I spend a ton of time working with my customers to find cute pictures of their pets to paint that are good quality.
Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about clarity, lighting, and angles, and how these affect portraits.
Whether you’re hiring me to do a painting of your fuzzer, or just want to take some cute pics for Facebook, here’s my guide to taking print-worthy or painting-worthy pictures of your pet!
Lighting is one of the most important parts of taking ANY good picture.
Cameras use light to capture images. The more light that’s available, the more information they can capture clearly.
Each photographer uses light in different ways, some like high contrast, and some like a more even light. I’ll be telling you about the latter, which creates the best images for my paintings.
ISSUE #1: Too Little Light
This happens most often when shooting indoors under regular lights, especially at night.
Your pictures will lack detail and look very grainy, especially when you zoom in.
ISSUE #2: Too Much Light
A lot of light is great, except when it’s too intense and creates strong shadows and highlights.
While our human eyes can still see all the details, when you take a digital photo, the details in both the shadows and highlights are lost due to the extreme contrast.
For my purposes, it’s best not to shoot in direct bright sun or under spotlights.
This extreme contrast isn’t a problem if it’s the style of photos you like, but for my paintings, I prefer a much more even light. And to do that, we need to diffuse it so it’s not hitting the animal directly.
So how do we get it juuuuuuust right?
The best way is to use diffused sunlight! Sunlight is bright and shows a full spectrum of colors. When we diffuse it, it creates a nice even light.
Sunlight can be diffused by either overcast clouds (easy to achieve in Washington) or by standing in the shadow of something on a sunny day. Things like trees or buildings make great diffusors, just be sure you’re not capturing any bright sun spots in the background or it will have the same issue of creating too much contrast.
The best times to achieve diffused bright light are early in the morning before the sun is too intense, or around noon, either in the shade if it’s sunny or in the open if it’s overcast.
For indoor pets or photoshoots, diffused natural light are still the ideal conditions to take photos! You can take them in front of a window when it’s overcast and the diffused light will reduce harsh shadows and allow for crisper details.
The angle that you shoot your pet is very important. When I’m looking for a good photo to paint from, angle is the first thing I’m looking for.
So often, we take pictures of our pets from above, but this results in truncated bodies and really restricts the composition if it’s going to become a painting.
In my opinion, it also doesn’t show off the animal’s personality.
When you crouch down to your pet’s level to take the picture, they become more confident and their personality shines through. You’re seeing them in their world, which is what I like to capture in my work.
The other reason for shooting at the pet’s level, is that it gives me the ability to add in a background behind them in the painting. So often, I’m putting pets into a magical nature scene, and when the photo is shot from above, there’s not much I can add in.
Here’s an example of my cat, Trillium:
This slight change in angle makes a huge difference!
Tip: Sneaking to the Right Angle
Thanks to smart phones, most of the pictures we take of our pets happen spontaneously when they’re being cute.
In these moments, it’s important to capture the cuteness first and foremost, and then slowly move to a better angle, taking photos all the while.
Most animals will respond when you move, so just keep it slow, avoid eye contact, and wait until you’re in the optimum position to pop your head out from behind the camera and get their attention.
3. Capturing Expression
Once you’re at the right angle, you can try to get some cute expressions!
Take tons of photos of your pet as you try different things to get their attention.
Make weird faces and noises, raise your free arm in the air and lightly snap or move something to make a noise (i.e. a squeaky toy or crumpled paper).
Avoid calling to them in a tone that means “come here”, or they may move and you’ll miss the cute pose!
For this reason, I taught our dog Luna the command “Look at me”, so that she makes eye contact but only moves her head to do it.
Your animal likes to see your face and make eye contact with you. If you keep your face behind the camera, they will lose interest very quickly and may even avoid looking at you and this strange thing in your hand that makes you act weird.
So when you’re snapping pics, make sure to peak out from behind the camera and look into their eyes and smile as you talk to them. (This is especially helpful with camera-shy pups)
Most pets will only respond to your antics for a short while, so be sure to be snapping lots of pics, as you never know when you’ll get the perfect expression!
4. Image Quality
Image quality refers to how big and crisp the details are. Like bacon. Okay, not really.
When you have a high-quality, high-resolution image, you can zoom in and see very clear details.
When you have a low-quality, low-resolution image, it’s very blurry or grainy when you zoom in, especially in the eyes (which is the most important part)
I’m usually making paintings larger than the photo is, so it’s important to have as much detail/as high of quality, as possible. If you zoom in on a photo and it’s not very crisp, chances are it won’t work very well for painting.
As I said above, lighting can affect image quality, but here are some other things to consider:
Cameras & Cameraphones
Of the cameras and smartphones you may have, try to use the one with the highest megapixel number. Megapixels refers to how many millions of pixels are in an image. The more pixels are in an image, the crisper the details are!
Most of us are taking pictures with our phones. If you have the newest model of smart phone, it should totally be sufficient!
If you don’t have a fancy smart phone or have an older one (nothing wrong with that), opt for using a camera, especially if it’s higher Megapixels.
Whenever you send a photo through text messaging, social media, or even sometimes email, the photos are compressed. This means they make the image smaller and reduce the clarity so it can travel faster through the interwebs.
For this reason, I ask that you email me pet photos at as high resolution as possible. Usually when you attach the photo, it will give you options for the file size. Please choose to send it at the original size. It’s okay if you have to send multiple emails to get them all to me, or attach it using Google Docs.
These are just some guidelines of what makes the best pictures for me to paint from. I understand that sometimes it’s not possible to achieve all these things in one picture, and sometimes a pet has passed on and you have limited photos. I’m happy to work with whatever images you have to find the perfect one for your painting.
But for all future shooting, here’s a recap of how to get the best pet pics:
- Shoot in Bright Diffused Sunlight
- Early in the morning on a clear day
- Around noon on an overcast day
- Get down on their level
- Be weird
- Use a high megapixel camera and send me uncompressed photos through email
Know someone who loves taking pics of their pets? Pass this along to them!
If you’d like more info about my whimsical pet paintings, you can find more info here!
And you can sign up to receive articles like this in your inbox monthly or weekly here!
Hugs and Fluffs,