The Best Way to “Shoot” Your Dog

This time of year, I get a lot questions about the best way to shoot your dog. Photographs, that is.

Fall is when people commission dog portraits as special gifts for the holidays. I’ve gathered together these tips to make the process easier. Scroll down for my Guide to Take Good Reference Photos of Your Dog.

As part of my method to create a painting, I use snapshots as reference material.

If you live in Portland, (Oregon – not Maine,) I’ll meet you and your dog, and shoot your dog myself. That is, I’ll take a whole bunch of photos – but if you’re outside my region I’ll need your help to get photos I can use to paint the best representation of your pet.


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This is Riley, a golden retriever who lives in Southern California.

This summer, Riley’s owner wanted a painting of her dog. Using the simple guide I’ve outlined, here are some of the terrific shots she provided. Good photo reference like this makes my job a whole lot easier.


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I used these photos to create a composite pencil sketch.

blog Riley sketch

The client asked for a few tweaks to the drawing, and then gave her approval.

I begin the painting.



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And here is the result. Thanks to the great photos she provided, Riley’s owner is happy, and so am I.



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A Guide to Take Good Reference Photos of Your Dog

It’s really easy to take good shots of your dog, if you keep these pointers in mind.

Have fun — and feel free to email me if you have questions!

I. Take A TON of Digital Photos

Use a basic digital camera to take A TON of photos. Move all the way around the dog, hold the camera at the dog’s eye-level, and take photos of the front, back and profile from a variety of angles. If there are specific details unique to the dog, take a lot of extra photos that concentrate on that part of the dog’s body or face.

II. Have a Helper Hold the Dog

The job is a lot easier with a helper to hold the dog. Of course, the helper’s hands and dog leashes won’t wind up in the painting. The reason for a helper is to prevent the dog from walking up to me. To get good shots, I need some distance between me and the dog.

III. File Sizes: The Bigger the Better

Frequently, I receive photos that are simply too small to be useful.

Don’t reduce the files. Keep the files big — just burn the CD right off your digital camera, and drop it in the mail to me.

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IV. Helpful Pointers:

To provide ideal photo reference, maintain consistency in the angle, lighting, and distance from the dog.

• Kneel and shoot your photos at the dog’s eye-level. Keep the camera and the dog’s eyes at the same level.

So many photographs and paintings done from photographs look odd because the angle is from the perspective of the human. When you view the dog from above, it’s difficult to get the deep eye-to-eye contact that makes a great portrait.

• Don’t use the flash. It will give your dog that ‘zombie’ look. The eyes are a very important part of the portrait. The goal is to capture the personality of your dog. A lot of that information is in the eyes.

• Get as close as you can, so the dog fills your viewfinder. If your camera has one, use your zoom lens. Most basic digital cameras do. With the zoom, you can stand 8-10 feet away, so the dog isn’t distracted by you. Think in terms of filling the camera viewfinder from the dog’s ears to his lower chest.

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• When possible, shoot photos outdoors in full shade or under overcast skies, so the light is uniform, and doesn’t cast heavy shadows that can hide the features of your dog’s face.

• Make funny sounds to get your dog to perk up his ears, tilt his head, and do things that are visually interesting.

• Get your dog’s attention, and capture reactions.

send Here is your final wagtercolor


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