Taking Photos for a Pet Portrait
Taking high-quality photos of your pet is a skill. I want to give you the tools to be able to take a lovely photo; not only for your pet's portrait but also you can continue to take lovely photos of your pet throughout their lives. In improving your pet photography skills you will be able to have a lasting reminder of your time together, by taking high-quality photographs. I find it quite sad when I get requests for memorial portraits when only poor quality photos are available, as families don't have photos to remind them of their happy times with their pet. I feel it is as important to get photos of your pet as it is any other member of the family.
In addition to this guide, I have a whole range of blog posts on the subject of pet photography, which you can find here.
What makes a good photo for a pet portrait artist to work from?
For a head portrait- It needs to be clear, with a high amount of detail visible and needs to fill the full frame of the picture.
For a full-body portrait- it needs to show the entirety of the animal, no paws or tops of ears cropped off!
I need 1 photo to work off that I can make an exact copy of, so make sure you are happy with the composition of your main photo. Some additional photos are also useful to make sure the main photo is true to your pet.
Below I have some examples of my dog Monty, showing what makes a good, and also a bad photograph for a pet portrait.
Your first step is to go outside with your pet. This allows the photo to be taken in natural bright lighting, rather than being too dark or using artificial flash. If you cannot go outside, position yourself near a large window, with your pet facing the light and you with your back to it.
On the left, the sun is behind Monty, you want the sun to be in front of your subject, lighting up the face.
In the middle image, the sunlight is too harsh, creating a dark shadow in the mouth area. If it is very sunny you may be better going into the shade. A bright but overcast day is perfect.
The right image is a good level of light, providing even illumination across his face.
Get Down on Their Level
A good angle is the next thing to think about. You ideally want to get down on the same level as your pet, do this by either crouching or lying down on the ground. If this is not possible you can bring your pet up higher by putting them on a chair or table. This means you can see your pets face clearly and see their eyes. From this level, it is far easier to get a nice angle with a clear view of their face.
As you can see on the right I put Monty on a bench, this means he is at a higher level so I can easily get a photograph that is level with his face.
Getting the Best Angle
Once you are at the right level, the next aspect is the angle that your pet is positioned at. This involves a bit of bribery. The best way to get your pet to look in exactly the direction you want is to use a treat. Hold the treat in your hand and wave your hand in the area where you want them to be looking.
On the left, I am at the right level, but he is not quite looking in the direction I want, so I used a treat to focus his attention towards the left. This improves the picture greatly, allowing me to see his eyes. An image looking towards your pet at a slight (3/4) angle is excellent for pet portraiture.
You want your subject to fill the frame of the photograph. Therefore if you are wanting a head portrait, just take a photo of the head, and if you want a portrait of the full-body just include that too.
In this example, we can see I have a full-body photo of Monty, but we also have a lot of background as he is quite a distance away. By getting closer to him we get a much clearer photograph, with a greater amount of detail visible. Instead of zooming in with your camera, move closer to your pet, as by using zoom you are stretching the pixels which produce a less sharp image.
This part is very important, with a blurry photo you cannot see as much detail. I know it is easier said than done to get a photo of an often moving target.
As you can see the difference in detail between these two photographs. To help with focusing your camera, half-press the shutter button to focus. With a phone, tap the screen.
This might all seem like a lot of information, but it is very, very important to get a good photograph. The better the photo, the better the final portrait.
In the process of getting the photos for this guide, I took around 60 photographs. It may take a lot of attempts to get it right, but remember the more shots you take, the more choice you have, and the better chance that you will have got the perfect photograph for a pet portrait.
Pet Portrait Photo Suitability Checklist
Good Lighting- is the photograph light enough to see your pet?
Fur Colour- does the colour look accurate in the photo?
Eye Colour- can you see the colour of your pet's eyes, and not just black?
Composition- is your pet positioned in the way you would want in the portrait?
Visible Fur Direction- can you see the direction the hair lies in?
Good Distance from the Camera- does your pet fill the frame without cropping?
Unwanted Accessories Removed?- is your pet wearing what you want to appear in the portrait?
Once you have got a few photos you think are suitable, they need to be sent to me in the correct way.
Do not send a screenshot of a photograph, instead send the actual image.
Do not send photographs that are downloaded off Facebook as it will have been compressed and therefore is of a lower quality and detail.
Do not resize the image when emailing it- send it as the original full size.
I would love to see your photographs, please email them to me at any time for my opinion. I look forward to seeing them soon!
If you do live nearby, I can travel to take photographs for an additional fee. I live near Matlock in Derbyshire, on the edge of the Peak District National Park.