stray cat

Stray Cat Photography with Sabrina Boem

You may remember that I briefly introduced you to amateur photographer Sabrina Boem in an earlier post. Well, today is the first in a series of three posts featuring her stunning black and white photography – with today’s subject being Stray Cats. Later we will see People with Cats and lastly Sabrina’s Shelter Photography in the final post.

Residing in Italy in San Dona’ di Piave (Venice), Sabrina is a small business owner whose passion for photography has led to one of her photos being selected for National Geographic’s ‘Daily Dozen’ as an Editor’s Favorite! Stay tuned to find out which photo – it will be in the People with Cats post.

At the end of this post, there is a special video compilation of Sabrina’s stray and shelter cat photography. Volume up when you watch it!

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A Conversation with Sabrina

How did you become interested in photography? 
I’ve taken photos since I was young, when digital photography didn’t exist yet. I bought my first semi-professional SLR camera when I graduated from university as a gift for myself. I started taking photos when I went somewhere on holiday and later on I became interested in street photography. I liked to take portraits of people and that’s how I discovered black and white photography and I started to like it better than color. I’ve always found B&W images more powerful and more suitable for some kinds of images.

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What inspired you to start taking pictures of cats? 
My passion for cat photography began when I brought Sissi home. She was my very first cat, and I started taking pictures of her in any possible situation: at home, or when she was out in our yard, I would even follow her into our neighbours’ yards because I loved to see what she did and I liked her wild spirit. For me, cats have always been wild animals first and foremost. I loved to see how Sissi hunted lizards or climbed trees. And when she ran to the park in front of our home, she looked like a gazelle in the Savanna. That’s why I find stray cats so fascinating, especially those who live in a big park near the local shelter where I usually go.

Social media is full of images of sweet kitties doing nice things. But in the real world, a cat’s life is much different. That’s what I wanted to shoot. The romantic vision of cats was always second place for me. Moreover, after two years of intense shooting of Sissi and then my second cat Ricky, whom I adopted a year later, I felt I needed new subjects.

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What is the hardest part about taking photos?
Taking photos of stray and shelter cats can be difficult sometimes both technically and emotionally. As a photographer it’s hard to shoot in dark places, such as abandoned buildings or even in some shelters with artificial light. Having said that, I must say that some of the best shots I’ve taken so far have been in difficult locations and challenging situations.

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That’s the power of documentary photography – that is to look deep into reality, not to just stand on the doorstep but follow cats into abandoned buildings or in the tall grass where nobody usually goes. I like this genre, I think I’m cut out for it and it makes me feel good because I can show people how stray cats really live.

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And here comes the difficult emotional part. It’s hard to go back home after a photo shoot and find my two loved and spoiled cats waiting for me in their safe and warm home. Stray cats, especially cats who have lived in the streets for a long time, months or even years, have such an intense look in their eyes. Those eyes stick with me for long periods of time; it’s hard to let them go. It’s easier with shelter cats because even if they don’t have their forever home, at least they have good-hearted people taking care of them daily.

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I must say that sometimes I use my camera as a shield, not to get too involved, to try and keep some distance from those cats. Because if I get too emotionally involved, not only would I not be able to shoot, but it would also hurt too much. Sometimes I think of myself as a doctor: you cannot get too involved or you wouldn’t be able to perform your job. But at the same time since I’m dealing with human beings, I let my compassionate heart guide my eyes when I’m composing a shot.

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Sabrina Shares A Stray Cat Story – George and Berto

George was one of the stray cats who lived near the shelter, and Berto works in one of the restaurants right in front of the shelter. George liked people’s company. Sometimes he went to the restaurant begging for food, even if he had plenty of it at the shelter, and he always got it. But what he really wanted was a cuddle every now and then. And he always got that too.

Sometimes George would just sit outside of the shelter and watch people go by. He had noticed Berto. George felt that he could trust him. So, little by little George and Berto became friends. George always waited for Berto to arrive to the restaurant and he let Berto pet him.

They were soulmates.

George and his human, Berto.

Berto wanted to make it official so he adopted George. He couldn’t take George home with him, as George had been living outdoors as a free cat for so many years that he would have never adjusted to living in a house. So, George kept living near the shelter with the other cats, but Berto took care of all the expenses for his food and medical care.

I met them one day when I was at the shelter for a photo shoot, and Berto saw me. I didn’t know him, but he came to me and as he took George in his arms he said, “Would you mind taking a picture of us?”

I did and we started talking. Berto told me their story. I printed the few shots I had taken and gave them to Berto a few days later. He was happy and almost moved to tears when he saw them. I’m glad I did that, so Berto can still look at those photos and remember his furry buddy as years go by.

George had been living near the shelter for years and last year he passed away. He’s still being missed by all of the volunteers at the shelter and by his human soulmate, Berto.

A Special Video

Thank you to Sabrina for sharing her stray cat photography with us. As I have said before, Sabrina truly captures the beauty and spirit of every cat she photographs. Sabrina shares photos of her own two cats, Sissi and Ricky, on Facebook. You can connect with Sabrina on Instagram and 500px.

Isn’t Sabrina’s stray cat photography so moving?

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A few more photos!

(click to enlarge and browse through)

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  1. The photographer’s pictures of stray cats were beautiful. I really loved the black/white, it added an intensity to the scenes. The Only thing that bothered me however was that none of those cats were ear-tipped! & we cat people know what that means! Rescues need to be notified when she see’s these cats so that they can be spay/neutered & vaccinated. Also, hoping they all have caretakers to feed/water & provide cold weather shelter for them. We do not need ANY cat on the streets able to procreate! It’s just more & more ongoing suffering!

    1. Hi Cheryl, I’m glad you like her photos! And very good point about the ear tips. Sabrina volunteers at a shelter, so she is definitely aware of the work that needs to be done with stray cats in Italy. I believe there are some with ear tips in the video. It just may be hard to see as some are not straight “head on” shots.

    2. Hi Cheryl, I’m so glad you appreciate my work as a photographer. I want to give you a little more information about the stray cats portrayed in those pictures: they all live in a big park outside town near two shelters. The volunteers of the shelters take also daily care of those stray cats, they provide them with fresh water and food and medical care when they need it. Both shelters have doors with flap doors where those stray cats can go if they want when it rains or if it’s cold but apart from that there are a lot of shelters for them outdoords in the park or inside some abandoned buildings as well. I know that all the stray cats taken care of by one of those associations are spayed/neutered, sometimes the pin in their ear is so small you can see it only if you get close enough. Some of them used to be family cats and where abandoned there when they were adults, that’s why maybe some do not have a pinned ear even if they had been spayed/neutered by their original human families.
      We are all trying to do our best to raise awarenss, that’s why I want to show how stray cats really live, even if these are very lucky.

      1. Sabrina, thank you for clearing that up! I thought I saw some ear tips, but perhaps the ears were just less than perfect from living as strays. I’m very glad that the shelter and associations take care of the strays and also spay/neuter them. Perhaps I should have mentioned that in the post. That was my oversight.

      2. Hey Sabrina,

        Thanks for letting me know all that information. I am glad that they are well cared for.

        Thank you for helping to bring light to feral cat’s through your photography work.

        Take care,
        🐾 😸 🐾

  2. Great posty. Another fotographer who luvs black and white. Mommy has a hard time seein’ black and white fotos, but they are all pawsum. Fanks fur sharin’.

    Luv ya’

    Dezi and Raena

  3. WOW. That first picture just tears my heart out for some reason. That poor little angel, so alone. Many thanks to Sabrina to shining a light on the forgotten.

  4. Such incredible photos. Love B&W photography. We have a dark room in our basement. Before the advent of digital cameras, the kitties’ dad shot film in mostly B&W. I look forward to the next two posts in this series.

    1. Hi Sherri, thank you for your appreciation. The stray cats in these particular photos live in a big park near two shelters, they are a very big colony and that’s their territory. Voluteers at the shelter take care of those stray cats as well, they have fresh water and food every day and volunteers have provided shelters for them when it rains. They are lucky.
      However when I go on holiday somewhere else it’s much harder to just shoot to stray cats, I always try and at least find out if someone takes care of them. In that case sometimes I do not shoot at all, it’s just too emotional.

  5. Beautiful photos! We’re big fans of black & white photography here. Did I miss the revealing of which one was in National Geographic? I know which two I’d pick even though they’re all stunning.

  6. I can’t get over how beautiful these photos are. Every one of them speaks volumes and captures the soul of a sentient being, confident yet vulnerable to the elements, living on the edge yet part of our world. Truly captivating and thanks for sharing.

  7. I really her photography in so many ways. Love her use of the cat’s shadow is so many of the photographs. The reflections in the water, etc. Also, she really captures the intensity in the eyes and hidden in plain sight world of stray cats. Looking forward to part two and three.

  8. These are beautiful. I could not do what she does – my heart would break – I don’t think I’d be able to separate myself from the cats emotionally. Absolutely stunning photography!!

  9. These photos are truly beautiful. She really captures the soul of the cats with her B&W photos. The story of George and Berto was very touching.

  10. Thank you for sharing the story about George and Berto. The photographs are stunning, Black and White photographs speak more than colored ones in many occasions like this one

  11. I have thoroughly enjoyed this series and can relate completely to spending time with the homeless before going home to a house full of privileged companions. The sadness because we wish all animals could experience the same. Beautiful, elegant, black and white photos.

  12. Wow. Stunning is right. She really knows how to capture a cat’s personality. Thank you for sharing.

  13. These photos are absolutely beautiful- so moving. I love the black & white and the little faces peeping out. Very talented to capture the stray lives so well as difficult. Great to promote awareness and share.

  14. These photos really are amazing! You can see the kind of compassion that Sabrina has for them through her art. She can capture their plight and their beauty at the same time. :)

  15. Such amazing photos! Sabrina captures the beauty of these cats, and sheds much-needed light on their plight. Wonderful.

  16. Gorgeous pictures! Cats are among the most beautiful animals to photograph, they’re so elegant. They have that special spark that I have yet to see and experience in other creatures. Lovely post!

  17. Sabrina is such a talented photographer – I don’t think she can classify herself as “amateur” anymore! I love these photos, especially the ones in rustic, dimly lit open areas. Just beautiful. George & Berto’s story is so moving, it’s wonderful that Berto has the photos (I’ll be they were all gorgeous) Sabrina took as a memory.
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

  18. Wow. Such amazing talent. The photos hit an emotional chord in showing their solitude, beauty, and character. I look forward to future posts that include her photography. Thanks so much for sharing!

  19. Wow! Those pics (and cats) are stunning. I love to look at B&W photos, but for some reason, I can never remove the color from any of my own. I think it takes a special eye for contrasts to be able to do well in this medium. I think cats in natural positions/states make the most poignant cat pics, too. Great interview!

  20. I loved this post Rachel! Cats and photography are very dear to me too. And it was sort of sad to think about all the stray cats we see on the streets. That said, Sabrina is really talented and made all those cats special.