Painting A Black Dog From A Dark Photo

I was asked to create a portrait of Bella, a medium-size black lab mix. The painting shown is my first stage rough underpainting. One of the challenges (as it is with any black animal) is that in the reference photos, a lot of the details get lost in the overall darkness of the fur. Bella’s human was worried this might be a problem–and it can be, however it is often possible to open up the shadow areas to see more detail in Photoshop.

The painting above shows the photo as I originally received it. The image at the left shows how it looked after I retouched it so I could paint from it. All of the highlights and the contours of the dog’s face are now visible. 

One important tip for taking better photos to paint from–do not use a flash. Disable it and shoot your pet outdoors in light shadow or on a cloudy or overcast day. Even indoors, try to shoot during the day in an area near a window.

You want to avoid very bright sun too. When you do this, you are eliminating the high contrast that occurs when there is bright sun and dark shade. This makes it easier for Photoshop to work its magic

So if you have a black dog or cat that doesn’t photograph well, don’t worry–it is possible to paint a good portrait from it.