How to photograph your pet for a portrait painting November 10, 2018 19:03

This is a simple guide to taking reference photos for a pet portrait painting.  These suggestions will help solve the most common problems I see with pet photos. 


Location: It is best to have a background that is plain, neutral, and contrasts your pet - such as a blank wall. Hanging up a light colored bed sheet (or draping it over furniture behind your setup) is a quick way to achieve a neutral setting. Place darker pets on a lighter background, and white or very light pets on a darker background.

Lighting: Choose a spot by a window with good natural lighting. Flash and indoor lights can often distort true colors and create washed-out photos or odd shadows. Experiment with lighting and location options with a few test photos, then take the rest of your shots in the best spot.

Angles: The best basic portrait photos are at eye level with your pet. You may have to sit or crouch on the ground, or place smaller pets on a table top. Shots from above create forced perspective that distorts size – which is sometimes a desired technique, but not often for formal portraits.

Focus: Do you want a full-body portrait, or a headshot? Get close and try to fill the viewfinder with as much of your pet as possible – the larger the usable area of the photo, the more detail that is available for a good painting. If you want a headshot portrait, focus on just that area.

Multiple animals: Group portraits are always more tricky, and often require much more effort. With animals of greatly different size, separate paintings are usually better. If separate pictures have to be taken, include an object for size reference (such as a soda can) in all photos.

Review: Take a look at the photos and make sure they accurately represent your pet. Are the colors correct? Do the poses capture his/her personality?

Sending photos: Full-size, unedited photos are best. More photos to choose from is always better than not enough. Make sure to earmark at least one as a good example of your pet’s true coloration, even if the pose isn’t perfect.

Photos do not have to be perfect! I can make adjustments to an image as I paint, so long as photos are clear and sharp enough, have a workable pose, and a good color example.