One thing I’ve learned from doing pet portrait paintings from photos and having pets that I like to take photos of, is that taking good photos of your pet is not an easy task! Whether you want to learn to take great pet photos for Instagram or print, or to use as a reference photo for a portrait painting, below are some tips that I’ve learned from my own experience both taking pet photos and painting from photos. While I am not a professional photographer, I know a little bit from photography classes I took in my art school days and from personal experience.
Take pet photos with a high resolution camera
This may seem like a no-brainer with modern technology, but it’s worth mentioning for those that like to hang on to their old cellphones for as long as possible before upgrading. That trusty iPhone 5 probably won’t cut it. Additionally, while the top cellphone cameras have pretty amazing photo quality, some of the cheaper, more basic cellphone cameras are lacking. We keep a basic cellphone around for backup in case one of ours gets lost or broken, and the camera might as well be from 1999. While cellphones are the handy choice for casual pet photography these days, the hobby photographer might also consider a digital SLR camera. These are sure to take high quality pet photos, and you can also find inexpensive used cameras at sites like B&H. They have a large inventory of refurbished cameras and lenses and are a trustworthy website to order from.
Lighting for Pet Photos
Good lighting for pet photography is key, especially if you want a portrait painting from a photo.
- Natural daylight from the sun, whether indoors or outdoors, provides the best portrait lighting. It needs to be bright enough that the camera shutter speed is fast, to reduce motion blur that is highly likely for pets’ unpredictable movements.
- Do not use a flash, as that delays the photo, so you often miss the moment you wished to capture and the flash may cause your pet to blink. Additionally, flash photography can actually decrease the amount of detail in the photo, which gives your pet portrait artist less to work with in the painting.
- The light source should not be behind your pet, but on either side or facing them, but preferably not straight on. A little bit of shadow on their face is ideal to help provide contrast, but make sure both eyes are clearly visible. The eyes should be the focal point of any pet portrait. When the light source is in the right position, your pet’s eyes will have depth and color detail.
Best Poses for Pet Photos
As a pet portrait painter, I focus on your pet’s face. The closer the camera is to your pet’s face, the more detail is available from which to paint from. Closeups work best, but a high enough quality photo of the full body might provide enough detail when cropped closely. All of your pet’s facial features should be clearly visible (eyes, ears, nose mouth). Try to take your pet’s photo near their eye level, rather than from above. Photos taken from above with their body behind them can cause awkward perspective and angles of the body when translated to a pet painting.
Try Video or Live Photos for Active Animals
If your pet is exceptionally active and won’t sit still enough for a photo, try taking a video instead. As long as you have the ability to edit or take a still or screenshot from the video, you may be able to find that perfect portrait expression within the video. Additionally, newer iPhones have Live Photo setting which captures a few moments before and after you take the photo, allowing you to choose a still from a very short video. I’ve captured wonderful photos of my dogs and kids just by using this feature frequently.
Take a Lot of Photos
One of the keys to successful pet photography is quantity. Good photographers take massive amounts of photos, knowing that the perfect moment or facial expression can be evasive and is sometimes unexpected. Whether you are taking photos of your dog or cat every day or setting out on a specific pet portrait shoot, keep that camera snapping. The more photos you take, the more angles and expressions you will have to choose from to find that perfect pet portrait. No one has ever said they had too many photos of their fur baby!
While taking pet photos is fun and you can get some really great shots, consider using your favorite pet photos as the reference for a pet portrait painting! Yours truly would love to work with you on a one-of-a-kind pet painting from your photos.