Choosing the Best Model Photo

Picking a good model photo for a painting is a complex,artistic task.  Here’s some major factors to consider when you decide which photo you want to use to get the best results!


This might seem obvious, but focus is a critically important element of any good photos you might use for a portrait.  The more details captured, the more details can exist in the painting. Besides making sure that your overall photo isn’t blurry, you need to make sure the entire subject, or the most important parts (eyes, face, and head) are clear.  The issue comes up when a camera, like your smart phone, automatically focuses on one part of our subject that may not be one of these key parts. You should also be mindful of how much is in focus, and try to maximize what’s captured in the limited area that falls within focus, called the Depth of Field (DoF).  Take a look at the following photo I took back in my Entomology days of graduate school:


Notice how the shot has been focused on the ant, while everything in front and behind is outside the DoF.  While this is most noticeable when your subject is tiny, it can still happen with larger subjects, especially when they’re playfully close and your camera isn’t easily able to get a wide DoF.  



In addition to making sure the proper targets are in focus, the subject must also be properly within view.  Again, your favorite subjects are closest to your heart. However, if they’re too close to your camera, they may miss the frame and not all fit in your shot.  If there’s just no good way, or no good shots with your whole subject in frame, the most important parts to capture are the face and eyes. The rest is up to artistic interpretation and composition.


I love this photo of Pootis getting friendly with the camera, however it’s just not a good view!  Here’s a much better example, though it’s still missing a bit off the top of his head feathers (though this can be corrected by the artist.)



Obviously when taking the right photo, you need enough light to see the subject, but there’s a lot more to it than the flash on your camera!  The color of the lighting is important to bring out the colors of your subject. As a general rule of thumb, sunlight is best, but white lights are good in a pinch.  If your lights can literally make your subject shine, it adds a layer of aesthetics and depth that will make your subject pop! Color contrast is always good. Now there’s also times when warm, indoor lights can bring out some great results, but this can be really tricky!


This is by far one of my family’s favorite shots of Lucy and Chance, my family’s pet dogs, however the light is odd in color, and contrast is poor with a background scenery that doesn’t bring out their best.



One of the greatest things about pets is the sense of joy and adventure they bring to life.  The pose of your pet should reflect their personality, and remind you of the good times of joy, play, and wonder.  Calm poses may also work if they appear regal, affectionate, relaxed, and at peace.


Compare these two shots of Lucy, one in a more standard pose while the other capturing a pose filled with playful energy.  



The surroundings of your subject should be visually appealing and vibrant, but always be cautious that they’re not overly complex and draw the eye away from your subject.  A surprising number of my own photos of my pets have the kitchen floor as the backdrop, or a visually-noisy blanket. These are places we spend a lot of time, but don’t make for good scenery in an art piece.  Like sunlight to make your subject shine, outdoors make for a great backdrop.


This photo of Dee does a good job of showing her relaxed, friendly disposition, but the complex pattern of the blanket, the dark shadows of the floor, and the curious cage of rats distracts the eye and results in poor lighting conditions.


Taking a great model photo is no easy task!  The above factors should always be taken into consideration when choosing, or taking the best model photo for your painting.  In addition, for an extra fee, we offer services in pet photography to help get you a more professional-quality model photo, or image alterations to turn a good photo into an even better painting.


Bryan P. Man

Artist and Director

Feathers and Fur Portraits

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