Photographing Shelter Cats: Tips from a Pro

Despite the fact that there are an estimated 80 million pet cats living in homes in the U.S alone, it’s still widely understood that there is a higher percentage of cats than dogs entering our animal shelters. While there may be a variety of factors involved, it remains that lots of very deserving cats need homes and many shelters and rescues are looking for ways to boost their marketing appeal! Enter: HeARTs Speak member, professional photographer, and resident cat-vocate, Lindsi Jones!

Passionate and talented as she is, Lindsi recently helped us to identify some tips and tricks for photographing cats that will help to engage the public and boost interest in feline friends across the globe! One thing we know for sure is that better quality images of animals can help the public to engage with them and also builds confidence and trust in the facility that is caring for them.

But first, a little background on Lindsi, who has been a life-long cat lover!


HeARTs Speak: Tell us about how you became an advocate for cats.

Lindsi Jones:  I have always had pet cats and a love and appreciation for all cats. There has never been a time in my life that I didn’t have a cat. I now have three cats Sam, Zero, and Cleo — they’re my children!


HS: How did you begin working with animal shelters and rescues?

LJ: In 2012 I was introduced to Miss Kitty Feline Sanctuary, an all-cat, cage-free shelter. I fell in love with the place right away and began making regular visits to play with the cats. In 2014, I started volunteering my photography services to the shelter, and in 2015 I started shooting the Cats in Bowties series, which involves setting up a studio in the shelter and photographing the cats dressed in hand-crafted bowties. I am now a “Purr-fect Partner” with Miss Kitty and each time Lindsi Jones Photography covers a wedding, I sponsor the life of a cat from the shelter.


HS: And how did you happen upon photography as your primary medium?

I’ve always been interested in art — since I was a child I wanted to be an artist when I grew up! After high school, I attended Valdosta State University and majored in fine art. It was during this time that I purchased my first digital SLR and photography quickly began to occupy most of my free time. It was clear that the bulk of my artistic talent and interest was in photography.

Before finishing college, I was working nearly every weekend shooting weddings and portraits. I’ve been shooting now for 10 years, and covered hundreds of wedding and photographed thousands of people.



So, let’s dive into some top-notch tips for success! We love that Lindsi’s advice is practical and easy-to-implement, whether you are brand new to photography or a pro, and whether you’re using a DSLR or a cell phone:

  • Be patient and calm when you are working with cats, especially when the environment is new to them. Speak softly and move slowly; sudden movements and loud noises can upset the models.
  • Shoot with your model on a table rather than on the floor. This allows you to get at eye level with the cat rather than standing over him or her.
  • Bring treats and cat-nip, but use the cat-nip sparingly or as a last resort – all cats react differently to it and some may not be in the mood for a photo session after a whiff!
  • Use long feathers, like those of a pheasant or peacock, to get your feline muse’s attention towards the camera. Tap them lightly with the feather on the ear or whisker for almost instantaneous movement.
  • Always try to photograph in well-lit areas. Cats move quickly and cameras need good, steady light to capture their movement without blur. The best natural indoor light can be found near the windows and doors.


To round out the expert advice and help us all envision working with cats Lindsi-style, we finished by asking about photography set-up and what she typically recommends in terms of placement, poses, and camera settings. Here’s the scoop:

I photograph cats two ways, with natural light in their own environment, or in a small studio set-up with studio lighting.

Cats can sometimes be incredibly shy or become frightened easily, especially in a shelter setting. By shooting photographs of cats in natural light in their own environment it involves little to no touching or interaction with the cat, which can help to increase their comfort level. I try catching them sleeping in a beam of sunlight, or gazing out of a window, curled up in a box, or climbing on furniture. Cats are beautiful creatures in all they do. Creating photographs of them is easy with a little patience and practice!

When photographing cats in a home or in a shelter situation, using a lens with large apertures like f1.4, f2.8, f4, or f5.6 can be helpful. Making your depth of field very shallow allows you to blur out any clutter in your background, keeping the focus on the cat. Use that technique carefully, though, because you’ll want to make sure both the cats’ eyes and nose are in sharp focus.

When photographing cats with studio lighting, I set up a small table top studio in the hallway of the shelter. I use a rolled paper backdrop by Savage Universal, and my lighting set-up includes an Alien Bee SB800 with a shoot-thru umbrella as the main light, which is placed camera left, and a large round silver reflector for fill to the right of the animal. I shoot with a Canon 5dMk3, and 24-105mm 4f/L lens in-studio.


Read more about Lindsi’s adventures with HeARTs Speak and in her own community at and check out her amazing Cats in Bow Ties project at

On Instagram follow her at @101catsinbowties and @lindsi_jones_photography.

Originally posted on Monday, August 1, 2016. Updated 8/30/21.

Posted in
Caitlin Quinn

Caitlin Quinn

Caitlin is passionate about working with shelters and rescues to reimagine the way they tell their stories and connect with new audiences. She has served in the animal welfare field since 2008 and early on had the honor of working closely with diverse organizations across the U.S. to maximize resources, redesign policies, and find life-changing marketing solutions. In 2015, she got her MPA with a concentration in nonprofit management and in 2021, she began teaching marketing + communications for the University of Florida Master of Veterinary Science, Concentration in Shelter Medicine program. She lives in NY with a petite brindle pit bull named Sally who owns her heart.