Great photos are the key to producing quality pet portraits. The clarity and level of detail in your finished portrait will be a direct reflection on the quality, clarity and level of detail in your chosen reference photo.
The following photos of Ted illustrate how seemingly similar looking images appear very differently when they are magnified.
Details such as coat direction, catchlight and nose texture can clearly be seen when I zoom in on the sharper, more detailed, higher resolution images on the top row but have been lost when I zoom in on the lower resolution, blurred images below.
Not all photos need to be taken on an expensive camera. These days many modern mobile phones and tablets have cameras that are capable of taking high quality photographs. There are of course huge variations in the quality of digital photos depending on how close you are to your pet and the lighting conditions etc.
Ensure that whatever type of camera you are using, it is set to the highest possible settings (even RAW if using a DSLR) and make sure that the lens is clean and unscratched, this is especially important when using mobile devices.
Lighting the Subject
Unless you are a whizz with a DSLR camera and its vast array of settings, it is often best to take photos outside in natural light, using your cameras ‘auto’ setting and avoiding use of a flash. This will help you to achieve a more evenly exposed shot.
A slightly overcast day is often better than a bright sunny day for taking photographs. In really bright sunshine the shadows created will be more harsh than those produced in the softer light of a cloudy day.
If you are unable to take photos outside, try taking them in the light of a bright window or patio door. The more natural your light source the better, especially when you are photographing very dark or very light coated pets.
Position yourself with the light source (sunshine or bright window) behind you and have your pet facing towards the light, ideally you will be catching wonderful light reflections in their eyes.
Remember ! Avoid using a camera flash and you’ll all avoid glowing eyes !
At Eye Level & Getting In Close
The best portraits are most often created from photos taken at eye level with your pet.
To capture perfect photos at the right level, try crouching or laying down so that you are holding the camera level with your pet’s eyes, or try raising your pet up onto a table, sofa or other stable surface to achieve the same result. Aim to have your pet looking towards you, rather than up at you, or focussed on something just over your shoulder when you take the photograph. You will probably find it easier to capture a sharp, focussed image while your pet it being still. (Treats help !)
When you are setting up photos in your view-finder try to imagine how the pose might look once it has been enlarged, framed and is hanging on your wall.
Fill the view finder with your pet without using the zoom function if possible.
By stepping closer to your pet instead of zooming in from a distance your camera will capture more detail.
Avoid getting in TOO close though otherwise your lens may distort the image and the resulting photo may not have a natural perspective.
Relax and Have Fun
The most important thing to remember when photographing any animal is to make sure they are comfortable with the situation. Animals are individuals and different approaches may be needed for different pets. Cats can be especially uncooperative; taking several photos over a number of days may be better for both you and your pet. Take your time and if necessary ask a friend to help wave toys, biscuits or treats while you take the photos. Unless of course your friend is a whizz with a camera … in which case you can be chief toy squeaker or biscuit waver while they are taking the snaps.
Informal, relaxed photos of your pet resting or playing, as well as close-up images of key features such as eye colour and coat markings can often help to fill in any details which might be missing from the main reference photo.
The more the merrier. Please feel free to send a selection of your favourite photos.
I’m always happy to advise, offer an opinion and discuss the available options based on the images you are able to provide.