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Photo Requirements for a Portrait

Good photos are the key to getting a good portrait - the better the quality of the photos the more detail I will be able to see and so the more accurate the finished painting. If your photo is not a good representation of your chosen subject then the resulting painting will not be either! To be honest I would rather reluctantly decline to do a painting if I feel the reference photos are too poor quality than produce artwork that would be disappointing. I don’t want to offend anybody or let them down but I equally have to have good standard reference photos to work from to produce top quality work as my reputation relies on this. If you know your photo doesn’t really look like your subject or show him/her off to his or her best please don’t send it because I won’t know this if I haven’t seen your subject! If the reference photo is not a good likeness the painting won’t be either.

I realise that sometimes, because the portrait subject is sadly deceased, the only available photos may be rather limited. In this situation let me see as many photos as possible and if there is any way I can help and any photos I think I can use I will tell you honestly what I think may, or may not be achievable and what, in my professional opinion, your options are. 

I will always undertake to return any actual photographs posted to me although I recommend that you send any hard copies via registered post just in case they vanish in our postal system! If I cannot use your photos I will return them to you free of charge. So please send me as many as possible of the best ones you can find to take, or contact me with regards to my photographic services.

10 Tips on taking suitable photos to be used for a portrait: - 

1.    Take the photos using a digital camera - not a mobile phone or tablet!  Whilst the photos may look fine and sharp on a small screen when they are blown up to look at the detail they just become blurred and are not good enough for me to work from.  

2.    Set your subject up for a photo shoot - whilst candid snaps are fun and cute they do not always make the best portraits. Think about what you want to have  as a portrait - a nice head portrait? In action running? Or standing proud?  Take a large selection and send me all the best ones! Try to imagine the pose you want for the painting.  

3.    Good lighting - this is essential - take your photos in natural light - outdoors in nice weather is ideal!  Flash photos are not great - the eyes go decidedly  strange and the colour and shadowing gets distorted. Think about light and shade - especially if the subject is either very dark or light (or both!) in colouration.

4.    Get on the same level as your subject - eye to eye - this may mean you end up laying flat on the ground if your subject is little! either that or pop it on a table! (and make sure it doesn’t fall/jump off whilst you are mid shot). Just please don't tower over your subject and photograph it by looking down at it!  

5.    Try and get your subject’s attention - you may need assistance and to use bribery and corruption to achieve your ends - treats, squeaky toys, cash, whatever it  takes!  Make sure it is looking (at least vaguely) towards the camera - unless you particularly want a painting of the back of its head? Make it fun - you need your  subject to be happy to get the best results. Be patient! It may take more than one attempt to get what you want especially if your subject is camera shy ... or a cat. If at first you don’t succeed...

6.    Get good close ups - if the subject is a tiny dot in the distance and still running that won’t help. Use a zoom lens so you don’t crowd your subject. As a guide if the size of the subject’s head is smaller than a thumbnail on the photo then I won’t be able to see enough detail - my eyesight isn’t bad but there are limits! Out of focus/blury shots are no good.

7.    Unwanted adornments - by this I mean things like collars etc. and, especially in the case of horses, head collars, tack, rugs etc. If you don’t want them on the  painting take them off the subject before you take the photos! Whilst I can sometimes make small alterations it is much easier for me to work from photos which are suitable to start with. If you ask me to change something from the way it is shown on the reference photo - and only if I think I can do it - I will, but as this is more difficult and will take me longer, I may have to charge you more.

8.    Background - generally speaking I am not worried about what is behind the subject on the photo unless it is so busy or dark that it obscures the outline of the subject - i.e. I can’t see where the subject starts or ends! So if you or your assistant is in the shot hanging onto your subject for dear life don’t worry - I won’t put you/them in the painting unless you want me too!  Just be careful you are not in the way and block any part of the subject! It is helpful if the background is fairly plain e.g. a grassy field or lawn and not too dark. Most of my clients prefer plain backgrounds for their paintings but if you want me to paint in a particular view as the background for your picture that is fine too - just send me photos of what you want. You don’t have to have your subject in the shot as I can work from separate photographs to achieve this.

9.    Choosing  your photos - sharp, clear, good quality photos that capture your subject’s character and personality are essential for me to work from to gave you the best result. This is very important, so choose wisely and send me as many as you can. Tell me why you like a particular shot or shots and which ones are most true  in colouration. Give me as much help as possible! When I have looked at them, as an artist, I may recommend using a different photo from your particular favourite - this because I will be looking at the photos from a painter’s point of view and will be judging them from my perspective as reference for a portrait. As a professional portrait artist of (too many) years experience I’ve of sort of got the knack of knowing what works best for me now, and will happily advise you - if you want me to!

10.    Sending your photos - If you email the photos send them in their original file size - sometimes when they are sent they get resized - i.e. the file size is reduced to enable the email to  be sent faster - try and override this if this happens as I need as higher resolution as possible otherwise I loose too much detail. The more pixels the better!  If you don’t have email facilities send original (or, better still, good copies of) photos by registered post and don’t forget to include your personal details. Don’t forget that if you did not take the photo yourself you have to have the photographer’s permission for them to be used as reference for a painting. This is because photos are subject to copyright and this stays with the photographer even if you bought the photograph - unless you have specifically bought the copyright of  that  photograph.

Good luck and if you have any questions or want some more advice get in touch and I will be happy to help you.