Photo Guidelines

Since I'm relying on you to provide me with good quality reference photos, it might be a good idea to let you know what works and what I'm looking for. What I need in your photo submissions can be summed up in one word: DETAILS.

The best way to get enough detail in your photos is to "shoot" with these four areas in mind:

1. Focus

Please make sure the pet is in focus. It gets pretty hard to guess what those details are when they are hazy and unfocused. I end up guessing and I'm a real bad guesser.

Bad Focus

beorn on his back

Here I give you cute photo moment. Too late. I move now!

Here I've taken a photo that would be adorable if it were in focus and properly lighted.

Good Focus

beorn puppy eleven weeks

I am the cutest puppy in all the lands!

Great focus? Check. Decent lighting? Check. Adorable beyond words? Check.

2. Pet Size

The pet should be the dominant or biggest object in the photo. I've had photos submitted in the past where it looked like the pet was in the next county. When the subject is small, so are the details; and the details are what I need to see.

Too Small

boris and beorn from a distance

Both dogs are over 100 pounds. This is the only time they appear small.

Don't even think about sending me something like this, unless you're looking for a landscape painting instead of a portrait.

Just Right

boris and beorn sleeping

Trail hiking is tiring. Take us home to your bed, Human!

Now this is more like it. These fellas are clearly the main subject of this photo and definitely large enough for great detail.

3. Pixel Density

Most modern smartphones take images that are large enough to capture lots of detail. But if you are combing through old photos, you need to make sure they have sufficient pixels to supply me with enough detail. If the file size is 2MB or larger, you're probably fine, but every once in a while I get a photo that's something like 53 kilobytes, which is about the size of dime. That's simply not enough detail.

Not enough pixels!

super small photo

This is an extreme example. At 50x40 pixels, it's lacking in pixel density and detail.

I've taken a 50x40 pixel photo and stretched it to 300x240 pixels just to show the problem with small pixel density photos.

Good Pixel Density

Boris in proper density

Here I is in all my glorious pixel detail. Now paint me, Monkey Boy!

Here is the same photo but with much better pixel density. Notice the improved detail? That's what I'm looking for in reference photos.

4. Proper Lighting

Please! No flash photos (unless taken under professional lighting conditions). Use natural light whenever possible.

It's also helpful to have the light coming from the side or at least not directly from the front or rear.

Bad Lighting! No Biscuit!

boris with rim light

The sun at your back is good for hunting, or air superiority. Not so much for reference photos.

Boris clearly wasn't thinking when he posed with the sun directly behind him. He's got a good halo effect, but hardly any detail where it matters, so this isn't a good reference photo.

Good Light! Have a bone!

boris with a bone

All good doggies know to wait for proper side-lighting conditions when the camera comes out.

The lighting here gives a good all around impression and lots of detail, even in the shadow areas.


I'd be remiss if I left you with the impression these rules are absolute. Of course, there are exceptions. That's why I ask for 3-5 photos: because if one is, for example, a great pose but not the best detail, I can (possibly) use the other photos as references to fill in the details.

Sometimes that works, but frankly, if you follow these four rules, you'll likely come up with some great and useful reference photos for your portrait, and make my job a LOT easier.


Have fun taking photos. Try different angles! Get down on the ground and point the camera up at your pet, for example. Get at their level – face to face. And above all, TAKE LOTS OF PHOTOS. Don't stop at just one.

And when you're ready to love your pet forever, keep PetArtWorks in mind.