When you work mostly from photo reference, the quality of the photographs makes a big difference to your work. I love getting the chance to meet and photograph a subject for their portrait but it’s not always logistically possible. However, the client can often provide photo reference good enough to paint from, especially with the quality of cameras most people have nowadays. Even the new camera phones are great quality, but you need to know a few basic tricks to get the best out of whatever camera you have.
When it comes to photographing animals, quite often you are at the mercy of the animal’s mood. Don’t they say, never work with children or animals? Well I do both so I guess I’m a glutton for punishment!
This blog will give you a few ideas on how to get the best reference shot of your animal, while giving you some of my requirements when producing a painting. The better the photos, the better the painting.
1. Photograph outside or at least somewhere with good indoor light. For example, next a window
2. Don’t use a flash. If you have enough natural light you won’t need to and I’ll get a true idea of their colours.
3. Get down to their eye level. You could also bring them up to your eye level by putting them on a chair or the sofa which might also make a good backdrop for the portrait.
4. Have a second person there to help. One to be ready to snap with the camera and one to pose the dog and distract them.
Fudge and Oreo posed great for me while their humans held treats and got their attention. The sofa backdrop also makes the perfect surrounding and matches the painting to the house where it will hang.
5. Try waiting until you’re just about to take the photo and make a noise that will get the dog’s attention. I spend a lot of time meowing and squeaking at dogs. It usually makes them freeze for just long enough to get the photo.
6. Multiple subjects: Sometimes it is possible to create a multiple portrait from individual photographs. Make sure you take them all from the same height (in the example above I was on my knees and placed each dog in on the same chair to photograph.) Ideally have the light coming from the same side so that shadows etc fall the same way in the painting.
There is a certain amount I can do with Photoshop to piece together images choosing the best features of each individual. In this example I used the face of the spaniel on the body from another photo. It also helps to send me a photo of the two dogs together for me to see their scale. I met this pair for photographing so I had a sense of their sizes in relation to eachother.
7. Most importantly try to get a photo that really captures the face that you love. The finished painting always has the potential to be better than the reference photo but the better the photo the more I can guarantee a painting that captures their character.
This is my girl Brocci and although I haven’t painted this photo I would like to. It has a good outdoor setting in a place she loves. It also reminds me of many beach walks with her trotting ahead but glancing back to make sure I’m following.
8. Lastly, be patient! The perfect photo doesn’t always happen right away. Sometimes it’s the first photo I take, sometimes it’s 100 photos later. Try different settings and methods as it is worth the effort to get that perfect shot!
Always feel free to get in touch for more advice on getting the best photo. You can send photos to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.