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REFERENCE PHOTO TIPS (for Pet Portraits)

The goal in finding the perfect reference photo for your Pet Portrait painting is simple: It should accurately represent your pet how you see them & will remember them! :)

My Pet Portrait paintings are based on client’s very own photos, and I strive to accurately capture the essence & personality of the pet to the best of my abilities – so this means, understandably, that the photo selection process is a very important one!! Since I do literally paint the pose in the reference photo that is selected, it is important to consider the following points when picking it out:

Does it accurately reflect the personality, pose or facial expression of your pet?

Is the colour true to life?

Is the photo clear/crisp with as much detail in it as possible?

Are you sending the photo in the largest possible version?

That is the “nutshell” version of course, lol. And here is some more in depth info (including a couple of reference photo examples further down)…

outtakesThere are many hiccups that might occur when trying to find “the perfect photo” (good example above haha). So Here are some common obstacles & possible solutions…

1) If you have limited photos to choose from:
– Whether your favourite pic was taken with a cell phone and isn’t ideal quality, if the painting is a surprise gift for someone and you’re having a hard time accessing photos without them finding out, or sadly your pet is no longer with you – then please send over the photos that you do have and I will do my best to make it work of course!

2) Photo size/quality:
– If the photo is under 3″ big, it is very likely that I’m not able to use it :( . Sad but true. This is because when it gets blown up at all to try & see the detail, it is too pixelated to make out any definition. So the bad news is, itty bitty photos are unpaintable unfortunately.
– On a similar note, if a large photo is sent to me but the pet only takes up about 5-10% of the photo area, this might also mean that once the background is cropped out the actual photo size of the pet is too small to enlarge to get any definition too. So ideal large photos are already cropped closer to the pet.
– Sometimes photos are emailed over to me and something unexplainable happens on the way through cyberspace… the email program or device it was sent from automatically resized the photo to be teeny tiny. If this happens, please try to resend in the largest format possible.
– As a side note, the larger the painting the more important the clarity of the photo is. Luckily for smaller scale paintings we have more wiggle room when it comes to photo size, but for larger paintings clarity is key.

3) Photo colour:
– In the day & age of photo sharing and all the cool app filters available, lots of photos are sent to me from Instagram actually. The only problem with this is sometimes a filter is applied that alters your pets natural colouring. So be sure to send me another photo as well with the real life colouring. I want your painting to be as accurate as possible!

4) Red eye correction:
– This one is an easy fix! So long as the red eye (or for most pets’ cases, green or yellow eye lol) reflection doesn’t extend past their irises (the coloured part of their eye). Think like a glowing light beam coming from their eye sockets… if this is happening, I’m not able to make out the eye detail that it is covering up. However if the discolouration is simply in the pupils (where the black of the eye should be), then this is an easy fix as I can still make out the eye colour of your pet and get accurate results. Easy peasy.

5) Printed photos vs digital photos:
– If your favourite photo is a printed version and you don’t have access to a digital copy, you are welcome to send me a physical photo and I can scan it into digital form. And your original photo will be sent back to you with your finished painting.

6) Picture background:
– Don’t worry what’s going on in the background of the photo, as it will not be included in the painting. Painting backgrounds are a solid colour.
– For paintings with the background detail upgrade, the background we paint can either be in the photo you send of your pet, or we can likely paint it from a separate photo. Whichever offers better results.

7) Or you simply can’t decide which pic is your favourite:
Please feel free to send over multiple photos, and I’d be happy to take a look and make a recommendation on which would translate best into a painting.

Here is an example of the perfect reference photo scenario:

great reference photo example

  • The photo is crisp and a lot of detail is visible.
  • It is cropped close to the pet.
  • The colouring is accurate to real life.
  • The resolution is very high, and the file was sent at over 1mb in size.
  • The lighting is great – there is a nice balance of highlights & shadows, which gives depth without taking away from any details.
  • The expression on the pets face accurately reflects their personality as seen by their owner.

On the other extreme – here is an example of a photo scenario that just couldn’t work:

bad reference photo example

  • It is grainy because the file size was very small, then if you try to blow it up at all you can’t make out any detail.
  • There is too much contrast on the pet itself – the shadows are overpowering the fur detail.
  • The pet takes up a relatively little area of the whole photo, so when it gets cropped closer the pic becomes even smaller and the definition goes completely out the window at this point.
  • The paws aren’t visible in the shot. So if we were to paint a full body composition I would need to either paint in the leaf ground detail as shown, or crop closer to the face if the resolution allowed. As much as I’d like to avoid this and just make up the paw detail that is hidden in the photo, it just isn’t a possibility because it wouldn’t look accurate as far as the fur markings etc.

If you feel that the photos you have don’t meet these requirements, or you aren’t able to capture a photo of your pet in the way that you’d like on your own, it is possible to ask a friend or family member to help or you can hire a professional photographer. If you are in the Calgary area, I highly recommend looking into Just for Kix PhotographyBrindleberry Custom Pet Photography & Sara Ann Dog Photography. If you are not in the Calgary area, you can do a search online to see who is available close to you & check out their portfolios to see whose style you connect with best. However, before sending me pet photos that were taken by someone other than yourself, you must ensure that you have obtained permission from them to do so.

I know that this is a lot of info coming your way at once, lol. So the most important point to share would be this: When in doubt, just ask :) ! Please feel free to email me with questions about anything and I’m happy to help!

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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Lindsay April 5, 2017, 9:18 am

    Hello,

    How long ishe current wait for a portrait to be completed?

    Thank you!

    Lindsay

    • Robyn Millar April 5, 2017, 4:06 pm

      Hi Lindsay,

      At the moment my order time is approx 6 – 8 weeks. If you need a painting by a certain date though feel free to get in touch via email (art@robynmillar.com) and we can chat about options :)

      Thank you,
      ~Robyn

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