Choosing a good reference photo

All my pet portraits are drawn or painted using clients' photos as reference. The photos are key to a good pet portrait and I would want to work from the very best ones available to you. It's extremely difficult to produce a high quality portrait without at least one good photo and preferably more.

For the portrait pose, I need one photo clearly showing the head and shoulders, with facial features such as eyes, ears, mouth and nose in focus and with minimal glare or reflections. Other photos will be used for colour matching and for any details that may not be 100% clear in the pose shot. For this reason, I always ask clients to send as many photos as possible. As a general rule, photos taken with a mobile phone are not as good as those taken with a digital SLR camera, but they are more common these days and I can usually work with them. Just try to ensure they are taken at the pet's eye level and not looking down at the pet, as this can distort the perspective (e.g. out of proportion nose). Remember, you are paying for a portrait, not a copy of a distorted image.

Below are some examples of reference photos that have been supplied, good and not so good.

Poor example of reference photo

Unsuitable

In this case, the client only had a few fairly low resolution photos available. This photo was too fuzzy and details of eyes and nose were not clearly visible. I would not have been comfortable using this, as it would have required too much improvisation to correct the imperfections.

Good example of reference photo

Suitable

As the portrait was to be a watercolour and ink sketch, it wasn't as important for me to see minute details as it would have been if I was using a different medium. I chose this photo for the head angle and the more clearly defined features. The client specifically wanted me to capture the spots on her ears, which was a further deciding factor.

Ink and watercolour portrait

The finished portrait

This is an example of ink and watercolour painting,

unsuitable reference photo

Unsuitable

Oh dear! Grumpy Cat! Awful expression, body is hunched, eyes half closed, reflecting the flash.
It's all wrong.

Suitable reference photo

Suitable

The pose/head angle is perfect, all features are clearly defined and subtle markings are visible.

Final portrait

The finished portrait

Pastels portrait of my cat, Bertie.

unsuitable reference photo

Unsuitable

Nothing wrong with the pose here, but unfortunately it was just not possible to see enough detail due to the fuzziness of the image.

Suitable reference photo

Suitable

Alfie's features are clear and the pose is great too. The only slight issue was the lighting (half in shade), but it wasn't a hindrance.

Final portrait

The finished portrait

Watercolour painting of Alfie, my daughter's Bengal.