Finding & Capturing The Perfect Photo to Turn Into a Custom Painting

Posted by Abigail Ross on

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Abigail Pfriem

Ready to turn your photo into an incredible painting? We have a few tips for you as you decide which of your moments to have hand-painted to life.

What Type of Photo Will Create a Beautiful Painting Commission?

The transformation of photography over recent years has been profound. Not so long ago did we wrap a snap-and-shoot to our wrists when embarking on an adventure or walking into a summer BBQ. It isn’t news the iPhone revolutionized how we capture and share moments–creating an “everyday photographer” of the masses.

While we aren’t saying these skills rival that of professional photographers, the “shot with the iPhone” has changed the way we are able to capture life’s moments.

Shot on the iphone

To put it simply, the most successful paintings are created from photos that exhibit an intersection of intriguing composition, vibrant and interesting colors, as well as engaging subject matter, all working harmoniously to deliver a unified and well-executed artwork to both engage and delight the viewer.

When commissioning a painting, a few key elements of aesthetic and composition often combine to turn the perfect photo into successful custom artwork. If you’re unsure of what photo to choose for your custom Paintru masterpiece, or deciding between a few photos, these tips will help.

High-level tips for taking a great photo, that will turn into a great painting

1. LIGHTING, LIGHTING, LIGHTING. The best time of day to take photos is sunrise and sunset or better known as ‘golden hours’ as it’s a relatively flat light while illuminating your subject or scene with natural high and lowlights. While cloudy days can feel gloomy, they can also create photos with a lot of detail and contrast without stark highlights and shadows.  

When looking at photos you may want to turn into a painting, gravitate toward those that are bright and feature soft highlights and those without dark shadows and overexposed highlights.


Tip: You can easily, and near instantly brighten most any photo with a simple iPhone (or lightroom, VSCO, etc.) edit. Reduce exposure slightly, increase brightness, lift shadows, lift highlights, then slightly increase vibrance.

2. Pay attention to the composition (the arrangement of subject matter) when taking and/or selecting your photo. Leading lines guide the eye across a scene, and a photo with a clear subject and supporting elements will create an intriguing scene. 

3. Simple composition top: ""The Rule of Thirds"". Imagine your image with a grid divided into 3 segments, with the primary focal point hitting one of the “thirds” versus directly at the center.

Finding the Perfect Shot for Your Personalized Painting

4. Start with a clear, high-quality photo. Old photos that are grainy or lower resolution can be more of a challenge to turn into a painting, reliably. We can always work with you if you’d like to create a custom painting from an older, or less ideal reference photo. We can provide additional direction and guidance so our artists can bring your image to life. However, these types of projects tend to require a bit more work to ensure we can meet your expectations.

5. Symmetry = aesthetic. As humans, we’re programmed to appreciate symmetry and equate it with beauty. This holds true for photos, especially portraits and landscapes. Within art, symmetry means balance, not necessarily a perfectly symmetrical composition. For example, this cityscape shows an aesthetic composition that is symmetrical yet interesting.

Notting Hill

6. With custom portrait paintings, it's best to drive focus to the subject by keeping the background setting simple. Paintru artists will be able to create a painting from your photo that features incredible detail and intrigue. Keep in mind, we can easily change the background of a painting.

Selecting the Best Picture

7. Edit your photos to enhance what you have captured. If you look at almost any photographer’s book of work, their editing style is key to the overall presentation of each photo. Our favorite photo-editing software that is robust yet easy-to-use is Adobe Lightroom. Any photo’s quality level can be elevated within just a few clicks.

Don’t have Lightroom? There are many free options available, including VSCO, CameraPlus or even your phone’s native photo editing capabilities.     

Choosing the Perfect Image to Transform into a Custom Painting

Tips and Common Issues with Photos, By Painting Category  

Pet Photos  

  • Tip: For pet portraits, photos that show the animal's expression translate to great paintings, as this can be captured beautifully by our artists. Fur babies who are excited about a photoshoot can move fast. You’ve got to be faster, or you’ll find motion blur in your photos. Don’t use a flash, instead, find a source of bright natural light (natural lighting is preferred) and/or a camera that can handle high ISOs to let you boost your shutter speed. 1/500 and faster is a good starting place. 
Identifying the Ideal Picture for Your Custom Art Piece

Struggling to get the perfect photo of your beloved pet? You aren't alone! Knowing how to take the best photo of your pet isn't always simple. Follow our 4 tips to help you snap a great shot.

Landscape Photos 

  • Tip: Use leading lines to draw the viewer's eye toward a specific point of interest or better known as the ‘focal point’. 
  • Tip: Time your shoot for the perfect light to capture your image. When you’re scouting your location, try to figure out where the sun will be at different times of day, what effect that will have on your landscape, and when you think the light will be at its best. This can be as simple as deciding whether you are at a sunset or sunrise location.
Discovering the Ideal Photo

Wedding Photos

  • If you’re looking for a more artistic wedding painting, some of our favorite custom paintings have been created from photos where the couple is surrounded by a beautiful landscape setting.
Capturing the Perfect Image for Your Personalized Artwork
  • Avoid this: When photos have extremely low contrast, it's more difficult for the artist to blend a variety of colors to achieve engaging lighting.

Portrait Photos

  • In portrait photography, the background may not be the center of attention but is important to the overall composition. A busy or distracting background will take attention away from the person in your photo. However, our artists can change the background of your custom painting easily. If you have a photo you'd like painted but don't love the background, just make a note and we will have your photo placed on another background. This works especially well for portrait paintings.
  • If you’d like a portrait that features detailed faces and expressions, make sure the people (subjects) are not too far away. Consider the size of the canvas and relative sizes of faces. On a 16x20” painting with people in the distance, you would be asking the artist to paint faces on a ¼ of an inch by ¼ inch piece of canvas. As you’d expect, this can be extremely challenging! Paintru Concierge will work with you to suggest cropping the image or going for a more landscape-style piece of artwork where the subjects are painted within the composition of the entire scene, versus having the faces be the focal point.
  • Avoid this: Having a photo that may be a bit blurry can be fine for landscapes or a portrait where the subjects are small within the frame. However, if you are looking to achieve a more realistic portrait, having faces in clear focus is always recommended. 
Finding the Ideal Photo for Your Custom Painting

Sports Photos

  • Sports photos are popular choices for incredible artwork that makes the perfect gift. Utilize these tips to capture, or select the perfect sports photo to turn into a painting:
  • Focus: Your image is in sharp focus, not blurry.
  • Face: You can see the athlete’s facial expression, especially the eyes.
  • Action: An act of athleticism or an emotional event is taking place. Award receipts are also incredible moments to capture with custom artwork.
  • Equipment: A photo where the athlete is holding a piece of equipment, especially the main object in the game, makes for an exciting and engaging painting. 
  • Avoid this: Using a flash is distracting for the subject and overexposes light to create a washed-out image lacking detail and contrast. This is why ISO settings are so important and your artist will appreciate the evenly lit photo for reference. 

Commission a painting with your favorite photo memory to gift to a loved one or cherish for yourself. 

Paintru makes ordering a custom painting simple. We can:

  1. Swap out backgrounds
  2. Combine multiple images
  3. Modify color palette  
Selecting the Right Photograph for Your Custom Artwork

Don’t forget the most important part, a little extra effort to keep your painting in the best possible condition, here’s 5 easy steps to help you upkeep your custom art for years. 

Want to turn your favorite memory into custom art? Commission a painting with Paintru today!