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Pet Photography Articles

Article on digital photography and pet portrait tips

This photography article should help you improve
your pet and animal photography technique. This photography article
focuses primarily around pet dogs, cats, kittens and children
with pets. However, we think you will find this photography article
quite useful for any amatuer pet photography portrait.

Pet Photography
by Brian Ratty
Some photography by Corel

Dogs and cats, puppies and kittens are photographic naturals. Children are the only subjects who can steal the show from them. The problems in photographing both children and  pets are quite similar, since young children and pets don’t take direction! They are always themselves and  should be shown in all their 'naturalness'. By using reasonably good photographic techniques, your photographs will have an appealing quality all their own.Pets, like young children, are unpredictable and have an irresistible charm. But pets can be shy and  moody creatures. They are individualists, with their own definite set habits and personalities. Each photograph you make is a separate character study of the pet or pet’s involved. An animals positive nature usually prevails and it's your challenge to catch it on film.

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Use Simple Backgrounds and Props

Most pets do not pose, but their actions may be conditioned. They are completely still only when asleep. Dogs and cats have an inherent grace and beauty. It is quite simple to take a ‘good’ pet photograph because of the nature of the subject. The challenge is making a ‘good’ image into a ‘great’ image! That’s what we will explore here.. It is impossible for you not to have fun and satisfaction in successfully conquering the problems and challenges encountered in photographing pets.


/files/1703453/uploaded/dogcoegi.jpg (21735 bytes)Pet photography is a constant paradox: a paradox of plan plus accident. Before beginning to photograph, it’s best to come up with some basic picture ideas, i.e. general locations, lighting, props etc. After that, the general composition of the photo must be carefully planned, i.e. Close-up, medium shot, full-length etc. When the basic ideas and the general composition are set, the accidents of form and the surprising expressions of the animal, together will create the completed photographs.

Patience is, without a doubt, the prime requisite in photographing pets. Props such as dog biscuits, a feather you can flutter and toys are helpful aids, but only work if properly handled. Everyone is familiar with the way cats react to catnip and puppies react to biscuits. These props can be used to lure and keep the animal at a given spot, but if you want a fixed pose, that is where your patience begins.


Expression in dogs and cats is the sum of many elements: eyes, ears, nose, body forms. Eyes are the more important factor of this combination. For an alert, amazed, or frightened expression, both eye and iris must be visible. Next are ears, they should always be ‘up’ to make the animal look alert. There is nothing as bad as ‘droopy’ ears on what should be an alert animal! The nose should be wet and shine from your lighting pattern.

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Eyes, Ears, Nose and Form

Beautiful body forms are usually accidents. Patience, verbal directions and watchful waiting  for the animal to assume the required pose, are the only solution.

These simple elements of eyes, ears, nose and body forms may not be what you will be looking for in your images. You may want to photograph your animal asleep or in a more candid position. But for ‘great’ portraits of dogs and cats keep in mind these four basic elements of expressions.


/files/1703453/uploaded/catprop2.jpg (28228 bytes)The natural curiosity of pets may also be used to the photographers advantage. An understanding assistant, preferably the animal’s owner or someone who  relates to pets,  can be of great help.

Because pets have become so much a part of their home surroundings much stress has been placed on photographing them with artificial light indoors. Outdoor pictures of most pets can be a problem since it is difficult to confine the animal to a definite area. The actual technique of photographing pets presents certain specific problems. The first step in photographing dogs and cats is to restrict the area in which the animal may move. A familiar spot should be chosen which naturally confines it: a tabletop, hassock, favorite chair, cat tree,  pillow, or rug. This simplifies focusing and the effective use of depth of field. Focus on the important point in the composition. If necessary, place the pet for a short time, at this point and focus. No thought need be given to the animal itself until the time the photo is actually taken. The aperture should be closed down to cover the depth of field, which should correspond to the restricted area. In this way, sharpness is maintained even if the pet moves. Naturally the shutter speed must be fast enough to stop whatever action occurs. Next determine the correct exposure for you’re  lighting. When you are set, place the pet in the proper spot and apply "Patience, props and verbal directions.UTTER SPEEDS

Extremely fast shutter speeds need be used in only two cases: outdoors, where pets are naturally restless and have to be caught in action, and indoors when movements of play are being photographed. Action indoors should be photographed with a flash unit. The latter is by far the better light for stopping action, as flash will stop all movement.

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Use Your Flash To Stop Action


Exposure should be not only correct, but a little generous, because fur texture is important. Dog and cat images should have a furry textured feeling.

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This Image is Over-Exposed by 1/2 Stop
Note The 'furry' Feeling


Four types of lighting are available to the photographer: sunlight, flash, artificial lighting and available light.

Sunlight needs little explanation. Bright sunlight is best; hazy or dull sunlight tends to flatten textural quality.

Flash is most important in taking action photographs, but it also has other useful functions. First, it produces the previously mentioned, eye and iris, for certain expressions. It is best to use multiple flash in such instances. Balance the lighting by using one flash on the camera, another as a slave unit. Flash is also excellent as a balance, fill-in, or supplementary light to sunlight either in or out of doors. The most effective usage is to take a strongly backlit subject and alleviate the shadow area by shooting into it with your flash.

Artificial light, (floodlights, tungsten or quartz-halogen) if properly handled, is the most effective lighting medium. Sunlight effects can be obtained. A textural quality is achieved which no other lighting can equal. Softness and a dimensional quality can be given because you have complete control of the lighting. The 45-degree angle lighting and its modified forms are best suited for planned pet pictures. The lighting should be balanced to give a feeling of daylight.With today’s fast film speeds and electronic cameras, available light is also a good and simple option.  Make sure that you have enough exposure to retain your depth of field and that the available light your using has some dimensions to it.ACKGROUNDS

/files/1703453/uploaded/dogpug.jpg (25236 bytes)Simple backgrounds are best. If a light background is required, it is better to light it separately with the flood or spotlight. If you are photographing in a home where there are no plain walls, throw the background out of focus. When using flash on the camera, be careful of backgrounds. The aperture is often small, producing great depth of field. In this situation, the background, if not neutral, tends to compete with the subject for attention. The best procedure is to plan the background carefully in order to accent the subject. One way to do this is by contrast. If the animal is dark, place it against a well lit, light background; conversely, try a dark background for a light color pet.

Even more charming than a photo of a single pet is one of a group of pets. The important fundamental to remember is to restrict the area, since pets are among the world’s most curious and active creatures. If you have four or five to deal with, dig deeply into your fund of patience. Use a basket or box lined with some soft, dull-finished material to restrict them to a given area. Because of their curiosity they will try to crawl out. Group pictures must be taken at high speeds, preferably with flash. The pet’s movements, at such times, are usually quicker than the photographer realizes. From a picture standpoint, baskets photograph better than boxes. Other interesting pictures result when shooting from a low angle at groups of pets on a small table or desktop as they peer over the edge.

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Use Your Flash For Groups

Pedigreed pets should be shown to best advantage for show possibilities. The photographer should cooperate  with the owner or breeder, who will want certain features to predominate. Take time with the breeder, do some research on the breed you'll be photographing, get to know your subject. But from the show dog to the alley cat, the technique is much the same.  They are lively, beautiful creature’s, each with their  own personalities, and for that reason they are always interesting and fun to photograph.

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