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Pet Portrait Reference Photo Guide

Updated: Sep 14, 2021

We want your pet’s portrait to be the very best it can be, and this starts with your photos. While I will always do my best to create a wonderful painting from any pictures you have, here are a few helpful guidelines to creating a great photo reference for me to paint from! If the pet has already passed away, then just send me all the photos you can. If this is a surprise present, see if you can’t sneak a photo session, or just send me all the pictures you can.

Eye Level

Get down on their “level.” When we take a photo from our height looking down at a pet, it can be very cute. But in a painting, the angles and context may be different because we are just painting your friend, and not the space around them. So, lower your body down so that your eye level is near your pet’s, and snap your shots from that position.


Your pet probably looks great from all sides, and from the front. Use a treat or other fascination to have them change the direction of their face while you snap your shots. Have them look to the left, then rotate half way in, then a center shot, then half way to the right, and then all the way to the right. Play with different “nose tilts,” up, mid, down.


For lighting, we want a nice, diffused natural light on your pet. Low, indoor light will make it hard to see details and proper colors. Flashes make it especially hard to see your pets beautiful eyes, and also washes out their color.

So take them out into the yard, or on the side of the house, and do your photo shoot in in-direct sunlight. Watch out for speckled sunlight/shade cast by trees, and try not to “back light” your pet by putting the sun directly behind them. Instead, have their face turned towards the light source.

Indoor Lighting

If you cannot get a picture of them outside, indoor will work just fine. Open all of your curtains and blinds, bring your pet near the natural light, and have their face turned towards the light, or sideways to it. Turn off your flash, and if you still need more light, turn on your lamps and overheads.


You know your pet best, so use that as you take your photos! Do they love the world “walk?” Do they smirk when you call them a “good girl?” Remember, have fun with this photo shoot!


Because your portrait is of your animal, please don’t make toys, furniture etc. a necessary element of the photo. If the pose wouldn’t make sense with the couch arm removed, it isn’t a great picture for a pet portrait.

Lastly, fill the picture with with your pet! I do not need to see the world around them. Closing in on them will provide greater detail for me to see!

I took about 30 pictures of Huckleberry for her portrait. At first we were in the kitchen and she was sitting, and I was using a treat, but these pictures ended up looking a little too "anxious," as she wanted the treat so badly. Then she sat on the couch, and I got close to her face and asked her about her favorite things and told her what a good girl she was. Some real personality came through in these pictures, and eventually the one where she was facing left towards the window, alert to something happening outside was the winner. (left most in this series). A close second was one where she looked extra dopey.

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