Taking great reference photos

How to Photograph Your Pet


If you are considering having a portrait painted of your pet(s)….please, please take the time to take some high resolution photos. I can’t express this enough! It makes all the difference in the world.…and it really is easy to do now-a-days! Even our mobile phones take high resolution pictures….so use them to get some wonderful photos of your pets!  High resolution digital images are best but I can also work with traditional photographs as long as they are clear and the detail can be seen. 


Video option: In my experience it can be difficult to get a good pose when working with critters. For this reason I like to use video. I've been doing this for years and it works very well as long as you get close up images and they are not bouncing around wildly. If you have a half hour video of your dogs running wildly along the beach with ears flapping up and down, that won't work for a portrait. A short high definition video zooming in and out in a closeup works wonderfully. Of utmost importance is the detail in the eyes.

Also, I recently got an iPhone and was delighted to find out you can do ‘burst mode’ where the phone will take multiple photos as long as the shutter button is held down. I don’t know about other phones, but this is a great way to capture good photos.

Note….Please don't use photos from a professional photographer unless you have written permission. They are considered intellectual property and Copyright laws are strict on this. Even though you may have paid for the photograph, the photographer legally owns the copyright.

The following are some helpful tips as well as examples I have put together to help you take great pictures of your pet and will make your photos suitable for painting a portrait from...

1. Good light is everything in pet portraits where it’s critical to be able to see the catchlights in the pet’s eyes (the white reflective parts). Avoid photographing in dark rooms or under heavily overcast days. Bright yet diffused light is the easiest to create flattering pet portraits under, so before you even start shooting, take a look around your subject’s environment and determine where the best bright, yet diffused light is; then move to that location. It can be inside near a window with enough light that a flash is not required. Early morning or late afternoon light is a softer, more angled light. Avoid using a flash. It is very unflattering.

2. To create really engaging portraits shoot at their level, ‘in their world’. For a Great Dane their world may be the height of your hips; for a Chihuahua it may be all the way down at the level of your ankles. For a cat lounging on a cat tree, you may need to pull out a step stool to get on their level.

3. For a more abstract approach you could stand pointing the camera down at your pet which creates a distortion that lends itself to this contemporary approach or try different angles and just play with it…make it fun!

4. The eyes are the most important and expressive part of a portrait and can make or break the likeness, so special attention should be given to that. The nose is also very important.

5. Try candid shots that capture your pets natural behavior. Maybe photograph the dog chasing a stick or hanging out of the car window, or the cat stalking in the garden. On a less energetic level it could just be a picture of them dozing on the porch steps.The point is, when photographing pets you’re not trying to get them to do something they weren’t doing anyway. This approach is easier than the posed portrait but you’ll still need patience to catch the right moment.

6. Last, when sending photos of your pet on a flash drive or through email, send 5 or 6 of your favorites you would want to have painted. It is very time consuming to go through hundreds of photos or video. If you don’t want that image or a scene from that video painted, please don’t send it!

Enjoy photographing your pet so it can be turned into a beautiful painting!