Cat people, our time has come! Carli Davidson, the photographer behind Shake and Shake Puppies—books made up of images of wet dogs and puppies caught in mid-shake, contorting their faces into the cutest and funniest expressions—has turned her attention to felines in Shake Cats, her latest book out of HarperCollins.
“The original pitch I made for the Shake book had cats in it,” points out the Portland-based photographer. “I was thinking it could be both cats and dogs. But my editor at the time was like, ‘Why don’t we do a dog-specific book, and then we can come back around and shape a cat book in the future?’”
Looking back, Davidson thinks that approach was right on. “At first, I was thought it would be so cool to have them together because I’m a dog and a cat person. I think that they can exist in harmony together. But a lot of my friends are dog people or cat people, so creating separate books made a lot of sense,” she says. “I also think it makes sense in terms of marketing, and they each have their own stage to be weird and beautiful.”
Davidson photographed more than 60 kitties for Shake Cats. (FYI: the photo of Lil Bub, the only “celebrity” cat featured in the book, was taken a couple of years ago.) While she shot some in her Portland photography studio, she snapped others at the Oregon Humane Society, which gave her access to lots of cats for her project and the added benefit of playing a role in helping them find homes. Every time Davidson photographed one of the shelter’s residents for the book, she provided the Oregon Humane Society with a gorgeous headshot of the feline ready for immediate posting on the shelter’s website. Then Davidson and her team helped get the word out about the cat models being available for adoption via social media. “In the two days I was there shooting, most of the cats got adopted. That felt really good,” she says.
Taking pictures of the cats was surprisingly easier than shooting the dogs featured in her previous books, according to Davidson, who is also an experienced animal trainer and caretaker. She bonded with her feline models and got them to relax by playing with them and treating them to cream cheese. “I’d give every animal 15 minutes minimum before I even put them in front of the lights,” Davidson says.
Vet techs then gave the cats nail trims and cleaned their ears with Epi-Otic ear cleaner, and it was that liquid ear cleaner—“We couldn’t just dump water on the cats. Obviously, that would not have been humane,” Davidson says—that you see flying out of their ears. “I hung back in the wings and waited for the moment where they would shake and got a photo when I could,” she explains.
To capture the images, Davidson used a Nikon D4Ss, which shoots at 11 frames per second, and Paul C. Buff Einstein E640 lights, “which are these wonderful, inexpensive, lightweight lights that I like to use in my studio with animals because if something gets knocked over, it’s not a $10,000 pro unit. They’re just these wonderful little plastic lights that do a great job.”
At this point in her career, Davidson is a pro when it comes to photographing animals, having trained her lens on everything from owls to foxes. Specializing in animal photography came naturally to her. “I think some of us are just born animal lovers,” says Davidson, who grew up in a house full of pets, and volunteered at the nature preserve next door to her house when she was a kid. “I think the saddest year of my life was the year I didn’t have a dog or a cat in my home,” says Davidson, who currently shares her house with a dog and a cat as well as foster animals from time to time. “I feel like I need them to thrive.”