Making Pet Portraits from Photos

I paint pet portraits from photos, using one or more of my clients’ favourite pics to start off.

The “or more” part usually comes in when the piece is a gift or memorial. Getting a perfect reference photo isn’t as easy as grabbing your phone and your dog and heading outside for a quick photoshoot if the dog in question isn’t available.

In this post I’ll show you some examples of my pet paintings where I referenced photos. I have dog portraits, cat portraits, horse portraits. At the bottom, I’ve included examples of portraits where several photos are needed, either to fill in details or to add more pets.

In most cases, one primary reference photo is used to figure out the pose. Others can fill in details like lighting and expression if they’re needed.

The biggest thing that I think makes for a good pose is having the picture taken around the pet’s eye level, but I also put together this complete guide on taking reference photos for pet portraits for you keeners out there.

To see a collection of recent Dog Portraits, check out my Dog Portrait Gallery.

Best Pet Portrait from photo

When you’re giving a dog portrait as a gift, it’s extra handy if you can use the recipient’s favourite pic!

The below side-by-side comparison shows how texture and detail change from the photo to a 6″x6″ painted pet portrait. In larger portraits, you can get more detail, and there’s less canvas texture. Check out my post on Pet Portrait Sizing for more info on how size affects portraits.

Dog Portrait from photo

You can really see the transformation from photo to pet painting in a gif : )

Pet Portrait from Photo
This painting is also available as a print from

You can try all sorts of different poses and angles to get the perfect photo for a painting. And cats seem particularly well suited to experimental poses.

I have more paintings celebrating cats being their beautiful, weird and wonderful selves in my cat portrait portfolio.

Cat Portrait from Photo
Cat Memorial Paintings Art by Zann

It’s great when you can use the lighting already in a photo to create a dramatic backdrop!

Cat portrait painting reference
cat portraits painted from photo

Horse Portraits from Photos

The biggest challenge when painting horses is perspective.

I usually have to correct for that when going from photo to painting, so that it doesn’t look like the horse has tiny little legs!

Horse Pet Portrait from Photo
Horse Painting in Oil Pet Portrait from Photo

A great way to avoid this problem is to use a photo taken from further back. The farther away you are, the less distortion your picture will have!

Horse Portrait Painting Art by zann

Pet Portraits from Multiple Photos

The two times you need to paint a pet portrait from many photos are firstly, when you’re putting pets in a painting that can’t (or won’t) sit together nicely, and secondly when you have limited options to work with—and none are quite right.

Multiple Pets in one Portrait

Dog Portrait from photos Frenchies

These Frenchie friends were a gift from a close friend to their owner, so to keep the surprise we used the dog photos we had on-hand.

She loved it!

Lighting Changes from Photo to Painting

For this portrait, Zuzu’s owner loved the smile and pose from the first photo, but there wasn’t much to work with for details.

This issue often comes up, especially when painting pet memorials.

So we brought in a second photo where I could see Zuzu’s fur colour and facial structure, and carefully put a portrsit together that was just right.

Dog portrait painting from photo

Perspective Fixes from Photo to Painting

Sometimes when we get all up close and personal to take the perfect photo of our pets, the perspective gets a little … wonky.

That’s ok! It’s actually peretty easy to correct for weird perspective in reference photos. You can see in this cat portrait, the pet painting from a photo with some distortion is just fine.

Cat portrait paintined from photo by artist

If you have questions about other aspects of getting a custom portrait made, like reference photos, timelines or colour schemes, I’d love to hear from you.

Use my contact form to upload images, or get in touch with me directly at

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