The Danger Zone
Professional cat photographer Erica Danger shares her leap-of-faith journey + tips for irresistibly cute cat photos
36-year-old Los Angeleno Erica Danger has carved herself an enviable niche for a cat lover, spending her days photographing cats and kittens and helping rescue groups. How did she get here? By taking the leap to combine her lifelong love of cats with her talent for photography.
“When I moved to Los Angeles, photography was put on the back burner while I worked an office job. I liked my work there, but I didn’t love it—imagine that!” she jokes. “I started asking myself the age-old question about what kind of work I would do for free if money weren’t an issue, and I kept coming back to cats.”
She joked to her then-partner that she wished she could pet cats for a living. They laughed about it, but after having this conversation a few times, he suggested she combine her love of photography and love of cats and become a cat photographer.
While Danger “had her doubts that could be a thing,” she decided to give it a try—and hasn’t looked back.
After about a year, she went full-time with cat photography and has since seen her work featured on magazine covers such as this one.
“It’s been absolutely amazing being self-employed, though not always the easiest,” she admits.
The pandemic threw a wrench in the works, putting a stop to in-house photo sessions and travel, the bread and butter of a photography business. Danger Persevered, digging into her bag of tricks. “I’ve been sewing since grade school and put those skills to use,” she says. In the spring of 2020, Danger started making cat-themed face masks, available through Etsy and her website, thecatnipdispensary.com. Since then, she’s expanded her offerings to include creative cat toys, like crinkly, catnip-filled hundred-dollar bills “that look like the real deal” and a selection of super-potent catnip and catnip blends for sale, too. All proceeds go toward helping her do rescue work.
Danger’s Advice for Aspiring Pet Photographers
- Take as many photos as you can, of all different types and temperaments of animals, and in all kinds of different lighting situations. You’ll learn so much, the more you shoot!
- Volunteer your time with animal shelters and rescues. Not just as a photographer, either. You can help with socialization, cleaning kennels…There’s a lot of need for volunteers, and you’ll get to work with all kinds of animals! If they offer training programs to learn cat or dog behaviour or skills for handling them, sign up to learn every single thing that you can, and then practice those skills until they’re second nature for you. You’ll gain a lot of knowledge and experience, and you’ll be helping animals in so many ways!
- It’s okay to pursue your photography career part time while you work another job, especially if you don’t have a big financial cushion to rely on! Sometimes people expect there’s a certain deadline that they need to meet to be successful and go full time, but it’s just not true. Don’t ever let anyone else tell you what your path “should” look like!
“There are so many rewarding parts of what I do,” Danger says. “I love getting that really positive, sometimes super emotional feedback from photo clients, and it’s always a victory for me when I have a certain pose or shot in mind and I’m able to capture it exactly the way I was imagining—but my absolute favourite part is helping cats in need.”
Danger fosters kittens—and photographs them, of course. She also takes photos of cats at rescues and shelters, even when on the road.
“When I was traveling a lot, I would find rescues in whatever city I was in and volunteer with them for an afternoon to create great professional images for the cats’ adoption profiles,” she says.
Her volunteering also extends past photography to include socializing cats, helping feral and community cats, vaccinating kittens, and organizing and inventorying supplies behind the scenes.
Contributing to her success both behind the camera and in the shelters is her understanding of cats.
Danger’s Top 3 Tips to Improve Your Cat Photos
- Lighting is everything. EVERYTHING. Even the greatest cat can kind of look terrible if there isn’t enough light, so make sure you’re photographing them near a light source, ideally bright and indirect natural light, like you’d find near a window.
- Little details matter! From clutter in the background or crumbs on your cat’s face, to the expression or posture your cat is giving in a photo, to the items around your cat, you want everything to look as intentional as possible. A cute and comfortable cat, who looks engaged, against a stylish and clean area of your home, with a fun pop of colour, toy, or facial expression—now THAT is the shot you want!
- Experiment! Try different angles, especially ones that have you crawling around on the ground. Incorporate different colours in your photos. Take weird close-ups. Try photographing your cat at different times of the day when your cat’s mood or activity level vary. The possibilities really are endless, so never stop experimenting!
“Okay, this is going to sound really weird, and maybe even a little bit ‘woo woo,’ but I think the most surprising thing to me has been how naturally understanding cat body language and behaviour has become for me, almost as though I’m fluent in their language…kind of like it’s in the Spanish section of your brain—I just have a cat section of my brain,” she laughs.
Despite her immersion in the world of cats, Danger continues to find inspiration in her subject matter.
“I’m inspired by cats in a lot of ways,” she says. “They don’t feel the need to change who they are to impress others. They give love when they’re ready and will set (and enforce) boundaries with you when they’re not. They definitely know how to relax! And they stretch pretty much every time they get up from rest, which is a habit I think we can all learn from.”
Find Danger at ericadanger.com, check out her shop at thecatnipdispensary.com, or see what she’s up to on social media (@EricaLikesCats) where she posts tons of cute cats, travel plans, and other tips and tricks! “I love when folks send me pics and videos of their cats!” she enthuses. Danger hopes to resume in-studio and in-home sessions shortly. Studio sessions start at $150 and in-home sessions start at $500. She also offers discounts for adopted pets and provides discounted and free photo sessions for rescues and shelters as her schedule permits.