Minneapolis + St Paul Pet Photography Blog

Preparing Your Cat for a Photo Session

A professional portrait session for your cat doesn’t have to be complicated, but there are a few things to consider when booking your session and to prepare for the actual event.

Where will the session take place?

For many cat owners (myself included!) our cats only leave the house for the occasional vet visit. Whether or not to bring your cat to a different location for their session is completely dependent on your cat’s personality. Are they easy to get into the carrier, or is it a struggle? Are they calm in the car and confident in new places, or do they get very stressed and fearful? Consider what will be best and the most enjoyable for your unique cat.

Some cats love to travel! I’ve had clients show up with those backpack spaceship-type cat carriers where they can look out a porthole and enjoy the world around them. Some arrive to the studio on a harness, or we even meet at a park because they love being outdoors.

For cats that are more “homebodies,” a session in their own environment will probably be best, but you must also consider how your cat behaves when people come over. Are they curious and like to check out the newcomer, or are they terrified and wedge themselves under the bed? Be realistic with your expectations, and know that we can only capture what your cat is willing to do. Sometimes all the catnip in the world isn’t enough to coax an extremely scared cat into a successful session. For those that will enjoy a photoshoot, it can be a lot of fun!

If you love the look of the studio but your cat won’t do well traveling, I have a great option for you: I can bring a mini-studio setup to your home with a backdrop and a light, to capture your cat with both studio and “lifestyle” type images in the same session. You only need about a 6-10 foot square area to set it up, and we’ll be able to create images just like if had come into the studio but with a much more relaxed cat.

Theo here took advantage of an in-home mini-studio setup:

Toys, beds, and bribes

If your cat is playful, definitely bring along their favorite toys! I love capturing cats in action, swiping and jumping for toys. Especially in the studio, we can really freeze those split-second moments for stunning dynamic shots. Feather and other lure toys are great; anything on a wand that you can stand farther back and engage their interest will help with directing their gaze and setting up the perfect compositions. Crinkly and jingly toys are nice for a subtle way to capture their attention, and I’ll often have one in my hand to get eye contact with the camera. Some cats like to chase a little ball or stuffed toy, but the best shots typically come from using a wand toy that you can pull upward.

A favorite bed or blanket will help your cat feel comfortable, and they can make for a cute prop to use in the photos. If you have a few options, grab the ones that compliment their fur color or match their eyes for a nice, cohesive look to your images.

For those that react to it, catnip can be an invaluable tool in the cat photography toolbox. It helps them relax (or rile them up) and we can usually get some really cute rolling-around images. If you don’t want the mess of loose catnip all over the floor and their fur, I’ve had good luck with liquid catnip spray. You can spray their toys or bed and let them get a good whiff of the scent.

If cats are stressed they may not take a treat, but it’s always good to have some of their favorites on hand for your session. Those squeezable gel treats can work well, or even just some tuna or chicken or wet cat food. The wet, stinky food will work better than dry treats, but it can get messy so bring something to wipe your hands with as well.

Fur-free fabrics

Unless you have a breed that specifically doesn’t, your cat probably sheds. A lot! When preparing their favorite bed or blanket, take a moment to clean the fur off of it for the photos. Have a sticky roller on hand for your own clothing as well, or choose fabrics that don’t hold onto the fur as much. It’ll make a big difference in the final images.

Practice holding your cat

I love capturing sweet images that show the connection between you and your pets. If they’ll tolerate it, holding your cat is a wonderful way to express that relationship. If they absolutely hate it, don’t bother :)

But if they do like being held, try different ways of holding them ahead of time: paws over your shoulder, sitting on your lap, against your chest with their paws over your forearm, etc. Try it in front of the mirror and see what both feels and looks natural. I’ll direct you with ways to look nice in the photos, but starting with a comfortable position for both of you makes a huge difference.

If they prefer their personal space, we can still capture a close connection with your cat sitting or laying on their bed or furniture, and getting you in nice and close for kisses and pets or head bumps. If they’re not keen on even that close contact, nearly all cats love a good chin scratch and we can capture their blissful face with your hand in the shot. And depending on your cat’s personality and your relationship together, it could be fun to capture a little bit of them rejecting your love as well! 😽

Relax and have fun!

At the end of the day, cats are going to cat. They’re not always going to do what we want, and frankly that’s part of their charm! Come into your photo session with realistic expectations, an open mind, and a relaxed attitude. It’s not every day a crazy lady (me) sticks a big camera in their face, and any disruption in their day can be a big deal. Give them some grace, and let them be who they are.

I guarantee we’ll get some great shots, and if it turns out they’re not into it at all, of course I’ll make it right by refunding your session fee. Spoiler alert: I can only think of one session where that’s happened, and the cat never came out from under the bed!


Hi! I'm Sarah, but feel free to call me Sarah Beth. I've been a professional photographer for over 17 years, and I've been an animal lover and an artist my entire life. Read More . . .


Sarah Ernhart
Sarah Beth Photography

2205 California St. NE, Suite 101
Minneapolis, MN 55418