This is Finnigan, a cattle dog mix, keeping an eye on our front yard from the comfort of his club chair. Both photos taken within seconds of each other on an evenly lit day with the same camera. The upper photo is a flash one, the lower photo was exposed using natural light.
I ask collectors to send me non-flash photos for portrait work. Oftentimes they don't understand what I'm asking or why. Here is a little explanation:
1. Flash photos cast unnatural shadows, often masking the actual edges of the animal. Look at the space behind Finnigan's ear and head - see how his ears appear larger and harder in the flash photo because of the shadow? See how the space on his chest, between his legs, is equally shadowed as that foreleg reaching towards up?
2. Flash photos reflect off the surface of the subject, and do not allow for coat texture, nuances of color, or skeletal structure to be visible. There is far more information in the lower photo, and I can see clearly how his double coat lies, the edges of his mask, and the shape of his ears.
3. Flash photos unnaturally flatten the subject to a handful of values. Nuff said.
4. Flash photos often startle the subject, causing an unrealistic expression or body language adjustment.
5. Flash photos reduce picture depth, which becomes an issue when working with complex compositions. Yes, there is more detail in the quilt in the flash photo, but I'm not painting a portrait of the quilt. I want to see my subject in as great detail as possible.
6. Flash photos wash out natural color reflections in the environment. Look at that lovely creep of a shadow up the arm of the chair behind FInni's head in the lower photo, and that fabulous reflection of the pillow in the opposite arm. These sorts of details place him firmly in his environment, a key element when painting anything.
7. Flash photos often create red eye and eliminate all detail in the muzzle area. On animals with thinner coats, flash photos also highlight skin color, something the natural eye doesn't normally pick up.
Because in many cases I'm not able to actually meet the animal I'm painting, I rely on the photographs submitted to tell me their story. Another reason why I want the best possible images - so that I can see the animal the way their family knows them.
So, just a little info about what I look for in reference photos.
Thanks, as always, for following along with my artwork,