Models On Four Legs - stevenmayatt

Models On Four Legs

Shooting with the lovely people (and non-people) at Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium in East London

Undoubtedly the most challenging projects of 2015 involved models who wouldn’t pose, frequently ran and hid, were very selective over whether they did or didn’t like you, in fact getting them just to look in your direction was hard enough!

These weren’t human models of course, but the feline residents at London’s Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium. A far cry from the fashion, people and products usually in front of our lenses, this project was distinctively a new challenge.

We certainly are not dedicated pet photographers, so the plan of attack had to be different to our usual shoots – first building rapport, understanding the ‘ways of the whiskers’, spotting character traits and getting them used to the various camera equipment we would be using, and then finally being able to engineer the shots that we wanted. Our task was to capture the personalities behind the fur.

We settled on a staggered approach, initially designed to allow the cats to get to know us, and also us to get to know them. We made the café in Bethnal Green Road our office once a week, and after a small amount of time, the initial looks of rejection were slowly turned to, well, slightly less rejection. We scored some major points by bringing in more of our equipment and slowly laying it around for them to ‘play’ with. Reflectors and umbrellas went down brilliantly and soon it felt like we were making progress.

Once we had become more comfortable, we had to then master the environment – we weren’t able to use our flash guns to avoid stressing the cats, instead relying on a blend of natural window light in the upstairs locations, and using continuous artificial light downstairs where we needed a boost.

Our staggered approach meant that we were expecting multiple visits, and after we thought we had got so far, we finally understood the mountain of the challenge when after our first client viewing, much of the feedback was along the lines of: “It’s a great shot, but it’s just not him!”. Getting clearly composed, fun portraits of the cats was one thing, expressing their personalities was quite clearly another.

Lauren Pears of Lady Dinah's had this to say:

"Steven and his team were very patient with my little superstars! My cats are photographed every day by customers and it can be very tricky to get them looking at the camera, as the usual sounds, clicks and toys don't work for them like other cats - they've seen every trick in the book!

The only way to get a really great shot of my guys is to have a bond with them, and for them to trust you. Steven put in extra days to put the cats at ease and make sure he got the perfect photos, and we're really delighted with the results: cheeky Alice, smug Donnie and wide-eyed Wookie. They're all there, being themselves and looking fabulous!"

Overall, a project we’ve certainly enjoyed – photography throws you a new curve ball every time, and we learn something new in one form or another from every single shoot. Thankfully, we knew this would represent all things new from the outset, so our planning and strategy paid off.

The take away message? Have a plan, stick to it, and above all – be patient and the results will come.

The stars...


A Creative Director and Digital Photographer, based in London. I specialise in being versatile, creating images - moving and still - for some of the largest companies in the UK: from startups to small businesses and amazing individuals.
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