Every few weeks, I end up at dinner with my long-time best friend (and fellow cat-lover), Nicole. While we were catching each other up a few months back, the topic turned to getting a few pictures of her cats, Jasper and Jetsam.

Now, since she and I normally hang out over food or moderate levels of alcohol, her furchildren and I aren’t on close terms. In fact, they probably wouldn’t know me from the next pink, hairless creature who walked into their home. So, Nicole was, understandably, a bit concerned that the session would have a questionable outcome, since they aren’t always cooperative (because… cats), especially with strangers. But we decided to push forward into this unknown territory.

Fast-forward a few days to me schlepping my minimalist gear over to her apartment in the rain. No irony intended, but… woof.

As soon as I walked in, Jetsam — an incredibly handsome blue that was found as a tiny baby with his littermate, Flotsam, and brought into a vet clinic in a 6-pack carrier before he found his forever home with my friend — came over to investigate. And Jasper, a big, shedding marshmallow of apparent grumpiness, decided that his spot on a very photogenic (and contrasting!) leather chair was no longer safe enough and he had to flee immediately. Cats, amiright?

The good news is, this shoot turned out really well — and here are a few of the ways Nicole did a really great job setting her cats up for success:

  • She realized her cats needed to acclimate. If your cats aren’t the most extroverted with strangers, be prepared to spend 15-20 minutes on “cat-level” (the floor) with me, chatting about your expectations, what you think they will or won’t do, how we can bait them or work together, or, heck, even what you ate for lunch. This is exactly what Nicole and I did, and I fiddled with my camera while we talked, getting my settings right and letting any curious furkids get familiar with the big, boxy, black eye that was about to be clicking and staring in their general direction.
  • She let the cats set the pace. Once Jetsam noticed that I had taken my Toms off, that little shoe fiend dove in up to his armpits — literally. And that’s where some of the best pictures happened, because he was relaxed and happy in an area that just happened to have a nice combo of indoor and natural light that gave his gray fur both some added warmth and illumination. Instead of pressuring him to get up, get down, move around, or do tricks, she just let him do his thing, and he shone as a result.
  • She remained calm and patient. Jetsam was easy for me — I’m pretty sure he could be mid-sneeze and he’d STILL somehow be photogenic. Jasper, on the other hand, has naturally hooded eyes that give him a really aggressive RBF (which science has apparently just proven is a real thing?) that doesn’t always translate well on film. So, it took some time and experimentation — and some following around of the big man — for me to find a more flattering angle that captured the fact that he really is a sweet boy. Nicole never rushed me, pushed the cat around, or tried to shift focus. She just let the shoot unfold.
  • She gave me suggestions, but listened to my ideas, too. Nicole knows that the boys like straws, to the point where all you have to do is pick one up and you’ve got two pairs of eyes boring into you. As she was waving one around to get their attention, Jetsam hopped up onto the coffee table, right in front of the fireplace. She started to shoo him, but I saw the shot, stopped her, and started snapping. I honestly believe that without an involved owner who knows their furry children, my job would be near impossible.

Have you ever photographed pets in someone else’s home? Or have you ever invited a photographer in? What worked, and what didn’t? Share below!