All About Selecting Nice Reference Photos for a Pet Portrait

In this post, I’d like to talk to you about reference photos for pet portraits! Not only do these tips apply to sending me photos for your own custom pet embroidery portraits, but are also applicable for taking other sorts of pet reference photos.

The Stitching Sabbatical team of interns agreed to help me take some good and bad photo examples. I’ve also combed through some older photos I had of them and picked out some specific examples.

Please keep in mind that, personally, I can make just about any photo work. In the case that you’d like a pet portrait embroidery and you’re unable to take new photos and just have old polaroids, I completely understand and will do my best to accurately represent your pet!


Now, I build your pet portrait embroidery specifically from the photos you send. What does that mean? It means that your embroidery is going to end up looking pretty much exactly like the photo you sent!



That being said, please send photos over that you feel are an accurate representation of your pet. Does your pup smile a lot? Does your cat always have huge pupils? While you may not have ONE photo that is perfect, a few photos together can help portray your pet in the way you want.

So let’s talk about what makes a bad photo! Okay, not a ‘bad’ photo, but a photo that isn’t particularly helpful. (I’m going to keep using the word ‘bad’ but please know that I do not mean that I think they’re awful photos!)

Here are some examples and why they aren’t ideal:

Bad lighting:

Lighting can really make or break a photo! While I can easily correct white balance and the exposure,  I find it really hard to accurately capture the pet’s fur color and other details when I have to do a lot of extra editing.

The first photo is nice, but it’s way too dark! The second photo is also a nice one, and it only needs a little bit of editing. The third photo is completely crazy! Try not to take your photos in direct sunlight because it creates harsh shadows that are hard to work around.


Try to avoid filters at all costs. If a filtered photo is the only kind of photo you have of your pet I will try my best to edit it. In this case, it’s also helpful to send photos of pets that look similar to your pet so I can get a good idea of the fur coloring!

If I didn’t know what color lil Pip was already, I might accidentally edit her to look way different! Is her fur more warm tone? Cool tone? More brown, or red? Who knows! These kinds of references can be really hard to work with, especially if my reference is a multi-colored pet with a heavy Valencia filter.


Angles are really important when it comes to picking a good reference photo! Do you want an embroidery of your pet’s profile? Send a profile shot! Maybe a 3/4 view or a straight on shot would be nice, too! However, there are some angles that don’t make the best portrait references.

I lovingly refer to these poses as “squished face” and “jelly bean head”. Can I work with them? Sure! But I think these would be better as additional photos to show your pet’s eye color or fur pattern.



Ear poses are something you might not have thought about! In the first photo below, Pip does not have confident ears and they don’t accurately reflect the happy floppy ears that she is normally sporting.

If your pet normally has floppy ears that are sticking up in some of the photos you send, I just wouldn’t know which one is more ‘them’! This is important if you want a good representation of your pet!


Facial Expressions:

Facial expressions are my favorite part! This is the most important part of capturing your pet’s true essence.

The first photo isn’t Pip’s best shot. She does make those kinds of faces a lot, but it’s just not ‘her’! The second photo might look a little weird, but Tibbers makes that face 90% of the time and it definitely is his best angle. The third photo is a bit tricky! I love stitching happy expressions and floppy tongues – but there have been a few times where clients have asked that I edit their dog’s mouth closed and it can be tricky!


Tiny and Grainy photos:

Your photos do NOT need to look super professional or be taken with an expensive digital camera, but its really hard to see what your pet looks like when the reference photo is tiny! Sometimes I can fill in the gaps, but when you only have a small photo that’s taken from a distance you might accidentally end up with a sketch of a calico cat and not your tabby!



Examples of good references:


These are some pretty good references! Your photos don’t have to be taken with a DSLR or anything fancy, almost all of these were taken with my cell phone.

Additional Photos:

Sometimes the photo you’d like to use as the reference pose for your pet portrait isn’t quite 100% there. I’ve had customers ask me to work off a specific photo of their pet (it’s their favorite one!) but then send extra photos so I can get a better idea of the fur color. This is great!

These aren’t the best photos of Háma and Purrl, but they are still good references! Háma’s photo helps convey his eye color and Purrl’s photo helps show some of her fur markings!

In Conclusion:

Please take this post with a grain of salt. This is just a guide on my personal ‘ideal’ pet photos. These photo tips will help you create a reference photo that is easy for me to work from. All of these little things added together help me create the best portrait of your pet! I don’t want to create generic looking pet portraits, I want to create portraits of YOUR specific pet. Let your pet’s little quirks and their personalities shine through in their photos!

When you make an embroidered pet portrait order (and after you send me some photos!) you will be sent a sketch for the embroidery before I start stitching. Don’t feel bad telling me if I got something completely wrong! We can make as many edits as you want. It’s YOUR pet portrait and I want it to look as much like your pet as I can!

I hope this helped you choose the best photos of your pets to use for a reference!

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