Andrew Pinkham's Renaissance Pet Portraits

Photos © Andrew Pinkham

It's not often one comes across someone doing interesting photography via the Lolcats website. But that is exactly where I found out about Andrew Pinkham.

Based in Philadelphia, his work occupies a space somewhere between digital portrait photographer and Old Master painter. He is just as comfortable with a Nikon speedlight as he is with turning a photograph into a painterly illustration in post.

An interesting destination, to be sure. But how does someone go about arriving at a style like this?

Said Andrew, on his path to his painterly photographic portraits:
"I grew up in Chester County PA, in a somewhat rural area. Peoples’ houses that I went to always had huge paintings of livestock or portraits on their walls. I can also remember going to museums and being really taken by the work of the renaissance and landscape painters.
The landscapes that caught my attention always looked very brooding, like the end of the world was about to happen. The scenes were exaggerated to add drama and excitement to what would have been an everyday occurrence.
The renaissance portraits always had a quality of light that bathed the subject(s) in an angelic way. The backgrounds were dark and the faces glowed with fiery oranges and yellows. Sometimes, the artist would incorporate symbolism like a book representing knowledge or a dog that could be representing loyalty.

I had an interest in photography as a teenager but I always felt that something for me had been missing. It was the spellbinding of the subjects and how they were portrayed. An artist could play god much more easily than a photographer could back then in deciding how things would look in the final piece.

I yearned to show a personal style but didn’t know how to go about expressing it. Conscious or not, I really kept on going back to my roots and this is what kept on coming up over and over again. I like the idea of playing with what we think of as historical, whether it was a two hundred years or two weeks ago."

Pinkham's inspirations were painters like Vermeer (part of our Beers with Old Masters series), George Stubbs, and John James Audobon. A contemporary favorite is Bo Bartlett.

As far as his lighting, he plans it out pretty meticulously, along with everything else.

"It all starts with of what the end result will look like," Pinkham says. "I have to plan my ideas out because they can fall apart pretty easily if I don’t have them figured out beforehand. Plus, when others are working with me it’s easier for them because we’re on the same page."

His lighting was born out of necessity. You can't always work at golden hour, so he needed to learn how to create a style of light that was predictable and consistent with the final style of his painting-inspired images. He experimented a lot with his own two pets before learning to use hard light with warming gels outside to get the look he wanted.

For indoor lighting, he creates light that has both fill and an edge by combining hard and soft light on the same axis.

"I came with up something was much like sun light through a window," Pinkham said. "I ended up using a big soft light source like a shoot-through white umbrella or soft box, and a hard accent light from the same direction, at a really low setting with orange added. I kind of work the light like a chef who doesn’t measure, but seasons to taste."

For cameras, nothing too fancy. He uses a Nikon D2x and a D200. He says he was relieved to see that the files held up well -- even up to 40x60" prints with no interpolation. Not eager to needlessly spend money, he adopts an attitude of, 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it.'

He even uses a point-and-shoot Canon G12 for his latest series of mounted birds.

Lighting-wise, he uses Nikon speedlights for the smaller subjects, and Quantum QFlashes for the larger. "The bigger the subject, the further away the flash units have to be and more powerful to keep up," he says. "I really don’t care whose name is on the equipment as long as it well designed and lasts a long time."

On his post-production work, he gave me possibly the best answer I have ever received from someone choosing to hold their creative cards close to the chest:

"Not to be coy, but If I reveal too much technique, it robs you from being able to experience the satisfaction of truly creating," he say, coyly. "Personal discovery and nuance is so powerful and gratifying. It’s really what I love about doing this work."

But he adds that nothing is off-limits, and that he does previsualize a palette for his images:
"I use complete artistic license with adding or subtracting things, a tree here, a cloud there. But most of my post work has to do with to amplifying a mood or feeling. Just like in preplanning the images, I like a lot of yellows and greens in my color palette and use an enveloping quality of light to on shoots to give it a painterly feel before any post treatments."

He notes that he has a hard time defining his peer group, which may be the very best conclusion that you can come to about yourself as a visual artist. The idea is to stand out in a crowded world, and his uniqueness pays off.

"The advantage to having a style with such a narrow scope is that it makes you easier to work with," Pinkham said. "When people come to me, they want 'a Pinkham,' dare I say. They pretty much know the look and feel of what they want."

Cats and dogs may pay the bills for Pinkham, but I have to say that I like even more the human portraiture on his website. They are thoughtfully envisioned and meticulously produced. They really do feel like paintings which are hundreds of years old.

Check out more of Pinkham's work (animals and people) at


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OpenID chrisnemes said...

Great initiative, but I find emulating traditional artistic practices a bit peculiar.

This only works against photography, underlining the fact that there are people there that don't want their shots to look like... photos.

However fresh and innovative I find it at first, it still leaves me with a feeling that this is nothing more than a substitute for something that seems to have been forgotten but is still highly appreciated, it seems - having your portrait made by a real painter.

September 08, 2011 1:00 PM  
Blogger jdbenz said...

Beautiful & creative. Thank you for the inspiration!

September 08, 2011 1:15 PM  
Blogger Poleroid Swinger said...

Just love them!!!

September 08, 2011 1:55 PM  
Blogger Poleroid Swinger said...

Just Love these!

September 08, 2011 1:56 PM  
Blogger John said...

I think I like his cityscapes (under "illustration" on his website) even better. Thanks for sharing such an unusual and creative find.

September 08, 2011 2:48 PM  
Blogger Debbi_in_California said...

Well, he is a good photographer, but isn't that just a texture overlay? I mean getting that 'look' is really not that hard. I guess I sound like sour grapes. Really, I'm just curious why it's so "whoo hoo" that it ends up on Strobist?
I wish you'd look at Carli that is pet photography to me.

September 08, 2011 2:52 PM  
Blogger BdgBill said...

I really like these. It's no easy feat to take a photo of a dog thats worth printing, framing and hanging.

September 08, 2011 3:11 PM  
Blogger Carol Beuchat said...

Most people doing "pet" photography these days (and there seem to be zillions) lean towards the goofy/pathetic/pampered pet look (bad teeth, drool, one ear up and one down, dressed in humanesque costume, etc), or just body parts in black & white (these claimed to be "fine art"). Most of it is underwhelming, unmemorable, and uninteresting to anybody but the animal's owner. The perspective of the 19th century painters was of the animal, not simply of the pet, and those images can stand the test of time. Pinkham is creating images of the animals we share our lives with that evoke emotion and mood in a style all his own. Ours is a small niche but I think his work will be around for a long time.

September 08, 2011 3:50 PM  
Blogger Yugo said...

It's refreshing to read a post that really starts with an artistic point of view and subordinates technique and technology to achieving that goal. Maybe it's just more obvious when the target is a traditional painterly style, but I loved the fact that Mr. Pinkham uses cameras a couple of generations old to achieve his art. And I can't wait to try out some of his lighting tricks, like combining hard and soft light coaxially (a bit like some beauty dishes?), perhaps with different gels.

September 08, 2011 5:45 PM  
Blogger Mike Kelley said...

These photos are fabulous. Original, inventive and mystifying in a 'how did he do that' sort of way. I respect his decision to not share his process, but I certainly think that calling these photos nothing more than a 'texture overlay' is definitely not doing them justice - I can see from just glancing at these for a few seconds the amount of work that must go into each photo. Original work, for sure. Bravo.

September 08, 2011 7:48 PM  
Blogger JustinCaridi said...

This is really creative and fantastic work. I love his insight on how he ended up at this style and really dig the work. Keep it up Andrew, Thanks for sharing David.

- Justin

September 08, 2011 8:04 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Very very interesting. I love them. I agree with David that his portraits of people are perhaps even better than the ones of animals. And really, is the palette and sense of light that different from the desaturated tones of Dan Winters? I would think that the creation of tight compelling images like these would test any photographer's skill and lighting savy.

September 08, 2011 10:24 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

I think this works really well, as others have implied before, a lot of pet photographers stick to a similar style. (I must admit, it is a safe place to go) But pushing the boundaries is what we should be doing, coming up with something unique is difficult, but the pride we get from it means it is well worth the effort.

September 09, 2011 3:06 AM  
Blogger gretsch said...

I like the technique merging.

There's another guy on Flickr (billgfoto) doing something different but similar with his portraits. e.g. this portrait

September 09, 2011 3:24 AM  
Blogger Tobias said...

Great inspiration! Thanks for sharing.
What got me wondering, is his approach to the marvelous backgrounds. Are they painted and photographed in the scene or are they incorporated via photoshop montage? Either way, it would be nice to know, since the end results are so beautiful.

September 09, 2011 5:23 AM  
Blogger Gordon Saunders said...

Nicely taken shots. Having tried to photograph animals, and children (same thing sometimes), I know how hard it is to do it well. My gripe here is that the presented shots are considered better than the norm because they look like paintings. That's the kind of attitude which makes amateur photography clubs so dull. More interviews with old master painters would be much more enlightening. Still like the site, though.

September 09, 2011 8:38 AM  
Blogger Mark Davidson said...

Beautiful work.

I do believe that he has really developed a vision for his work. Getting critical about technical issues is like saying Jackson Pollock cheated because he didn't use a brush. He has studied his history and is informed by it but has added his own voice.
Well done.

September 09, 2011 6:53 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


September 09, 2011 7:54 PM  
Blogger RexGRP said...

The images are great but are they photographs? I vote for more lighting features and fewer Photoshop creations on this blog.

September 10, 2011 1:49 AM  
Blogger Alan Lapp said...

OK, I'll admit it: I'm stirring the pot.

Why on earth is it not only OK, but VERY cool that this guy does what he does -- i.e. create photos that look like illustrations?

Last week the commentary was heartily against the look of the soccer player, which is also a photo that looks like an illustration.

I dare say that it boils down to who the artist has chosen to emulate.

The message I'm hearing is that it's OK to steal from state-of-the-art image making circa 1600, yet it's not OK to steal from state-of-the-art image making circa 2011.

What does this say?

September 10, 2011 11:58 AM  
Blogger Mark Davidson said...

Looking at the history of art one notices the inspiration of successive artists. Saying the concepts that Pinkham uses are theft as much as being inspired by 21st century artists is missing the point.

Virtually every photograph today can be seen as being "stolen" from preceding generations. Lee Friedlander, Diane Arbus, Duane Michaels, Jerry Uelsmann, Alfred Stieglitz, Arnold Newman, Irving Penn etc. have all inspired millions of current photographers whether they know it or not.
For me, I see this movement to more highly manipulated images as very similar to the emergence of the Expressionists and all the subsequent iterations of modern expression. It has been argued that the emergence of photography in the 19th century created a crisis among artists whose skill at photorealistic painting was in peril because of the proliferation of inexpensive photographs. In the same way, once everyone has a camera you really need to do something different to get your point (or product) across.

September 10, 2011 4:54 PM  
Blogger nico said...

I don't really get some of the comments. Who cares if he "steals" the style from traditional paintings? Who cares if it is easy or difficult to get that look? Who cares if the photo does not look like a photo?

They are beautifully done images, in whichever ways they were made, that is the only thing that matters in art.

October 05, 2011 12:29 PM  
Blogger Pet Portraits said...

Beautiful & creative. I really like these.

February 20, 2012 3:30 AM  

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