dog photographer Northamptonshire

Reference Photo Guide

Choosing a photo for your portrait

Reference photos form the basis of every pet portrait. Your portrait can only be as detailed as the original photo, so it’s important that you choose one that’s easy to work with and (most importantly) one that you love.

How do I choose a good photo?


  • The photo should be in focus and your pet’s face should be clear
  • Make sure it’s a pose and expression that you love!
  • Try to choose a photo that’s been taken at your pet’s eye level
  • Your pet should stand out clearly from the background of the image
  • Your pet should be evenly lit (no blown out highlights or blocks of heavy shadow)
  • Make sure that your pet’s ears (and any other important body parts) haven’t been cropped out of the picture
  • The photo should ideally be taken on a digital camera (smartphones can usually do the job too)

With this in mind, you have a few options…

Choose an existing photo

If you’re like me, you may already have plenty of photos of your pet! In that case, simply choose a few favourites and send them to me. Together we’ll choose the perfect one for your portrait.

Take a new photo

If you have a smartphone or camera, you can take a new photo for your portrait. Check out the guidelines above, as well as my top tips for taking better pet photos with your phone.

Hire a professional

Professional photos make perfect references. I offer photography services in Northampton, and am part of a wide network of pet photographers if you’re looking for someone further afield.

If you’re unsure whether a photo is usable, feel free to send it to me – some images can be tweaked and adjusted. You can even send me a few different images, and together we’ll choose the one that will work best.

Please note: If you want to use a photo taken by somebody else e.g. a professional photographer, please make sure you have permission from them first.


Here are some examples of good reference photos, and some not-so-good shots! They should give you an idea of what to look out for when choosing a photo for your portrait…

little mixed breed dog sitting on stairs

This photo is too dark and low quality – you can’t made out any detail in the dog’s face.

red spaniel dog sitting in photo studio

This is a great example of a full body reference. The whole body is visible and sharp.

blurry photo of ginger cat sitting in garden

The cat is blurry and too small in the frame, so you can’t make out any details.

black and white elderly dog looking at camera

The dog is sharp and fully in focus, with even light in his eyes and detail in his fur.

elderly golden retriever dog

The contrast in this photo is too high – the highlights are blown and the shadows are black.

red coloured cocker spaniel sitting on grass

This dog is sharp and evenly lit – you can see the details in her fur.

black dog in field of flowers

The light is falling unevenly on the dog, casting dark shadows on her face.

Tabby cat sitting on bed

The cat is looking straight at the camera and you can see detail in the fur and whiskers.

black and white dog sitting on grass with tongue hanging out

The angle and pose are not very flattering, and the ear is cropped out of the frame.

black and white border collie dog in studio

This dog has a great expression, is evenly lit, and fully in focus.

chihuahua standing in tall grass

This would work perfectly as a headshot but the legs are too obscured for a fully body portrait.

black labrador in bluebell woods

This dog is sharp and fairly evenly lit, with bright, clear eyes.

Ready to get started?

Drop me a message and let’s talk about creating your very own bespoke pet etching

Fine art pet portrait artist | Northamptonshire, East Midlands, UK