Photo tips

COMPOSITION: Decide how much of the person/pet you want to be represented in the painting, and whether you want a background setting. Take the photo/s at the distance that you want to include as much of the figure as you would like. Then walk in a straight line forward towards the subject until you are close enough to get some close up shots as well of just the subject’s head &shoulders – like a passport photo. If I’m doing a full figure portrait it’s very helpful to have facial close ups too – for detail. Take a whole series of pictures. Some may be sharper in focus than others.  The more you take the more chance there is of getting that absolutely perfect shot! Vary the pose, positioning, lighting etc if you like.

LIGHTING: Lighting is an important factor in a portrait.  Natural light is great. The light source usually should not be be behind the subject , neither should it be dead ahead.  In front, and off to the side is best. You can either:  –  Take shots outside on a clear day – the sun is your light source. Sunlight is ideal but be  careful it’s not too much in their eyes or they will squint.  . Or:  – Take shots with the subject standing near a (sizable) window. Start with them standing  a few feet away from the window with the side of their head facing the window. Take a few shots, then get them to turn a little more towards the window. This will vary the angle that the light hits them and the balance of light and shade on their face. Being more side on to the light will produce a very dramatically lit painting.  Experiment with this angle and see what grabs you (click for examples). Strongly  contrasting highlights  and shadows (known as “Chiaroscuro”) are great for  of portrait painting . If there is a table lamp/standing lamp in the room and it’s not too powerfully bright try turning that on as well. Place it somewhere on the side of the subject opposite the window. (This is a basic approach to lighting that portrait photographers often use).

PHOTOGRAPHING PETS: The above tips apply to pets too. Here’s a couple of additional simple things to consider:

  • Its best not to have a shot where the camera is looking down at them – although its a natural thing to do. Getting down to their eye level – or bringing them up to yours (putting moggie’s basket on a table, or Rex’s blanket on the sofa) is definitely the thing to do. A portrait at pet’s eye level says: ” I am a noble and majestic beast serenely occupying my own space”.   Whereas a portrait looking down on him tends to say more – “if I look at you like this and wag my tail a lot, will you give me some more food?”
  • Have two people involved. This can really help, it’s amazing how twitchy dogs and cats seem to get when you have to photograph them! A second person can get and hold their attention while you are trying to get the shot. This really helps.