Dog Photography. How to take GREAT dog photos.

Please send the best quality photos of your dogs (pets / people) for reference.

Often, I receive reference photos of dogs that I simply can NOT use. I understand that sometimes we “must settle” on a specific photograph when a beloved dog has passed away ... but if you have 20 minutes to spend with your dog, GET OUT those treats, grab a helper if needed, get outside and get the BEST photo you can to be sure that your work of art is the best that it can be!

I can not draw or paint what I can not see..... SO, be sure to take that into consideration BEFORE choosing a photo to use as reference.


I receive a photo with a dog that has an ear “flipped back.”

Q: Can I draw his ear forward?

A: No, sorry, I have no reference for the ear. Even if I “take” the ear from a different photo ... it simply will not be as visually appealing. Same goes for top of head... etc etc....

Think of taking a magazine cut out of a face and sticking in the eyes and nose of that SAME FACE from cut from different magazine pages ... it may be the same person ... but this just 'DOESN'T WORK" 

This, leads me to LIGHT. When dogs are in shadows that are too heavy or light that is too washed out... I CAN NOT see the reference that I am supposed to be drawing or painting.

** Ideal photos are clear and are close enough to see each hair on your dog (ESPECIALLY for bust drawings). 300dpi or larger format so that I can print them and recreate your "true" dog! 

Tips to get the BEST PHOTO: 

1) YOU are tall, your dog is NOT ... SQUAT DOWN to their level (or slightly lower) before shooting.

2) NATURAL LIGHT is best! **** NO FLASH NO FLASH >>>>>.... **** !! NO flash **** Oh, did I mention, DO NOT use your flash !?

3) Have your DOG FACE THE LIGHT SOURCE (or slightly to the “1” or “11” o clock positions) ... This is the best way to make sure your dog (especially the black ones) are not in shadow. If the light is behind them - you can’t capture details.

4) TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE BEST NATURAL LIGHT; early morning and late afternoon: lower sun position is best for outdoor shooting.

5) STAND BACK AND ZOOM IN (need a decent lens) on your subject. This helps put THE DOG in focus and blur the background slightly.

6) Pet Peeve of mine when I look at some dog photos: PAY ATTENTION TO WHATS IN THE BACKGROUND!! You may see a “perfect” shot of your DOG - but wait, there is a garbage can, a stain on the concrete, a stack of papers on a table... A SHADOW of your arms... whatever...

A Look at some photo reference examples (all black labradors for comparison):

(ABOVE) POOR reference ... A cute photo of a puppyt but not ideal for a photo reference for artwork. HEAVY cast shadow. You can see the light is on the pup's back casuing a heavy cast shadow to the side...

(Above) FAIR photo reference... too much shadow cast on one side of the dog while the left side shows good detail the transition to the right is not ideal. I would preffer if the dog was turned a bit more slightly toward the sun, with a bit more roation you could see the detail of the eyes and more of the right side of Willy's face. If you look at the bottom of the photo you can see the shadow on the dog's direct left side. Thats a key to look at before you take out your camera! That shadow should be cast slightly BEHIND the dog.

(Above) EXCELLENT photo reference Photo taken from down at dog's height ... an object was tossed in the air to get the dog to have a pleasing head position. The NATURAL sunlight is shining on the dog but notice the cast shadow the dog is not facing DIRECTLY into the sun ... its just enough angle to create pleasing shadows and show detail.