing cat stuff while you shoot away.

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A few quick suggestions:

  • Let them get familiar with the location. Have them arrive 30 minutes early and have a good wander round / sniff / etc.
  • Let them get familiar with the camera: Just leave it there for them to see (maybe keep the lens cap on?)
  • Distract them: with cats, the perennial ball of wool or scratching post may be more interesting to them than your camera
  • Photograph them when they like to take a nap (doesn't work for all animals): if they want to lie down, that could work in your favour. You probably want to let them bring their basket/cushion/blanket with them.
  • Shoot outside: capture their energy as they're running / jumping / playing
  • Go with it: capture the animal itself, don't try to make it conform to your notion of how it should behave.
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You could try clicker training your cat. It's a technique commonly used on dogs, and I've used it on horses, but it should work on cats too. You'll need a clicker (ask from your local pet shop).

The basic idea is that you give a clear signal, and if the cat starts doing what you asked for, you immediately click the clicker and the cat gets a treat. The click becomes a cue for the cat to help understanding what exactly you liked. After a few times, it should be pretty clear for the cat how to make you give out treat; now you can raise your expectations by clicking only when the exercise is performed somewhat closer to your final intent. The cat will try various things when the old way does not work any more and very probably will stumble upon the correct thing to do.

You should start with very simple expectations, and move slowly to more complex ones. You want to be sure the cat is able to stumble on trying the next step. For example, when training your cat to sit, you give signal and click+treat when the cat stops moving (if that's too hard for your cat, you might have to start at "slows down"). When signalling stops the cat reliably, prolong the time cat has to stay put before clicking. When that works, click+treat only when the cat lowers its rear body. Next, only sitting down.

It's up to your imagination on what tricks you want to teach; for photography, you'll probably prefer tricks that involve staying still in a certain pose. Figure out the steps for cat how to get to that pose and start training.

When the cat has learned a trick, you can stop clicking (there's nothing more to learn) and just praise the cat in a usual way. Try to keep the lesson fun for the cat, and stop the before the cat gets bored. It will take several sessions to get to the end, but you will have a trained cat. Isn't that cool?

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This would be fun, if a bit taxing... I've read cats get bored of this sort of training in a given session within a few minutes; so it's definitely a long term process. –  Bob Nov 10 '11 at 21:45

If you want them to lay somewhere specific, consider putting a heating pad there and setting them on top of it. They make heating pads tailored specifically to pets.

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Although this seems like an unlikely solution to your feline modelling behaviour problems, It may be conceivable that this odour-based cat-calming product from Feliway could help to some degree.

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We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

    
I have tried to improve this answer, but probably only because I have a masochistic streak :-S –  AJ Finch Nov 10 '11 at 20:42
    
I think it just comes off as a promotion; also most people don't want to drug their cats (aside from catnip anyway), or might be dealing with someone else's pet. I also think people are looking for more homeopathic/natural/adaptable ways to handle cats. I hear you though, sometimes it's better to toss the shovel and go have a drink. –  Bob Nov 10 '11 at 21:44

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