Taking a Good Reference Photo…

Please find below a guide to help you to create the perfect reference photo for your commission piece.

Remember, if you live within a 25 mile radius of GL17 I can come to you & take away the stress of trying to get your pet to pose for you. Of course, I would still need you to be on hand to wave the sausages or carrots at the opportune moment to capture that perfect pose!!!


Animals are like little emotional sponges, and if you are stressed and anxious, they will sense it and become stressed and anxious too. A stressed animal will give you ‘ears flattened’, ‘concerned eyes’ looks, which don’t translate well ‘on film’. Take a deep breath and remember to have fun with it! Remember, for their portrait I need to see fur direction, their coloration & proportion. They don’t all have to be in the same pic but if they are, then jackpot!

Focus on eyes and expressions


The eyes are the most expressive part of an animal’s face, so try to focus on the eyes and facial expressions. A well-timed puppy whine (from you) can reel in focus in a puppy or curious dog, and have them staring straight at the camera faster than you can say “woof”. In your pets quiet moments, after eating or bedtime for example, move in close for some dramatic and expressive shots. The image takes on a deeper meaning when you can capture their character in a photo. It’s a good idea to photograph pets in their preferred spots or enjoying a much-loved pastime such snoozing on the porch or catching a Frisbee.

Shoot in their world

peri 4

Try to shoot down at their level, ‘in their world’. For a Great Dane their world may be the height of your hips; for a Chihuahua it may be all the way down at the level of your ankles. For a cat lounging on a cat tree, you may need to pull out a step stool to get on their level. Getting on the floor and at the same level as your pet is a great way to capture some dramatic, yet natural shots. Lying on the ground usually prevents the use of a tripod, so to keep the camera steady you may use a camera bean bag, or a sturdy book as support. To help reduce camera shake, take a deep breath before you take the shot.

Go where the light is best

isla collage

Good light is everything in photography, especially in pet photography, where it’s critical to be able to see the catchlights in the pet’s eyes (the white reflective parts). Avoid photographing in dark rooms or under heavily overcast days. Bright yet diffused light is the easiest to create flattering pet portraits under, so before you even start shooting, take a look around your subject’s environment and determine where the best bright, yet diffused light is; then move to that location. There are various reasons why flash should be avoided when taking photographs of pets. For example, flash is bright and can be unnerving for a small animal. Flash can scare them or make them nervous and hide. Additionally, flash is harsh. Particularly if you are indoors, it’s best to use natural light since this won’t wash out feathers. If your pet is light coloured, white fur in particular will look washed out with a flash.

Pay your model


Every animal needs to have some sort of motivation to pay attention to you during the shoot; otherwise they will wander off and become disinterested. Determine what they are motivated by (i.e. their ‘payment’), and provide it to them throughout your shoot. For dogs it may be treats or toys, or simply getting love and affection. For cats it may be a feather toy, a paper bag, tuna fish, catnip or even their favourite blanket. For horses it may be their favourite food such as carrots or apples. use toys and treats to reward them if they are behaving well and let them leave if they are bored of having their photograph taken. Feeding an animal first is always a good idea if shooting portraits as it leaves them relaxed. If your pet is going outside make sure you have another person helping in case they break free. Take many shots, and amongst them could be a winning image.

Character & Concept


The most engaging imagery shows them in context. Think about their character It may be looking up at the owner opening a bag of food in the kitchen (concept: desire), a dog looking longingly through a front door waiting for his or her buddy to come home (longing), a horse owner with her arms wrapped around her equine’s neck (connection). You know the animal best so just think ahead of taking the photos as to their character & what you want portrayed in their portrait.

Don’t rush!

catsmallTry to move slowly around pets while taking their pictures. This is especially important with cats, who are prone to either radically change the expression on their face (and ears) at your slight movements, or split the scene altogether. This is also true of dogs that are in a sit or lay-stay position.

When you shift position they sense you are off on a new adventure and want to follow you. If you need to move, and you don’t want your model to move, do so very slowly without making any eye contact. And remember to reach, bend, and lean. You’ll not only have a comical pet photography session, you’ll get a workout too!