Question on lighting setup

I’m asking this question on behalf of my friend and colleague who also specializes in pet photography.

He called me today to tell me about his shooting of yesterday, which he says was the worst he ever had, a real nightmare.

He has 2-3 sphynx cats to photograph for a woman who breeds them. Fred says that the cats are very agitated and totally crazy.

The woman wants a black background and very even lighting because she will use the photos on her web site and all parts of the cats must be visible and well lit.

One of the has eyes of two different colours, and she wants that too.

My friend was shooting on location in a small room, and could use only his Canon speedlite 580 with a softbox and power pack. The problem is that the cats were moving very fast and because of the black background and low ambiant light, it was hard to get the focus right,

The customer was not satisfied with the photos nor was my friend who spent an agonizing 4 hours over there trying to get the cats to calm down.

Sure enough the lady called her sister in France who happens to be a photographer and she was told that Fred was using all the wrong equipment (in very unflattering terms) and that he should have used continuous lighting instead of strobes. It would have made focusing easier she said.

Well… maybe.

Fred promised to go back in about 8 days and redo the shooting until they are both satisfied.

Question is should he rent some continuous lighting or is there any other solution to this? Would he need a 3-lamp setup in this case?

Obviously he would also need a larger room.

What about adding 2 brooding lamps with 250w bulbs (cool light colour) to his actual speedlight setup? (One light on each side and the speedlite in front)

It would provide sufficient lighting for fast and effective focusing, no? He shoots in RAW. Would this cause havoc with the white balance?

This is one of the little critter he has to deal with:

Many thanks for any help you could provide.


  • Mitch Labuda
    Mitch Labudaover 2 years ago

    I don’t mean this be rude, but I would advise your friend to move on. The customer is already upset and probably would not be satisfied with any thing that is produced, especially if the person is calling others and complaining.

  • I don’t think that this would be an option at this time, but thank you for the input.

    – Johanne Brunet

  • Emilie Trammell
    Emilie Trammellover 2 years ago

    I think continuous lighting would help since the sudden flash of the speedlight would probably play a big part in agitating the cats. And obviously continuous would also help with focusing as well :)

  • Thank you Emilie, this is helpful.

    – Johanne Brunet

  • Squealia
    Squealiaover 2 years ago

    Ummm think I would agree with Emille try the continuous lighting, They look a nightmare! Rather your friend than me.

  • Kind of cute in their own way though… :-) Unsurprisingly, this lady also has a few Hairless Chinese crested dogs. I didn’t ask, but maybe she is allergic to pets hair?

    Anyhow, thank you kindly for your input Celia. I tend to agree with you both, but wanted to be sure there was nothing else to be attempted before I sent him out to rent or buy some equipment.

    – Johanne Brunet

  • Squealia
    Squealiaover 2 years ago

    I am sure they are cute but being so feisty I guess continuous lighting may not scare them so much. Again forget creative lighting, just try and get good wide light coverage and snap away when the cat is in teh right position! A bit like toddlers! Grab the moment as it happens!!!

  • Yep!! Thank you Celia. I sent him Emily’s reply and yours this morning, and he just told me that he has ordered a kit of LED continuous lights from Lumahawk. Good for him, and I might just do the same when my budget will allow it. :-)

    – Johanne Brunet

    BYRONover 2 years ago

    Yeah, continuous lighting is the first step.

    Then use a small aperture to get plenty of depth of field and to ensure that the cat is in focus no matter where it is.

    Because the damned things move around so much, they will also need a fast shutter speed, and this could be a problem because of the small aperture… so they should probably also boost the ISO upto 1600 if they can… but then depending on the camera this may create a bit of grain.

    For the backdrop I would suggest using something like black felt since it is non-reflective. Make sure that the cat is about 5 feet away from the backdrop [which should be draped so that it curves down the wall and onto the ground – this will create what is called an “infinity background” where you can not see where the ground meets the wall]

    One way to guarantee a nice dark background, is to expose for the subject, then manually underexpose the camera, this means that the background will underexpose slightly.

    Ultimately, I wouldn’t want to take this one. Its a big ask doing studio work like this, especially if you are not familiar with lighting. To get this to work is going to be a lot of trial and error before hand so that they know that it will work – its not the sort of technique that they should be perfecting in front of the client.

  • Thank you for your great reply Byron, I really appreciate it. I will relay the bit concerning the small aperture, fast shutter speed and high ISO settings. For the rest, it’ for him to decide…

    – Johanne Brunet

  • sentimentum
    sentimentumover 2 years ago

    Some sedation for the owner and cats, LOL .. :) lots and lots of time.. No sound from the camera, if he has a flip down viewfinder use this to watch the cat through … As then the cats will not feel like they are being watched, manual focus, so no focusing light shooting at them .. Fast shutter speed with a good steady light, never flash … If the cats are too skittish make a hide for the photographer then the cats can settle.