Photo: Andrew Marttila

If you are a cat person you’ve probably already encountered one of Andrew Marttila’s epic cat portraits – even if you didn’t realize it. The photographer runs the popular Instagram account @iamthecatphotographer, is married to @kittenxlady and together with her runs the San Diego based nonprofit @orphankittenclub. He’s also the author of two books: How to Take Awesome Photos of Cats and Cats on Catnip.

Recently, Marttila shared a photo of his rescue cat ChouChou’s first experience enjoying some premium catnip on his Instagram account that stopped me scrolling. That adorable image was quickly sent to a handful of my feline-loving friends. Here, Marttila shares his tips for capturing cats after they’ve had a bit of that delightful nip.

What is it about cats, why do you like photographing them?

Cats are always unapologetically themselves. They have no pretense and don’t owe me – or anyone – anything. The inherent challenge in capturing them is so rewarding, but I genuinely enjoy being able to showcase cats’ individual personalities. It’s a very harmful misconception that they’re all stoic, mischievous or aloof. Cats can be these things, but they also have a vast range of complex emotions.

Photo: Andrew Marttila

When did you start incorporating catnip into your shoots?

A few years into photographing cats I became comfortable and proficient with on-camera flashes and realized that with a bounce flash I could freeze time. I started doing the typical stuff like throwing treats to dogs, but then I gave my roommate’s cat catnip and captured his response. The photos I got on my first shoot were mind-blowing, and I knew I had captured something wonderfully unique.

Photo: Andrew Marttila

Walk me through your process: once you give the cats the nip how do you approach the shoot?

I let the cats smell and begin to enjoy the catnip before I start blasting away. Usually, they’re so deep into euphoria that they don’t mind the photos being taken. I always use a flash in order to freeze the motion. Depending on the size and power of the flash, I modify my settings so that I can get at least 3–6 photos off per burst before it has to recycle. I try to keep my aperture around or above F4.0 to have a little flexibility with the focus. My shutter speed stays at 1/250 (or whatever the soft limit is with the camera I’m using), and ISO under 400 if possible. The rest is contingent upon your flash’s capabilities.

Photo: Andrew Marttila

This particular shoot prominently features ChouChou, but then a second cat Coco enters the frame – what’s the dynamic between these two?

Coco is the eldest cat in our bunch and something of a matriarch. Chou is the newest addition to our crew as a long-long-term foster kitten. The two coexist and rarely cross paths, but when catnip enters the picture – all bets are off.

Photo: Andrew Marttila

There’s a massive community of cat fosterers on Instagram – do you see your cat photography as a way to find fosters forever homes and/or educate non cat people about the importance of TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) and getting cats neutered and spayed?

Totally. Better photos equal more animals rescued, 100%. I’ve been very impactful in this field and have helped many people learn how to showcase their foster animals better to get them adopted. I freely post about my tricks and methods on social media, give in-person and virtual workshops, and even have a book on the topic titled How to Take Awesome Photos of Cats, which came out in 2020.

Speaking of tips, what advice would you give to someone who wants to get started with cat photography?

First and foremost, be patient! Like I said earlier, cats owe us nothing and have absolutely no idea what we are trying to achieve when we pull out our camera. It’s super important that your subject has a good experience during the shoot because if they’re fearful or upset, it’ll really show in the photos. The best pictures are when the animals are comfortable and feel completely free to show off their unique personalities. Don’t be afraid to take tons and tons of shots until you get the right one, and even when you have the right one – edit it! You’ll be able to enhance your photos so much by tinkering with them for a few moments in an editing program.

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