Choosing the right photograph

As portraits, especially pet portraits, can rarely be done from life a huge part of creating a portrait that a client will love is choosing the right photograph.

Posing for a portrait for hours on end is probably the only thing that dogs are not brilliant at…


The ‘right photograph’ should ideally be clear enough to work from, and not over or underexposed.  The lighting should show the true colouring and the subject should be in focus, blurred photos are so difficult to work from. Once those simple guidelines are covered, the ‘right photograph’ is largely defined by what the client wants.

Ernie’s reference photo could not have been better.  Outdoor lighting is always best.


Luca, Sol and Missy all featured in the same portrait from separate reference photos.


Some of my favourite portraits were created from reference photographs I would never have chosen or ideas I would never have had, but were requested by clients.  If you have ideas or unusual poses, please suggest them!

The reference photo chosen by the client for Blondie’s portrait has extreme shadows and is a very unusual pose, I would never have chosen this as a refrence photograph but the result is a definite favourite.


Bella’s suggested reference photograph had unusual lighting, and her face wasn’t very detailed or clear.  It turned out to be a perfect reference photo.


Clear headshots are often the best option when choosing a reference photograph, but sometimes, there may be a photograph which captures much more of a subject, especially for tender moments which cannot be staged or posed.

I don’t want to show the original photograph I used to draw sweet Gracie’s pastel portrait as it was taken in a hospital shortly before she passed away.  Besides omitting medical equipment, this photograph was absolutely perfect as it captured her expression.  As tired as she is, she is still looking up at her family with complete adoration, and even though it is the end she is so secure and loved.  I loved that they chose this photograph to use for a portrait to remember her by.


The same can be true for people portraits.  Rather than choosing a photograph of the bride and groom posing, the client opted for a quieter moment which showed the couple’s connection with each other as they behaved naturally for this wedding portrait.


If I were asked to choose a photograph of my children to use for a portrait, I don’t think I would have had the imagination to go with this one.  Thankfully the client did, and it shows such an incredibly special and beautiful moment that probably lasted only a few seconds but is now captured forever.


If a photograph is to dark, too blurred or too small I won’t be able to create a good portrait from it.  If, sadly, it is the only photograph available then I will do my best to create the best painting or drawing that I can.

In the sad cases of pets who have passed away, a blurred photograph is often the only option available.


Photographs from this era are simply not going to be clear or focused, but are often among the most precious photographs that we have.


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