Choosing pet portrait reference photographs

Pet portraits and animal art gifts. Self-taught artist based in Scotland.

Choosing pet portrait reference photographs

This blog will hopefully help you in choosing the best possible photographs for your pet portrait and allow me to portray a true likeness of your pet. This means everything to me. Please note: if you have a photograph taken by a professional photographer, I will require permission before using as a reference photo.

Don’t worry – you do not necessarily need a professional photographer, nor have special photography skills! However, it is important to consider these pointers to help me gain a true likeness of your pet. The less clear the reference photo I have, the less details I can see. This means vital features that portray your pets personality could be missed.

Quality – pixels / resolution

High resolution photographs are of better quality as there are more pixels per inch. This is very helpful when I zoom into the image to see greater detail without out a ‘pixelated effect.’


There is nothing worse than a blurry, out-of-focus image. Especially when it is as beautifully composed as the ones below! The sharper and clearer the image, the more detail I can put into your drawing.


In general, photographs have better lighting when taken outside in natural light. Avoid using the flash as this can sometimes create a glare in the animals eyes or an over-exposed photo. Remember to take into consideration the position of the sun to prevent glare or shadows.


Many artists believe an image should be eye-level. Whilst I agree that this is usually the case there are exceptions to the rule as shown. An example of this is in the first photograph of the Irish cob below. As long as the photo is not ‘flat’ and looks 3D with good light and shading, it can work well. What I have found is that it is more difficult to create a 3D picture with the animal looking directly at the camera. 


Remember I will be mainly going from the one photograph so it is important that it is one that portrays your pets personality as much as possible for the best chance of me creating a true likeness. A favourite toy, treat or visiting spot can sometimes help capture those natural, true to character moments.

Now lets look at some example images

The beautiful photographs of the Irish cob, miniature dachshund and cocker spaniel above have perfect lighting showing light and shade as well as detail, and pose perfect in portraying the animal’s character! Whereas the photographs below, although wonderful poses, lack detail. The first image is over-exposed and pixelated. The middle photo is blurred and dark even though it has been taken outside. Last but not least, Bramble the cocker spaniel; the lighting does not show detail especially of her beautiful eyes.

No digital image of your pet?

I understand that a digital image is not always possible. I have drawn from a printed photographs on occasion, if that is all the customer has and there is enough detail.

Sending Photographs

Photographs are compressed when sent through social media such as Facebook, so lack quality and detail. When sending pet portrait photographs I advise to send high resolution images via . This is free to use and all you need to do is attach your photograph(s) and fill in the email to and from sections. Alternatively you could upload to an online storage package such as Dropbox / Google Drive or Flickr. All in all, it is very unlikely that the perfect photograph will be the first one you take. If in doubt take as many as you and your pet can bear so there are plenty to choose from. When I go on holiday I take thousands of photographs which, I narrow down to around 200 to create an album! Can’t choose one photograph? Send me them all – I am very happy to advise on what I think would work the best.


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