Cat Portrait With Canon Rebel And 320ex Speedlite

How to take a Cat Portrait with your Canon DSLR camera.

It’s a beautiful spring morning and Lizzy the cat is enjoying the sunshine coming through her favorite window.

She looks gorgeous! So I took the picture, and here is the result, but please read below to get the whole story, because there is a secret to getting a photo like this.

cat portrait with Canon Rebel and 320ex speedliteAs great as she looks, my first thought is that if I try to take her picture, it will look terrible. The light behind her is just too bright. The camera will adjust the exposure for that bright background, and Lizzy will be too dark.

Then I say to myself, “Why did you buy that Canon 320ex Speedlite if you’re not going to use it?

I then respond, “This is the perfect opportunity!” (Self conversations are OK according to the late Zig Ziglar, as long as you don’t catch yourself asking, “What did you say?”)

So here is what I did to get my camera ready..

Canon speedlite with softbox
Here is the setup


  • Attach my Canon 320ex Speedlite to my Canon T4i.
  • Attach a Canon 50mm f1.8 lens
  • Attach a Fotodiox 6″ by 8″ softbox to the front of the Speedlite.
  • Set the mode dial to Tv (Shutter priority).
  • Set the shutter speed to 1/200 sec. (see more below about why I did this).
  • Start snapping.

This is about the cheapest setup one can use for portraits. The add-ons are really inexpensive – check the list below for prices and availability.

By the way, I took about 15 pictures, and they all turned out great, lighting-wise. Some of them were not so fantastic as far as her cooperation was concerned. But my wife stepped in and helped by attracting her attention. Important tip: it works really well if you have someone working with you to keep your pet interested.

Now for some details and explanations about the shot.

First, I chose a Canon 50mm f1.8 lens. Some call this lens the “nifty fifty” – it is actually the number one lens sold by Canon. It’s dirt cheap as far as lenses go – only about $125. But it takes great pictures, especially portraits.

Second, I chose to use a flash even though I personally dislike flash photography. If at all possible, I will not use a flash. In this case, though, the light from the window behind the cat was way too bright. I had to make some compensation to get a decent shot. The flash was the answer – but not just a flash – I added a softbox.

The Softbox: it’s a way of softening the light so that there is less chance of harsh shadows. In this case, I used a Fotodiox softbox. Got it from Amazon for less than $12.

Why Shutter Priority? I have to admit that I am not very well acquainted with flash, but I know that I can get the flash to cooperate with my little bit of knowledge by using a fill flash technique. I do this by setting the shutter to 1/200 sec, which is called the “sync speed” for the Canon Rebel. This is the fastest shutter speed you can use when a flash is in place. I don’t know all the technical stuff, but it works. Try it. The important thing is to set your shutter speed at the highest sync speed for your particular camera, usually 1/200 or 1/250 sec.

When you set the shutter speed, your camera will select the proper aperture, or lens opening. In my case, the aperture was f4.0.

Here’s a little tip for using a fill flash if you don’t have a softbox or even a separate flash. Use a white paper towel or toilet tissue to cover the flash. This will act as to diffuse the light and eliminate tell-tale flash shadows.

Finally, here is a list of gear with links to purchase at Amazon. If you use these links, you get Amazon’s great service and pricing, but I also benefit by getting a few cents for each purchase.

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