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Choosing the right reference photo

Updated: Mar 26, 2021

Would you love to get a commission of your pet, but you have no idea which photo to choose? Read on for tips on how to take the perfect picture and what to avoid when choosing a photo!

The Two "Must-Have" Rules

  • Natural Light - choose a photo that has been taken outside (or by a window), in good light (not overly sunny or overcast!) This ensures that the colouring is correct and will produce the clearest photos.

  • Clear Eyes - Eyes are the most important feature in my work - it is the best way to capture the likeness and life of your pet. Choose a picture that clearly shows the eyes, with some reflection in.

Old Photos

Sadly, some of the commissions I am asked to draw are of pets that have passed. It's a lovely way to commemorate your pet, but you are limited to older photos. Try to follow the two rules above, and don't be afraid to send over loads of photos. You might have a picture where the eyes are clear but the colouring of the fur isn't true, and another taken from a distance outside, with the correct colouring but no detail. We can usually work to create a good likeness from multiple photos!

Taking a photo

  • Get close! - taking pictures from too far away will greatly reduce any detail in the photo. Of course, getting too close will also be a problem! Try to get to your pets eye-level, which will help to avoid any camera warping or strange proportions.

  • Lighting - avoid fluorescent and incandescent lighting! This will usually cast a yellow light and change the colouring. It will also drop the level of detail you can achieve. Take your picture during the daytime, in natural lighting. Try to avoid really early mornings as pictures usually come out with a blueish tint to them. Don't take a picture with your pets back to the sun either, as this will make the photo come out far too dark.

  • Camera settings - almost every phone nowadays has a camera capable of taking very detailed pictures. If you have an option to take "live photos" this may help to capture a subject that won't sit still for long! You can go into the photo and choose the best snapshot from a 3 second clip. This may seem obvious, but please don't put filters on your pictures! Try to avoid taking photos using a "wide-angle" setting too, as this could cause warping. "Portrait mode" can produce some great photos, but try to make sure that the whole of your pets face is in focus. Longer nosed dogs often get blurry noses or ears!

See below for some "Good" and "Bad" pictures of my own subjects (Pepper & Clove)!

This is a bad picture as she is too far away, and we can't see her eyes well enough.

This is also a bad picture - she is too dark and the lighting is dull and flat. This would produce a lifeless photo as there are no reflections in the eyes.

The angle in this picture isn't ideal for a drawing, her proportions are all off and you can't see her face clearly! The lighting is good though

Clove is too far away in this, so there won't be enough detail in the face when we zoom in. The lighting is also quite harsh.

This is an ideal picture. The lighting is good, her eyes are bright and there is a lot of detail. This was taken indoors, next to a window. So don't worry if you can't take your pet outside!

At the end of the day, after all the advice above, it is your pet. Following these tips will make sure that you receive the best, most accurate, drawing possible, but the final picture choice is up to you!

I hope this helped, and thank you for reading!

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