Custom Pet Portraits
How it works:
Select the Custom Pet Portrait template that you’d like to feature your pet in. Choose the size of the digital file you’d like to purchase from the menu. The file comes with the print rights for the size you purchase and smaller, so please purchase the largest size that you think you might ever need.
Complete checkout. You’ll be asked to agree to an image release for the photo you’ll submit for the artwork.
Take a photo. (There are some great tips below!)
Submit your photo by email.
Enjoy your adorable pet’s portrait on your wall, on your screensavers, on your holiday cards, on a T-shirt—or any other way you can imagine!
How to photograph your pet
You don’t need to have a professional picture taken…
Gather Some Stuff
Firstly, you’ll want your pet, but also your camera, some treats, a “backdrop”, and lots of PATIENCE! A helper can also be very handy.
After you gather your pet, find a location that they feel safe in without too many new distractions to grab their attention. Remove their collar, or anything else near their neck and head (please be sure you’re in an area where your untethered pet can’t escape!) I didn’t remove Dino’s collar in the photo above…oops, and it worked out ok this time, but they can get in the way, so don’t be like me and forget! This is a great time to give your pet a quick brushing, eye-goop wiping, drool-dabbing, and other such primping.
Make sure you chose the best camera that you have access to. Phones are ok!, but if you have access to something like a dSLR that will let you select more settings in your image and provide a larger-sized file, all the better! While I can work with with just about any photograph, the better the file you submit, the better the final product. Plain and simple.
My “backdrop” above is my living room with a couch full of dogs and blanket on the floor that just happened to be there. While not elaborate or staged, per se, it was planned in that I knew I wanted
A neutral color background that wouldn’t cast colors onto Dino.
A contrasting background (tones significantly lighter than Dino so that he stood out from it…e.g. a dark background wouldn’t work for him, because he would be lost in it. A white background would have been ideal, but this wasn’t a studio set up, and our goal is the best we have to work with, not necessarily “ideal”.
I was lucky, that I had a neutral, contrasting background near a good light source (more on that later). If you need a mobile backdrop for any reason, some good options are sheets draped over furniture and pieces of black or white foam board (available at almost every craft store).
Patience is key! Dino wanted to be napping with the others in the background, and he definitely didn’t know about the final image I had in mind. He just wondered what the heck I kept pointing at over to the right. We took a dozen shots and I picked the best. If I hadn’t gotten one that would work (e.g. none in focus, looking the wrong way, blurry, etc.) I would have quit and tried again later. A dog’s modeling skills don’t generally improve with the length of the session and rather than stress your poor newbie-model out, give them a break, if necessary, and try again later. A lot of the trick to pet photography is getting a lucky shot.
If you have access to a helper, awesome! Have them hold a treat and engage with the animal to direct their gaze and expression, while you focus solely on getting the shot. Teamwork makes it easier!
Beyond all else (other than having your pet present) the lighting is the most important thing that will make or break your photo, so let’s make sure it’s good! If you have a window or a door, you’re basically all set! If you have a window or a door with another window or door either 90 or 180 degrees away, even better…
If you have one window that lets in decent light or a door that you can open to do the same, you simply place your back to it and your pet in front of you a few feet away. (This means your pet’s nose always faces the light if they are looking at you. For Dino, I am not in front of the window—tricky, I know, but it’s because I wanted him to be in profile. So his nose is still pointed towards the light.) Make sure no direct sun is hitting your pet (if you are outside rather than in, this is found in open-shade….you are standing in the shade with open sky above you.)
If you have a corner of a room with windows on both walls, you have the setup that I used with Dino, above. His face is pointed towards two large windows on the wall to his right and there is a third, smaller window on the wall above the couch behind him. The 180 degree scenario would occur if I had my back to those two windows, with Dino facing me and a third window on the wall that I would then be facing. If this is getting a little confusing, just know that you’re looking for a touch of backlighting to add to the separation of the pet from the background. It isn’t essential, but it helps make composites appear more natural.
If I haven’t made it obvious yet, the best light source to use is natural light. Not a flash, not the lamps in your room, and definitely not post-production (meaning, don’t take a photo in the dark and then “fix” it by pulling up the exposure). Use window light or open shade outdoors. The tintypes that your pet will be composited into were also shot with natural light, so it it will help them fit together better.
3. taking the shot
First, get down on their level. You don’t want to stand above your pet and shoot down on them, as we are all tempted to do. Squat, kneel, sit, whatever it takes to get the camera at your pet’s eye level.
Be at a distance away that your pet’s neck and head mostly fill the frame of the shot. Don’t take a full-body picture—we only need the head, so there is no need to waste the information space of the file with anything else. If you are using a dSLR, doing this with a 50mm lens or longer will provide good results. The longer your pet’s snout is, ideally, the longer the lens. If you shoot too wide-angle, you’ll see a lot of distortion in the shape of the face (especially when they are looking towards you) and also find that the nose will be very out of focus when you focus on the eye. If you are using a phone, you don’t have any built-in control over the focal length (never use the optical zoom!). You might not be able to fill the frame as much in your scenario due to the relatively wide-angle nature of most phone cameras. You might need to give a little more distance between your phone and your pet to minimize the distortion. Play around and find what looks best to you!
Again, if you have the luxury of using a dSLR and choosing some settings (shooting on manual is best!), I recommend an F-stop of at least 5.6 depending on how much light you have to work with. A phone won’t let you choose this setting, but fortunately, they have a good depth of field naturally. Your biggest obstacle will be making sure you have enough light to keep the photo from being very noisy.
Put the focus on the the eye that is closest to the camera! Animals, especially darker ones, like Dino, are very hard to get correct focus on. There just isn’t a ton of contrast between their fur and their eye area. Autofocus likes to grab the tip of the nose, or the edge of an ear and manually focusing on an impatient dog can mean a photo of pure fuzziness. In photos, our eyes naturally go to other eyes, and when the eye closest to us isn’t in focus our brains register that something is wrong. Make sure you nail this in the photo you submit.