Taking good photos of your pet can be really challenging and something people often struggle with. Here's a few things I look for in a photograph when I’m working on a commission pet portrait and some tips on how to make your photo session less stressful for you and your pet so that you can capture that perfect portrait worthy image.
Strike a pose
What is unique about your dog, cat or horse? Remember that I don’t know them the way you do. I can only be guided by you and what you tell me about them so try to make your photos reflect your pet’s personality. Maybe your pet cat has a particular way it holds his head or folds its paws; maybe your dog always has its tongue out or is covered in mud!
Try to get a photo of them doing what they do best, don’t force an unnatural pose as it just won’t feel like your pet. If you stay relaxed, your pet will too.
Action shots of your dog or horse running can look really dramatic but they can be very difficult to capture due to blurring. If you have a good camera or an app that will allow adjustable shutter speeds then go for it!
Show your true colours
Photographs taken in natural light always work best for pet portraits. It shows the true colours of your animal's coat and makes their eyes shine. Choose a bright but not too sunny day to take your photo. Take multiple shots as you can be guaranteed that most will be blurred! Use burst mode on your phone to capture several photos at once, that way you can choose the best of the bunch. If your pet is an indoor animal, you can take the photo with your pet facing a window. Make sure you always place the main light source behind you and never use a flash or filters.
We all need a little help now and again
Pets are unpredictable and much like children they can quickly get bored or over-excited. Prepare for your photo session by getting a friend or family member to help you out. It’s best if it’s someone your pet knows so they are relaxed around them. Be patient with them (animal and human) and if either starts to get fed-up or stressed, stop for a while and have some playtime or a snack. Never rush or get upset as your pet will pick up on your mood.
Bribery goes a long way so arm your helper with some tasty treats and a favourite toy. Ask them to stand behind you and attract your pet’s attention while you concentrate on getting some gorgeous pictures. Don't forget to reward both your pet and your human helper for their efforts.
How low can you go?
We are so used to seeing our pets looking up at us from below, but this is not necessarily the best angle for your photo as this can distort their features and often doesn’t make for the most attractive pose, unless your dog has a photo worthy schnozzle (see Gus below). Get down to eye level with your pet to preserve their proportions and aim for a 3/4 view as, just like for humans, this angle is generally the most flattering. Also, don’t take a photo of your horse or dog from halfway across a field, try to fill the photo frame with them so I can see all their beautiful details.
Size is everything!
I know it’s boring but let’s get a little techy for a minute and talk resolution… It probably doesn’t mean much to most people but very simply put this term refers to the amount of information held in a digital photo. The larger the file size, the more information the photo has. Smartphones take photos at high resolutions so they are perfect so long as you email them to me at their full size.
The problem comes when you upload your pet photos to an online social media site, the images will be compressed and a lot of that information will be thrown out to make the file smaller. This makes it much faster to load but compromises the quality of the image. For me to be able to see all the details and subtle colour shifts in your animal’s fur I have to be able to zoom into the photo really closely (my eyes are getting old), but with a compressed image I can’t. It will go blurry or pixelated so I have to “invent” details that I can’t see or use other references to try and fill in the missing information.
Therefore, please send me your high quality original photos but avoid using any social media photos of your pets if you can.
With physical photos you can either post them to me or take a photo of them on your phone. In either case email me what you have at full size (ie. direct from your phone) and we can decide together which are the best photos to work from.
Now that you have run out of storage space on your phone it’s time to thin down your options. Start by deleting any images that are blurred or where your pet has blinked or looked away at the last minute. Now you are probably left with only a few images if your session went anything like mine but hopefully you’ve got some fab photos to share with me. Don’t worry if you are still having trouble picking one, just email me them all and we can decide together.
It’s never easy to get the perfect photo of your beloved pet, but it’s worth the effort. Be patient, take lots and never underestimate the power of treats! Try taking lots of photos over different days, whilst out for a walk, lounging on the sofa. Above all just be patient and eventually you will get the perfect one!
The better the photo, the better your pet portrait will be! (in theory)
Thank you to all of my lovely muses and their human companions for keeping my pencils busy over the last few years.
It really is my pleasure to draw for you.
If you’re interested in getting a portrait for your pet dog, cat, horse or bird, but are unsure about what photo to use, please get in touch and I’m happy to chat through some ideas. One of the best parts of my job is seeing your companion animals and hearing your stories about them. What’s more, I love a challenge so exotic animals also welcome!
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org