> TELEPHONE US 212.355.5710

Picture Purrrfect: Photographing Cats By Beth Sistrunk

October 1, 2021

I photograph my favorite feline pals and studio companions, Zander and Liam, for my cats and kittens series.

two seated cats

Beth Sistrunk

In the beginning, I rolled balls across the floor, hid treats, hung ribbons from rafters, but eventually, my cats caught on to my tricks. And, as I’m sure you can imagine, plopping my kitties down in the center of the rug and saying “stay” doesn’t exactly sit well with them. So, I had to get inventive to obtain the photos I needed for this painting series.

One thing I learned was when in doubt, involve a cardboard box. No, seriously, it’s like my cat’s kryptonite. They’ll be deep into their afternoon nap, totally zonked out in the aftermath of their latest catnip bender, and if they hear the sound of a cardboard box being touched or moved, they can’t help but investigate. The reference photo for “Duo” was taken atop the cardboard box I used to create the playtime spaceship “Caturn 5” for my painting “In Orbit.” All I had to do was drop the box in a different position in the room, and they did all the posing work for me. My furry pals were relaxed and happy in their element, and their pose communicated their usual confident, mischievous selves purrrfectly.

cats in a rocket

Beth Sistrunk
In Orbit

For “Conjuring,” I used their natural curiosity to get the picture. My cats were questioning my sanity as I turned off the light and closed the supply closet door with the three of us still in there. When I turned on the glowing moon model, they were immediately attracted. But because it didn’t move, sound like, or smell like birds, they bored quickly of the orb. I only took two pictures before my cats wandered off in search of better prey in the depths of the closet. Luckily, two photos were all I needed.

two cats and a planet

Beth Sistrunk

In the event cardboard boxes or mysterious objects fail to bring about the poses I need, I call in my laser pointer-wielding husband. But before I do, I set up the stage with props. In the case of “Meowsterpiece,” it was one of my easels with a blank canvas and some closed and clean bottles of acrylic paint. To get a more intimate shot, I sat on the floor in their comfy cat bed. (That thing was so comfortable, it was worth all the dirty looks I received from my kitties.)

I turned on my camera’s rapid-fire mode with a click, and my husband silently pointed the laser at the blank canvas. Fortunately, the kittens forgot all about the fate of their favorite bed and repeatedly pounced the canvas. Luckily my easel is sturdy, and my ragdolls are pretty gentle on things. (Unless it’s my favorite upholstered chair.)

a purrrfect group of cats at an easel

Beth Sistrunk

Except for “Duo,” I find that both cats rarely provide a good pose in the same photo, so I get creative with what I have. Over a hundred photos from the laser pointer shoot were narrowed down to three and combined in photoshop to create “Meowsterpiece.” Next, I digitally added all the little kitty “paint” footprints to my photo composite to complete the whimsical composition. Then, I drew the scene on a panel and carefully added many layers of oil paint until I finished the painting.

Using the cat’s natural behaviors can yield great photos if you’re patient and have a willing assistant or cardboard box.