This time for our Cat Photography Q & A we’re talking with Lucas De Boeck, author of the new book PURE Cat Portraits by Lucas, a collection of the most gorgeous cat portraits ever! This book is an absolute joy to read, I literally squealed at each page. Big beautiful cat portraits are organized into sections highlighting cats playing, resting, and interacting with one another. There are even sections focused on the fabulousness of cat tails and, my favorite, cats with sullen expressions. This book is a must have for every cat lover and is perfect for gift giving.
Lucas came to cat photography in an interesting way and it sounds like he’s a true convert now. I hope you enjoy our interview with him.
How long have you been photographing cats and how did you get started?
I’m based in the small center of Europe, Belgium. As a designer and photographer I travel a lot and try to make artists, cars and other products look beautiful, but I never worked with pets before. When I was asked to become creative director and brand manager for Catit I was eager to put marketing aside and focus on this new challenge. The best way of getting in contact with cats and learn about them was through photography so I set up photo shoots with shelter cats and domestic felines. It was a surprise and a disappointment at the same time. The photos came out very good but it was very, very, very difficult, as we didn’t want to force them to stand in front of the lens.
The difficult and patient part was something I still needed to learn: finding cats that are used to different environments and at ease with new people was the new mission! We started visiting cat shows and invited people and the cats to the studio. In order to let the cat do its thing I laid down on the floor for the whole session (one to two hours), all of this for one good picture (OMG). I looked for a solution to prevent the bruising from moving around with the cats and to make it more comfortable and I bought a gymnastic mat. Keeping an eye on the composition, focus and all the technical needs for a good picture was my major concern so often I didn’t know what to expect as the cats moved quickly over the canvas. The images that came out were all worth the effort and the pain in the back.
By shooting thousands of studio pictures of cats in a neutral environment I surprised myself at how they became even more mysterious or should I say majestic. The portrait book I’ve now made is a result of these sessions and we simply and unconventionally focused on topics we found interesting: the tail, the hunt, etc. Choosing the photos took us three months. Although some cats are world champions in their breed this book is not a book about breeds but about the cat. There are more breeds to discover but for now we just focused on what makes this animal so special.
My entry in the world of cats was completely different from how normal people experience them as their own pet. My fascination came and grew because of their beauty and their natural behavior. I now fully understand ‘cattitude’! As a designer I can only say that the cat is a beauty, a genius design from nature and the most elegant creature on this planet (my apologies to women). Unfortunately, I travel a lot for my job so I don’t have the time to take care of a cat myself. I will own a cat in the future when I have time for them but I see and experience so many cats now during my work that there is no space for my own.
Do you do anything special to prepare for a photo shoot with a cat?
First of all, we clean the studio because the smell of other cats is distracting to them. When the cats arrive, I give them and the owners around 10 minutes to get used to their surroundings – the cats like to walk around and sniff everything. Only then do I enter and start photographing. Apart from that, there’s nothing I do except photograph. My assistant and the owner guide the cat in front of the camera using toys and that’s it. I’ll photograph whatever the cat feels like doing at that moment.
What was the most challenging cat photo shoot you have done? Any funny stories?
Some cat breeds proved quite challenging: I’ve only organized three photo shoots with Sphynx cats so far, but on all occasions these hyperactive cats raced around the studio and jumped everywhere and on anyone. Most of the pictures I took, I’ve made with one or two of their friends sitting or sleeping on me. One of the advantages of photographing on the floor.
On another occasion, I was photographing some white Ragdoll cats when I noticed black stripes on their fur. While inspecting my studio the cats came across my bike… and had happily rubbed against it, gathering some smears in the process. We also learned how to build a good cat studio the hard way. After almost every shoot we needed to search for cats behind boxes and studio curtains. Once we spent more than 15 minutes tracking down 8 kittens.
Do you have any tips for readers about how to take great photos of their cats?
My golden tip: be very patient with them and don’t force them. We had many cats at the studio that didn’t want to be in front of the lens, just try to accept this. Don’t talk and don’t make big movements. Looking them in the eye is also not done, avoiding eye contact when possible is the way to go. Every cat is gorgeous in its own, unique way, and they don’t need to pose to get a good picture: they just need to look like themselves.
For the more technically inclined readers, can you please tell us what equipment you use? (camera, lens, lighting, filters, etc.)
First of all we have rebuilt the photo environment on many occasions so the cats would stay on the canvas as much as possible. Of course we gave them the space they needed to rest (± 100 m2). From the dark studio we moved to the day studio to avoid big changes in light intensity for the cats with the flash photography and we also took good care of the cat owners. We don’t use Photoshop unless we need to erase some hair from the white floor. I only use a Nikon D800 with Nikkor lenses, nothing else, all pure.