fine art pet portraits by commission

Pet Portraits from Photographs - Tips and Hints!

What makes a good photo for a pet portrait?

The two photos below are of a dog called Molly. She visited our art studio to have her photo taken for a pet portrait. I took around 30 to 40 photos of Molly that morning, making sure the camera focused on her each time she moved. That number of photos may seen extreme, however, the more you take, the more choice you will have. I was kneeling down on her level, outside on a clear day so the lighting was good. Nicholas was behind me holding a treat to keep Molly's focus while I snapped away and we took some beautiful photos. Scroll down to read more tips....

Good head study photo for a pet portrait

The photo above of Molly is a perfect photo for us to work from and would make a perfect head and shoulders portrait in either pencil or oil.

Good full body photo for a pet portrait

The photo of Molly above is an excellent pose for a full body portrait.


Focusing on your Subject

We know that pets move when we take photos, they just will! So some of your photos are going to be out of focus. This is why we encourage our clients to take between 30 to 40 photos on a photoshoot if the pets allow. This means you have plenty to choose from and can discard any out of focus photos, just like the photo of Gus below left. I took photos of him when he visited the studio and he was very good, he sat extremely well. In fact Gus was the perfect model!

Some photos will naturally be out of focus when either you move or the pet moves. So to aid with this, if you are using a digital camera like I was with Gus, it may have a 'half depress' on the shutter button, to focus prior to taking the photo. Or if you are using a mobile phone tap the screen and it will refocus for you. You can clearly see from the two photos of Gus below that the out of focus photo was when Gus moved and we would not be able to work from this one. However the photo below right is perfect and it captured Gus really well!

looking straight at your pet on their level opposed to looking down at them when taking a photo.


Get Down on their level...

Many people tend to look down on their pets when they are taking photos, just like the photo of our dog Lily below left. This is natural, it's often the way we see our pets in every day life. However to be able to see your pet clearly and look into it's eyes, it makes much more sense to take the photo on your pets eye level.

To take photos at the correct level, you can crouch or sit down on the ground - or if your pet is able, place them on a table or other stable surface to take photos. I took two photos of our dog Lily, one looking down on her and the second on a garden seat. Understandably she is a Tibetan Terrier and it is rare that you actually see her eyes because of all of her fur...! However by putting your pet up higher like Lily is below, you have a better vantage point with which to take photos and you can vary your level and angle much more easily.

Take photos outside or in good lighting to avoid using flash.


Getting the best from your Mobile

The majority of us own a mobile phone with the capabilities of taking really good photos. Many of the photos we create pet portraits from these days are mobile phone photos. However there are times when the photos aren’t quite good enough to work from. We are usually able to help our clients to get the most out of their mobile phone photos and they can email us at any time for guidance. The following might help...

A screen captured image

Avoid Digital Zoom on Mobile Phones
Most modern mobile phones have a clever zoom feature whereby you can pinch out to zoom into a scene. This is great for every day snaps however, these zoomed photos are lower quality so we would recommend avoiding using it.

Screen captures
One issue we quite often see is that clients take screen captures of their photos to send us. We can tell the photo is a screen capture by the top and bottom of the image being black - just like the photo of our dog Lily on the right. I took this photo Lily in the garden and then screen captured it to add here. The image looks sharp and in focus however in actual fact because it is a screen capture it will actually be fairly low resolution and no where near as detailed as my original photo will have been.

Ideally we need to receive the original photo from your phone. The method of sharing photos on a mobile phone will vary between brands. In general there will be a photos app where the photos taken with that device are stored. You should be able to share / email the photo direct from the photos app.

Don’t resize - Small, Medium Large or Original....
You may be given the option to send your photos to us at a reduced sized image - Small, Medium, Large or Original size. Please don't resize, we need to see the Original Size photo so that we can see the image in full detail. This is really important.

Please avoid sending us Facebook Photos...
Many people share photos of their pets on Facebook. Along with filters which can distort colours, Facebook also compresses and resizes your photos to make them load more quickly. This reduces their quality and we do find them more difficult to work from.

Tackling low light environments...
We do try to advise clients to take photos of their pets outside if possible. If it isn’t possible, then the lighting in your home needs to be as bright as possible for your mobile device to be able to create a sharp and in focus photo. The two photos of Blue the Beagle below were taken by our client Ben for a pencil drawing. The photo on the left was a quick snap taken with a mobile when the Blue was in shade. The phone had a lot of trouble focusing which resulted in a grainy undefined image. Ben took more photos of Blue in much brighter light conditions and as you can see below right, the photos came out clear and in focus. Mobile lenses need a lot of light to focus especially if you are taking photos of a dark or black coloured pet, then it will struggle even more. So let light be your friend and take your pet and sit them next to a window with the light on!

Pet Portraits from Photographs


Tack - or no Tack

It is extremely difficult for us to remove tack when drawing or painting your horse. If you would like to see your horse in the portrait without tack or head collar, the photos really need to be taken without. Winter rugs and coats can also be a problem as it is very difficult for us to make up what's underneath. Below you can see two photos of Comet which our client Tina emailed for a portrait. Tina decided that a portrait of Comet without the halter would be best and we agreed.

It might also be an idea to have someone to assist you when taking photos as you will find it easier this way. Tina had someone with her when photographing Comet and found it really useful. Ideally taking photos in the spring and summer is advisable too, when your horse is showing their sleek, summer coats.

Remember we cant always take out the tack when drawing or painting if you have photos of your horse wearing tack

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!



Hi Melanie and Nicholas,
First, I am thrilled by the painting. As you said, this really more a portrait than a painting. I must admit to mixed emotions when I look at it, given the quick, unexpected and early death of Wilson to AHA. However, while my emotions may start with sadness, it soon turns into a smile thinking about all the good times and his sweet personality. I don’t know that you ever get over it completely, it’s just that the memories evoke more smiles faster as time goes by. I really can’t wait to see Carol’s face when she sees the picture. I’ve got a feeling it will invoke a bit on emotion for her a well. There was a basketball coach here in the US, someone you’ve probably never heard of (after all we don’t even play the proper football). His name was Jim Valvano and he had cancer while still in his prime. He was very successful and popular and before he died, they started a cancer research fund (Jimmy V fund) in his honor. ESPN televised an event establishing the fund and it was one of Valvano’s last public appearances. One of the things he said was: “To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you're going to have something special.” I have a feeling your painting will cover her for 1 and 3.Once we get the painting framed, I’ll be sure to send you a picture (may take awhile as I suspect Carol will be looking for the perfect antique frame) Thanks again for sharing your artistic talent… I suspect there may be a PBGV in your future.


Visit next...

View our art studio and materials page and see where we create our pet portraits... Pet Portraits Studio


Visit our Dedicated Websites

dog pet portraits
cat pet portraits
horse pet portraits
pencil portraits