Photographing the Cute

Take Better Photos of Babies, Kittens, and Other Adorable Subjects

Cute things are among the hardest subjects for new photographers to shoot well. Sound strange? Believe me: A string of drying laundry, a broken bottle by the road, a rotting barn one gust shy of collapsing—these are easier to artfully photograph than an adorable hamster or puppy. It’s not just because inanimate things will sit still for you. It’s because people tend to think that cute (the subject) is enough to make for a great photograph. It isn’t:

Last year I wrote about techniques for photographing fall foliage. In it, I talked about the mistake of thinking a pretty scene lessens the creative demands on the photographer. It can, of course, but as I wrote there, “Colorful leaves alone do not a gorgeous photograph make.” This advice can be expanded and carried over to other subjects that make us go oooooh or awwww, things like babies and kittens.

How vulnerable are you to cute?

Photographers need to be aware of what I call their Vulnerability to Cute (VTC) rating before they begin snapping shots of anything inherently adorable. If the sight of baby toes makes you melt like butter, are you still able to think straight about lighting and framing? Can you even remember the Rule of Thirds when you see a kitten yawning? If not, you might have a high VTC rating. That’s okay. Admitting you’ve got a problem is the first step.

I don’t have a 12-step program to offer you for conquering the issue. But I do have some very simple advice. It’s the same advice I offered in the aforementioned fall-foliage blog. Essentially, you need to turn down the volume on whatever thing that, in your mind, is exaggerating its importance to the composition. Subtract it for a moment, if you will. And you can do that by simply going through the basics: Is your lighting right? Have you selected the best depth of field for your purposes? How are you filling up the frame? Can you make use of any good leading lines? In other words, is the composition as good as the subject is cute? To take a really good photograph of something cute, well, you still have to compose a really good photograph:

photographing animals

Awwww (and well done, photographer!)

This summer, we’re sponsoring a pet photo competition, with proceeds going toward C.A.R.E. Animal Rescue. For five bucks, you can enter to win a chance at having your photograph featured in the Lawrence 2015 Pet Calendar we’ll be creating from the contest. A dozen winners, and you could be one—especially if you get your VTC under control and keep the cute from hypnotizing you out of your creative senses.

Stop by the store or download your entry form our website. You have until July 30 to enter (and to get your VTC under control and keep the cute from paralyzing your photography skills!). Good luck!

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