Portrait Guidelines

Portrait Guidelines | Sending Your Photos | Rates

I can paint a portrait from any photo, but the better the original, the better the end result. For the very best results, consider having a photo portrait taken by a professional photographer. If you are doing your own photography, take note of the guidelines below.

Photo Quality | Background | Pose | Clothing & Accessories | Modifications

Photo Quality

  • Digital photos should be of the highest possible resolution: 1600 x 1200 is a good start. Photographic prints should be at least 5″ x 7″.
    Scanned photos should be clear when printed.
  • The subject should be the focus of the photo, and fill as much of it as possible. Details of the face should be clear.
  • Lighting should come from above and from the side, not the back or
  • Avoid using a flash, or placing the subject in direct sunlight. This washes out the natural contrasts and creates an uninteresting look.
  • Use natural lighting if possible. Window light works well, as does bright shade. Again, though, avoid direct sunlight.
  • The lighting should pick up highlights in the hair, and show eye color.


  • I will generally use a shaded background to replace the background of the original picture, so let me know what colour, if any, you wish me to use. It should provide a good contrast: dark for a lighter face or vice versa.
  • If you want to use the background from the photo, choose a setting that reflects the interests and personality of the subject. But keep it simple: a busy background will distract from the subject.
  • If the background you desire is not convenient, I can incorporate one from another picture. See Modifications below for more information.


What may be appropriate in an informal photo may not be in a painting. A portrait
should reflect the whole personality of the subject, not a random captured moment. The pose should represent the subject as you want the world to see and remember them for posterity. Expression, position, clothing, hairstyle etc. should reflect this.

  • The expression and facial position in the photo is what you will get in the final portrait. I can’t guess what the subject would look like in a different mood or from a different angle.
  • For a more traditional look, consider a three-quarters (or seven-eighths) angle, looking slightly away from the viewer.
  • If you smile, keep it soft, rather than a open-mouthed grin.
  • Eyes should be open naturally, and eye color should be visible.
  • How much do you want to show? Well that’s up to you J, but here I’m talking about how much of the picture you want to fill: head and shoulders only, half body, full body or…?
  • Hair should be detailed enough to tell how it’s combed.

Clothing and Accessories

  • Dress to project the image you want the world to have of you. Include any jewellery or other accessories you want to appear in the final picture. Hair should be groomed and styled as desired.
  • Normally, clothing and accessories should be relatively subdued. Loud
    patterns, flashy jewellery and unusual styles, as well as exposed skin, tend
    to distract from the most important element – the face!
  • Use of makeup, even for men, can go a long way to cover unwanted facial blemishes.
  • If you normally wear glasses, wear them for the portrait. However note that glare on the lens can obscure or distort the eyes. Consider
    wearing glasses without lenses.
  • The more exposed skin, the less focus there will be on the face.


In this digital age, images can be modified to create almost any desired effect.
Do you want to be painted as Napoleon or some other historical figure? Include
your dear-departed grandmother or pet? Put yourself on the Left Bank of the
Seine or the Nile? Let me know! Just keep in mind that there are limits to what
I can plausibly accomplish, and that such changes may cost more depending how
complicated they is. Of course I will pass any composite images to you for approval before starting to paint.

  • All images you wish to combine in the final picture should be of the highest possible quality.
  • I can correct complexion, hair, clothing and background colours, as well
    as superficial blemishes, within limits. Let me know, but BE SPECIFIC! Include other photos with the desired colouring and features if possible.
  • When combining two or more images, the most important thing is consistency. The light in all images should be coming from the same direction, and colours and contrasts should be as equivalent as possible. If the lighting on the face is sharp and bright and that on the clothing is dull and dark, the final product will be jarring.
  • If there are background elements or other people in the photo that you want to exclude, include a marked-up photocopy indicating exactly what you want to appear.
  • If you want a black-and-white photo rendered in colour, include a reference photo of someone with the coloration you want to see in the final portrait.

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