Cat Photography is not the most mainstream of career fields. In fact, most folks who ask me what I do for a living have never even heard of a "cat photographer." But then, just a few years ago, neither had I. Now I am one. And, looking back, it’s hard to imagine that it took me 30 years of my working life – diligently sleepwalking through administrative positions in the legal, medical and computer industries – to figure out what I was really meant to do. I finally got here by a route most people only dream of: by turning something I loved to do into a new career.

Cats: Photogenic, but Frustrating Subjects
I have always loved cats and nearly always lived with them. Today, my husband, Ken, and I share our home in Bedford, Texas (a Dallas/Fort Worth suburb) with four cats. We have two British Shorthairs and two Maine Coons, and I can spend hours just watching them, whether in agile antics or graceful repose. Several years ago I became intrigued with photographing my cats in an attempt to capture on film the joy I get from observing these magnificent creatures.

Anyone who has ever photographed their own cats knows that this is typically an elusive exercise with a very low yield of satisfying results, and my early efforts were no exception. Their participation in the process ranges from oblivious to outright contrary and timing is everything. The cat is going to do only what it wants to do, but if you have zen-like patience and cat-like reflexes, there may be a brief moment when the cat’s pose or behavior coincides with what you want from it. Or not. In those early days, when I would pick up my prints from the photo lab and sort through the stack with great anticipation, the overwhelming percentage of the shots fell into the "or not" pile.

Digital Photography to the Rescue

In the spring of 1999, in an effort to reduce the expenses of my hobby, Ken got me a digital camera for his birthday. That changed everything for me. Compared to film-based cameras, the digital camera is an astonishingly effective learning tool which can rapidly improve your picture taking skills. The instant feedback of digital enables you to immediately see your shot, note what you did wrong, or could do better, and then retake the shot while the photo opportunity still exists. You also learn faster because, without the expense of film, you are free to take an unlimited number of pictures and thus acquire more experience faster. I took full advantage of this fast track learning curve that digital photography enabled.

At the same time, I started fooling around with the simple little image editing program that came with my first digital camera. I found that even my best images could be improved with a little tweaking and soon discovered that I enjoyed this PC-based part of the process almost as much as capturing the original image.In the year that followed, my work improved steadily. Ken encouraged my transition into serious cat portraiture by equipping me with a formal shooting stage and studio lighting gear. I started shooting the cats of some breeder friends as well as our own and began building a small portfolio of my work.

Going Pro: My First Show Assignment
By the spring of 2000, based on the reception that my photos received from friends and acquaintances in the cat fancy, I was encouraged to "go pro" and invited to be the Show Photographer for the TICA Thunderkatz Show in Oklahoma City.

Maybe I didn’t know enough to be appropriately apprehensive, but I just jumped into it with great enthusiasm and never stopped to reflect on what might go wrong. And while I certainly can’t claim to be pleased with every cat photo I’ve taken since then, I am amazed that Cathy Betts’ white Maine Coon "Pale Rider," the very first cat I shot at my very first show, produced a portrait that I can still be proud of today.

Milestones in This Young Career
Perhaps that was beginner’s luck, but enough people have believed in me since that first show to have kept me as busy as I want to be, shooting at cat shows in Texas and its neighboring states, which is about as far as Ken and I usually venture from home with the minivan full of staging and lighting gear we use.

One show that was way out of our region, but one Ken and I were pleased to make an exception for, was the 2002 TICA Annual in Arlington, Virginia, in late August. When I had only been shooting on the cat show circuit for 15 months, it was indeed an honor and a milestone in my brief career to have been invited last August to be the Show Photographer for this prestigious international event.

I was doubly honored just a few months later to have been approached by Gloria Stephens, the author of my favorite cat book, Legacy of the Cat, about using my cat photos to illustrate her next book. I very much admire Gloria and have benefitted greatly from her friendship and support in the months we’ve been collaborating.

Along with my love of cats and of photographing them, it has been the guidance and encouragement, the words of appreciation and the acts of kindness from my many customers and friends which make this business such a delight. So I want to express my gratitude to all those who, though their patronage and praise, reinforced my belief that I could do this and learn to do it well.

And then there’s my best friend and biggest supporter, my husband, Ken, who is also my roadie, lighting guy, technical advisor, cat wrangler and business manager. He critiques my work, even when I least want it, and boosts my spirits when I most need it.

The best part of this job is getting to meet your kitties and making them look as good as they can by creating portraits – with my camera and computer – that you and I both can be proud of. Thank you for allowing me to photograph your cats, and get better at it . . . one cat at a time.

Helmi Flick
Cat Photographer