If you’ve decided to order a portrait, the most important thing is finding a good reference photo! Really, the reference photo(s) is the foundation of your portrait. I can only paint what I see. You might think that photo of your pet hanging upside down on your couch is cute and captures his/her spirit, but imagine it being a portrait on your wall. Some photos are cute, but they’re not suitable as reference photos for a portrait. When pictures are blurry or only a part of your pet can be seen, you might think it’s fine, because you can imagine parts that cannot be seen. You know your pet, you see him/her every day. Your mind fills up the gaps on the photo. But mine can’t do it, I’ll only be able to see your pet from your photos, and I have to be able to see it all!
So, here are some directions of what a reference photo for a portrait should look like.
Since all our pets are smaller than we are, we are used to taking their pictures from above. That is fine for home snap shots, but as a reference photo for a portrait, it just doesn’t work. The portrait is going to hang on your wall most likely, so the most natural position of your pet on it would be eye-level. When taking a photo of your pet for a portrait, go down on your knees, make your self level with your pet. If you can, you can lift your pet on a piece of furniture, or if outside – a chair or something similar. This comes easier with cats, as they’re usually dwelling on your furniture as it is
Lighting and Composition
It’s unbelievable what a change of lighting can do! Up you can see two photos of the same dog – my Suky. One is taken inside with a flash, and the other outside in daylight. Of course, the Suky’s position is different, too. You can clearly see how lighting affects the appearance. With soft daylight, you can see all the shadows, higlights and subtle colors of the fur. Same with eye color. When pictures are taken with flash, it flattens the colors, and it almost always destroyes the eye color. The best lighting you can use for portrait reference photos is daylight, preferably not in direct sunlight. Take photos in a shade, or after the sun sets behind a building. You can also take photos inside, in front of a window! Light coming from the outside is diffused, making a perfect lighting for a photo. If you have no other options, then a photo in direct sunlight might do. Although it’s not desireable, it’s far better than a photo taken with flash. The photo of Suky is taken in the early afternoon, after the sun set behind the hill, but there was still enough light to take photos.
The other important thing here is the position of Suky and composition of the photo. You can see that I filled the entire picture with Suky’s head and chest which is the most suitable composition for a portrait.
Positioning for a Full Body Portrait
If you want a full body portrait of your pet, try to get a photo as good as possible. Again, good positioning is very important! You want to shoot your pet from his/her eye-level, never from above, and that is especially important when doing full body portraits. Unless you want your portrait to be stylish and different, you will need to follow those rules.
Also, be sure to take a photo of your whole pet. Again, if I can’t see it, I cannot paint it.
Size and Focus
Some photos might look good. But, have you taken a look at their size? If you’re taking a photo of your entire pet, from a distance, but you want a classic head/shoulders portrait, take a look if your photo can be zoomed in. Are there any details when zoomed in? If not, it’s not a good reference photo. I have to see the details if I’m going to paint them. Also, take care of not resizing your photos prior to sending them to me. I will need the original resolution in order to make out the best I can! Send them to me via your e-mail, without resizing them (to a bigger or smaller size), and if they’re too big, one at a time. There are also a lot of upload sites you can use for really big files, but mostly e-mail is more than good enough a way to send big photos.
The More is Better
I will need one main reference photo to work from, and it is the most important photo for your portrait. However, please do send me as many photos as you want! I will get a better perspective and “feel” your pet better. This is especially important if you want something deleted from the main reference photo (a collar), or if a part of your pet is not seen very well (you accidentally “cut” out the ear). I’ll be able to see the needed part from other photos. I will also get a better feel of the color if I can observe it on multiple photos. Really, don’t be shy, send as many photos as you’re able!
Ideal Reference Photos