How to Photograph Your Cat, from 1955

How to Photograph Your Cat by Walter Chandoha
How to Photograph Your Cat by Walter Chandoha

I found this little gem of a booklet I knew I had somewhere in this house. A friend gave it to me along with other photography books a decade ago and it was lost in the crowding of things. I knew Chandoha’s advice on photographing cats was still as sound today as it was when he wrote this little book.

While readying my tiny little house for my recovery from hip replacement, I assessed the books I have. Seriously. I went through each bookshelf, each box, each little subset in a stack here or there where they were convenient for me to grab and open. I decided that many of my old reference books and my literature and language textbooks were out of date and I could move them along, along with old paperback novels and National Geographic issues and coffee table books from my mother’s house and such. Yay! More room for more books! All the cats were exhausted after that effort from climbing into and out of boxes, book cases, and up and down stacks of books. In the process I found this one.

This tiny little booklet was written by Walter Chandoha, “an illustrated guide to taking better cat pictures, by the world’s most famous cat photographer” and:

Published and distributed by the makers of PUSS ‘N BOOTS CAT FOOD
Copyright 1955 by Coast Fisheries, Division of The Quaker Oats Co., Wilmington, Calif.

Chandoha was the go-to photographer of cats, and many other animals too, from the late 40s into the 70s when cats began to be more popular as pets and more people began to photograph them. Like many other professionals in many fields, he had a working promotional relationship with his photography customers, and one big one was Quaker Oats, the maker of Puss ‘N Boots cat food. He really did use the cat food as it was just about the highest quality cat food at the time, so his endorsement was sincere, and what better way for Quaker Oats to reach another market segment for their cat food?

His advice on the inside front cover is still the best advice in photographing cats.

Chandoha's two rules for photographing cats.
Chandoha’s two rules for photographing cats.

Walter prescribes two rules for cat photographers. One, “know your cat. Learn her moods and habits—they’re surprisingly regular and predictable. Then work with her, taking eating shots when she’s normally eating, and playtime shots when she’s normally playing.”

Two, “shoot-shoot-shoot-shoot-shoot-shoot! No photographer does his best the first time. The more shots you take, the better your chances are.”

The entire first chapter, “Your Cat as a Model”, is full of behavioral tips to follow rule number one above, knowing your cat and its habits, studying them and planning your photos around your cat’s quirky self, as well as working with cats who aren’t compliant with photography (curious cats, coy cats, cool cats). It’s really refreshing, from 1955, to see this advice on actually knowing and understanding your cat and making the process fun for both of you.

The book includes typical indoor and outdoor photos of kittens playing and cats bathing. Using his own photos as examples he describes the camera settings and lighting specific to that shot along with an illustration of how the photo was set up, even where he was standing or crouching to get that particular shot.

A sample spread of the setup and a finished photo.
A sample spread of the setup and a finished photo.

He also has notes on the set itself (keep it simple) and background (keep it plain), and more general notes on lighting. Much of the lighting he describes is studio lighting, using flashes and flood lights, most of which no one uses any more, including me. I had always wanted to learn this art in photography though I’m most fond of natural lighting, but really, with all these black cats, it would really come in handy!

But most importantly, take lots of photos!

This was the fifth shot for this group.
This was the fifth shot for this group.

There is a page on feeding your cat a quality diet as also being important to the quality of the photography, and of course that’s all about the sponsor’s brand. But Chandoha’s summary page is still great advice, for 1955 and fully manual cameras with studio lighting or today’s digitals and even cell phones.

The important points in brief.
The important points in brief.

Now the question for me is: Where do I sort this book? With photography books or with cat books?

I’ve written about Walter Chandoha here before. Visit the post Vintage Cat Food Ads and a Career Inspired by a Rescued Cat: Photographer Walter Chandoha.


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"Sophie Keeps an Eye on Things", from back when I first took the photo!
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Bernadette

From health and welfare to rescue and adoption stories, advocacy and art, The Creative Cat offers both visual and verbal education and entertainment about cats for people who love cats. From catchy and creative headlines to factual articles and fictional stories, The Creative Cat provides constant entertainment and important information to people who love cats, pets and animals of all species.

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