Guidelines for photographing pets

In order to paint a good portrait it is important to have a good photograph to work from. The quality of the portrait will depend on the quality of the image you send me to paint from.

Lots of people have fantastic shots of their pets on their mobile phones which in this modern world are an ideal medium to capture ‘on the spur of the moment’ pictures. These photographs when viewed on small screen or Facebook are great. However the quality of these images are not sufficient to paint a decent portrait from as usually they are fuzzing and unclear when blown up, making it almost impossible to paint a good likeness. Beg, steal or borrow a proper camera.

A close up photograph that is clear and detailed is what you should be aiming for so try to fill the view finder with your subject. The essential features to get right are the details in the eyes and the noses (or beaks).  You of course need to capture a pose and expression that is typical of your pet. This may need a little time and patience to achieve. You may have to take a series of photographs over a few days to get this right, but it will be worth it in the end.

Lighting and positioning are very important when photographing your pet. I have found that natural light is best as it brings out the colours in fur or feathers.


Make sure that your light source is behind you and try to take your shots outdoors on a bright overcast day or in a bright but shady area if it’s a sunny day.

Avoid very bright sunlight as animals tend to shut their eyes, and remember the eyes are very important to get right. If the pictures are taken in direct sunlight large shadows are usually cast making it difficult to pick out the important details to paint from.  Also if it is a hot day the animal may not wish to pose and want to just lay down and sleep, or in the case of dog pant a lot, in which case you will probably not capture the best expression of your pet.

Avoid photographing your subject with a very brightly lit background as modern cameras will adjust the brightness and make the subject appear very dark in the foreground losing the detail needed.

If you can only take your photographs indoors try to avoid using the flash, as this will cause red eye/green eye in your photograph. Although this can be rectified natural light is still the best option, so position your pet facing a window and your take the picture with your back to the window.

Composition and getting your pets ‘best side’ may need a little time and patience, and may even need a couple of sessions to get the picture that you want. You may need to enlist the help of someone else to assist you.


My dog really doesn’t like having the camera pointed at him but can become very interested and animated if I have a treat in my hand, this always brings out the best expression on his face. You will know how to bring out the best in your pet, it maybe worth enlisting the help of another person to assist you with this. (If someone is holding your pet for you I am able to paint them out if need be).

Try to get the subject to look to one side of you and not directly down the lens of the camera. A slight angle to the side is much better, this pose is better than face on or completely side view (profile), however some pictures like my Rocky do look good straight on if the expression is captured correctly.

Get down to the same level as your subject, even if it means lying on the floor to get the best shots. Looking down on the subject will result in an odd pose that makes the subject look like they have a big head on a little body, not flattering.

Top tips

  • Natural light is best as it brings out the best colours in fur or feathers.
  • Avoid using a flash, photograph outdoors or indoors by a window.
  • Aim to capture good detail in the eyes, and if possible the nose/beak.
  • Fill the viewfinder with your subject.
  • Make sure your pet is adequately lit and not against a brightly lit background.
  • Avoid bright, direct sunlight as harsh shadows are cast which destroy vital detail.
  • Try to have the light source behind you.
  • Get down to the same level as your subject. Try not to photograph looking down at the subject, so to avoid the ‘all nose shot’.
  • Try to take a photo that is slightly side on if possible.
  • If possible try not to use use mobile phones if you can help it to take your photographs as these will not alway be clear enough.

Above all make it fun and enjoy!

How to commission a portrait