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 camera, but they are more common these days and I can often work with them.

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

Poor example of reference photo

Unsuitable

This photo lacks sharpness and details of eyes and nose are not clearly visible. It would not be suitable for a detailed portrait and would require a certain amount of improvisation if used.

Good example of reference photo

Suitable

The photo shows a good head angle, with more clearly defined features. The client specifically asked me to capture the spots in the dog's 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.