Photographing Your Pet

The Ideal Photo

A good photo is essential as your portrait will look very similar to the photo.  I paint or draw what I see in the photo and am not able to make major alterations.

The most suitable type of photo to work from is of a high quality with clear details.  Small files such as those downloaded from Facebook or taken on phones may not give the level of detail required.

Please see the sections below to see if you have any suitable photos.  If required find out how to take the best photo to achieve a portrait which will show him off at his or her best.

Photographing Your Own Pet

The photo should be taken with the best camera you have available with the most megapixels. This means the photo file will be large and have a high resolution.  This makes it much easier to paint a large detailed portrait. Photos taken with mobile phone cameras or similar or photos taken from Facebook may be difficult to paint from as they just do not show all the details clearly when you zoom in.

Try and fill the frame with the head, neck and shoulders for a head portrait.  Fill the frame with his whole body for a whole body portrait.  Get as close as you can without leaving too much space around the animal. The entire head or body should be in focus but it is most important that the eyes are sharply in focus. This all helps with getting a higher quality photo and therefore a more detailed painting.

The best angle is usually a three quarter view.  This results in a more lifelike painting with personality. Side views can sometime look a little lifeless, but can work in some cases. Ideally, take a few shots from different angles at eye level to the animal.  Then we can discuss which would make the best portrait.

The background is not important as I can easily exclude a cluttered background.

Make sure not to cut off ears or paws!

A drawing containing two subjects may be possible even if the two subjects are in separate photos.  Having a photo of them together is useful to have as reference to size differences etc. Ideally the separate photos should be taken from the same level and under the same lighting conditions.

A mock up can be made if more than one subject is to be drawn from separate photos.

For all animals, take as many photos as possible as this will give more options to choose the best photo to work from.


The best place and time to take a picture of your horse is outside (not in a stable), somewhere well-lit and ideally when the weather is bright but the sun is not too harsh. This will mean the horse will be evenly lit without bright sunshine creating too much contrast. Too much sun can mean detail is lost. If the sun is out, position yourself and your horse so that the sun is behind you but be careful not to cast your shadow on the horse.

Ideally, the horse should be wearing the tack you would like to see them in in the final painting. It is possible to alter or remove small parts of tack, but completing the portrait will be much easier if he is wearing what you would like him painted in.  It is best if he is well groomed and mud free!  If you would like a head portrait with no tack or headcollar, consider having an assistant holding the horse with a lead rope round the neck.

In an ideal horse photograph, the horse should look attentive with ears forward so an assistant may provide useful to encourage the right expression from the horse.  Not having a mouthful of hay is also a bonus!

Suffolk Punch horse in harness. Photographing your pet.New Forest pony looking over stable door

In the above examples, the first picture would make a good portrait.  The pose and the expression are good, there are no large areas of shadow causing a loss of detail but there is enough contrast so that the portrait will not look flat. The horse also fills a large part of the frame so there is lots of detail to work from.

The second picture however would not make a good portrait.  The photo is taken from head on, and although the horse has her ears pricked, her eyes are nearly shut and she appears to be chewing!

Dogs and Cats

Before taking the photo, make sure your pet is looking well-groomed and at his best.

As with horses, a good photo of a dog or cat should be taken in natural light (no flash) – a cloudy but bright day outside is ideal or inside by a large window, without harsh sunshine creating too much contrast.  Position yourself so that the sun is behind you, minding that your shadow is not cast on your pet.

For dogs and cats, try and take the photo on the same eye level as your pet for a more natural look and will prevent an odd looking animal due to strange perspectives!

Having an assistant and treats handy helps get the animals attention and possibly keep them in the right place!  Try encouraging them with a favourite toy.

Cat sat on a log. Photographing your pet.

Tortoiseshell and tabby cat lying down

In the above cat pictures, the first picture would make a good portrait.  The quality of the photo is good, the expression and pose are good and the subject is well lit.

The second picture however would not be suitable.  The photo has been taken looking down on the cat rather than at eye level.  The cat has her ears back slightly and the paws are not fully in the frame.

Wire Fox terrier dog. Photographing your pet.Wire fox terrier dog in forest

In the above dog photos, the picture on the left would make a good portrait.  The dog is looking attentive and happy, all the details of her coat can clearly be seen and the photo is taken from a good angle at eye level.

The second photo would not make a good portrait especially a full body study as the coat obscures a large part of the body.  The dog is also small in the frame meaning it is not possible to zoom in to see more detail.  She also has a slightly worried expression with ears down and back.