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Commission Pet Portraits

by melanie & nicholas

Photo Requirements for a Portrait

If you are thinking about commissioning a pet portrait and are looking at taking a photograph of your pet specifically for us to create a pet portrait from, you might find the information below helpful. If you need to ask any questions you are more than welcome to email us at any time.

Mobile Phone, Tablet or Digital Camera Photo?

Mobiles and tablets are very common, the majority of us have one or both on us at all times, they are so easy to use and handy to snap away at things in every day life. Nick and I take photos of our dog Lily on our iPhones and iPads capturing the funny things she does daily and of course the photos so easy to share with friends and family. In the main, the photos that mobile devices produce are perfect as a memory of that moment in time and some mobiles these days have amazing capabilities.

The problem is not all mobile devices can produce a photo that is good enough to work from for a portrait. There are of course the exceptions depending on how close you are to the dog and the lighting conditions. You can see from the example below however, the photos are of the same dog 'Knuckles' from a previous clients commission. The photo on the left was a quick snap taken with a mobile, where as the photo on the right was taken with a digital camera. From an artists perspective, its easy to see which would be better to create a portrait from due to the clarity of the photo and the amount of detail present.

Our advice is that if you do have access to a digital camera, whether its yours or you can borrow one form a friend and your pet is still alive, use the digital camera to take a wide range of photos (after reading more below) so that you can be sure to provide us with the best possible photo for a portrait. Photos are key to a pet portrait, the better quality the photo, the better your portrait will be as we will be able to see everything more clearly.


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Positioning and getting on your pets level

Many people tend to look down on their pets when they are taking photos - this is natural, as it's often the way we see our pets in every day life. However the painting or drawing you commission will be displayed on the wall at eye level, so it makes much more sense to be taking the photo on their level.

To achieve perfect photos at the right level, you can either crouch or lie down when taking photos, or alternatively you could raise your pet up onto a table or other stable surface to achieve the same result. When taking the photos imagine how the pose might look once framed and hanging on the wall.

The photos below were taken by a lovely client of ours, of the most gorgeous King Charles Spaniel called Lucy. You can see how the photo of Lucy looking straight into her beautiful brown eyes will make for a lovely portrait, much better than looking down on her.


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Being outside rather than indoors with flash

Try to take your photos outside if you can in natural lighting, a nice sunny or slightly cloudy day is the perfect opportunity for a photoshoot. If you are unable to take photos outside, taking pictures by a window or patio doors / french windows is also a great place. The more natural light the better, you can see by the examples below of Molly the lab. She also had her ears up and alert and everything is much more natural outside - perfect for a portrait.

Photographing very dark or very light coloured pets can often be tricky, so natural light is ideal as long as you face your pet towards the light. Don't worry if the photos look too shiny or too bright, we can always tone this down in the painting or drawing, remember to snap away and take plenty!


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Fill the view finder with your pets head and chest

As you can see from the photo below left, the photographer stood a few paces back and took a photo of their flatcoated retriever. When you zoom into the head of the dog on the computer (right) to see it in more detail, its fairly blurry. By zooming in this doesn't add more pixels, it just enlarging it digitally - not adding information within the photo. from an artists point of view we can only paint or draw what we see, so the more definition within the photo the more we have to play with when working from it. To alleviate this problem, step forward, crouch down to be on the dogs level and try to fill the viewfinder with the dogs head and chest. An idea photo, of the same flatcoated retriever is below.


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Ideal photo for a portrait!

pet portraits photograaphy  


Emailing Photos - try not to reduce the file size

This photo below is a wonderful photo of 'Chewy', a previous clients dog who modeled very well for his owner who was taking photos using a digital camera. The original file size of the photo was 2304 x 1728 pixels - the original file size of the photo.

When photos are emailed they can often be reduced in file size so that they can be emailed faster, however when we receive photos reduced to say 400 x 600 pixels, they come out like the image on the left. We would be missing out on a huge amount of detail when comparing the original file size. So if possible when you email the photos, please email them at their original size, we have a large inbox and can accept any size of image! If you need any help just let us know.


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Tack - or no Tack?

It is extremely difficult to remove head collars and tack when drawing or painting your horse so if you would like to see your horse in the portrait without, anything tack or head collar - the photos need to be taken without . Have someone to help you take photos as you will find it easier. Have a look at our horse portraits gallery at the horse portraits that we have been commissioned to paint or draw to give you an idea of how you would like to see your horse in a portrait.

Winter rugs and coats can also be a problem, taking photos with the rug right over the horses neck, can gives us problems as it is very difficult to make up what's underneath. Taking photos in the spring and summer is always best when they are in their prime and have their sleek summer coats.


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A Relaxed Fun Photo shoot

The most important thing when photographing any animal is to make sure they are comfortable with the situation. All pets are different and perhaps different approaches are needed for each animal. For instance cats are pretty uncooperative and so setting the photography task over a period of a few days can help. Taking things one step at a time often helps your pet to relax. You might also like to ask a relative or friend to help, particularly if you are taking a photo of a dog, someone with a biscuit or treat to keep the dogs attention while you take the photos, can be really handy.

Its often helpful for us to see some detailed shots of your pets. Try to use the zoom function on your camera so that it doesn't distort the image. There will be times that you know will be easier to take photos of your pet - either when they have just woken up so they are raring to go and alert, or just before they have their tea and are hungry and will do anything for a treat. You will find that by waiting for the perfect moment you might be able to catch the specific look you are looking for, that perhaps shows your pets personality and character well. These can quite easily be captured with a little preparation and patience.

On many occasions we are asked to paint pets that have sadly passed away and often clients have a very limited amount of photographs. We are more than happy to see any photos, black and white / sepia or colour, even if you feel they might not be good enough for a portrait there are plenty of options.

Photos do govern the size and medium of the portrait and it might be the case that you are unable to have a huge oil painting, however a lovely mid sized pencil drawing maybe suitable instead. We will always give you our professional advice and give you plenty of options to help you in choosing what's best for you. We would love to see your photographs and you are more than welcome to email them to us for our opinion at any time. We look forward to seeing them soon!

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© Red Kite Studios 1997-2015 Pet Portraits by Melanie Phillips & Nicholas Beall. Traditional paintings & drawings in oils & graphite pencil.