Choosing a Pet Portrait Reference Photo

Choosing a Pet Portrait Reference Photo

Choosing a Pet Portrait Reference Photo

A quick guide for those who are commissioning a pet portrait and for artists who are painting a pet portrait!

I have shared about this before but it’s time to quickly go over it again with new information! This time, I want o walk you through my process of how I choose a pet portrait reference photo for a commissioned painting. If you are interested in my previous post, you can view that here.

There are 3 major things that I want to consider when selecting the best photo for a portrait.

  1. Do I want the painting of the pet at a certain life stage?

This is really important to consider because as pets age, they change. Just like us! And if they are older and/or sick - they may look a way that we don’t want them represented as. Also, too young of a photo may not be appropriate since the pet likely didn’t look like that for most of their lives. But if you want to have a puppy or kitten painted, I am game!

  1. Lighting / Photo Quality

Lighting is important because it can create DRAMA. Which we all love! For a more dramatic portrait, I look for a high contrast between the lights and shadows in the photo. Be careful! Too much light will cause the pet’s coloring to appear washed out and it will misrepresent them in the portrait. On the flip side, too dark of a photo witll obscure details and causes the pet to appear “blob like”.

Photo quality is very important since I zoom in on their features to really capture their essence. The further the pet is away in the picture, the darker it is and how you submit the photo will all effect the ability to decipher important details of the pet’s features.

  1. Position and Mood

This is SO important when choosing a good reference photo for your pet portrait. Pet positions that don’t translate well into a cropped in pet portrait are:

a) a floating head. This is a result of the pet looking UP at the photographer. The result, a head without a body.


b) a blob. This occurs when cats are “loafing” or pets are laying down. It is especially more likely to happen when the pet is a bit chonky.

Lastly, and most importantly. You know how it isn’t flattering when we take a selfie looking DOWN at our camera phone? It’s the same for dogs. If their nose is tipped down and their eyes are looking up it ,most likely, won’t make a good portrait. UNLESS - it is a long snooted dog. Such as a greyhound, borzoi, or a collie.

Now let’s talk mood briefly. The mood of the pet will come through in the portrait, I PROMISE you this. So if the pet looks scared, sick, grumpy, etc - it will show in the portrait. Be aware of this when selecting the reference photo.

I hope that you found this helpful. For a more guided walkthrough of this process, I have created a tutorial as I select a reference photo for my bengal cat, Apollo’s, 16th birthday portrait.

Commission a Pet Portrait Here! 

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