Get that Portrait-Perfect Photograph

Get that Portrait-Perfect Photograph

By far the biggest issue I have when painting pet portraits is poor quality reference photos. However, most of the time it is an easy fix with some helpful tips that I’ll explain below. It’s worth remembering that while I do use some artistic license, the better the photo(s) supplied, the better the painting I can do.
I know that it’s not always possible to get more photos as sometimes the pet is sadly no longer with us, but also many of my commissions are done as surprise presents, which means covert operations to obtain photos via social media profiles! Facebook, messenger and screen grabs are the WORST at obliterating your photo’s resolution, which makes it really hard for me to see the finer details on markings and features. I will do my best to use these types of photos, but they may dictate what size of painting I can do and the amount of detail I can show. I have on the very rare occasion had to say no to some commissions because of the quality of the photos available, which I hate to do, but if I feel I can’t do your pet justice, I will say. 
So, where you can, I absolutely advocate using these handy tips below to get that portrait-perfect photo...
  • Focus on the head - The eyes are the gateway to the soul, and they can convey huge amounts of emotion. Good clear images of their eyes are really engaging to the viewer.
  • Use natural light - natural light outside or from a window situated behind you avoids flat and dark images. Overcast days are best for outside as they are neither too bright nor too dark. Never use a flash - The flash flattens form and creates unnatural highlights. It also makes for weird looking eyes! A nice light source, creating soft shadows is a joy to paint as an artist.
  • Get down to your pet’s eye level - this means there’s no chance of awkward angles or distorted features.
  • Use toys or treats to get their attention - Some animals just hate having their photo taken so use what they love to keep them entertained!
  • Don’t forget about their markings or collars - If your pet is wearing a collar and you want it included in their portrait, it’s always handy for me if you can send a photo of it. Like wise, if your horse is wearing a rug, I need to see what their coat and neck shape are like without it.
  • Think about their personality - This is an important one that I think is underappreciated. If you plan to have your pet portrait on the wall long after they’ve gone, what do they do that you instantly think “that’s so them!”? Does your dog do this cute tilting their head to the side thing? Does your cat love snuggling up on a special blanket? Does your horse love peering out of his stable, eyes on stalks and snorting at the goings on in the distance? Choose a picture that captures what you love about them.. their smile, their pose, a look.
It might sound common sense, but do choose photos that really look like your pet. We've all had a photo taken where we've thought, "that looks nothing like me!" and I've had a few photos over the years of pets who look pretty unhappy.. unless they usually look like that, the last thing you want on the wall is a picture of your cat who looks like he'd rather you didn't exist! I do my best with the images supplied, but unfortunately, I'm not a miracle worker!
I hope these tips help you get those reference photos needed to create a great painting of your four-legged friend, one you can cherish for years to come. If you’re unsure, send me some photos over and I can help you narrow down suitable ones. I always suggest sending a few photos, different angles so that I can get an overall idea of what your pet looks like.
I am also available to come and take photos of your pet, subject to distance and travel costs.
Here are a few pet portraits I've painted over the years to give you an idea just how important the original photos are to the final article..
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