View Full Version : Any thoughts on using photos as references?

Trumpet Face
05-29-2007, 03:42 PM
What does everyone think about using photography as references for your paintings?

Often for some odd reason I find myself feeling bad/unoriginal/cliche if I use photos as basis for my work, but if I don't use said references my stuff comes out pretty 'badly'.

I know I shouldn't feel guilty when I use photos but I do.

05-29-2007, 04:18 PM
It's a great tool especially with animals. It it wasn't for my photo ref's I'm not sure I would be able to capture every look I can achieve. I also study anatomy, and paint from life(mostly landscapes) to keep everything else sharp. Relaying just on photos is not good, you need to keep your overall skills sharp, and every your not so skilled areas fresh at least. Don't feel guilty, photography is just as much an art, it's a tool.

05-29-2007, 04:51 PM
If you’re not base around your subject, then Photo’s for reference or even for pure coping is a great tool to use to achieve the skills and knowledge one needs to become an experience artist.
Painting from life is best, but a quick life sketch (colour/pencil) with the back up of a photo for studio use is very helpful in finishing of a nice painting.
So don’t feel guilty, I’ve been using photos this way for years.
Paint the best for you brush
Do snails dream slowly?

05-29-2007, 08:19 PM
They're not a problem at all. Just don't be a slave to them. It's easy to use photos as reference tools but then take things on a bit and change things to suit what you want. It's not as hard as people think to change the light source, composition, or add other elements.
I try to do plenty of sketching to keep the skills up but a lot of my main reference comes from photography.

The way I think about it can be summed up in the fact that the world's greatest wildlife artists use photos extensively. If you can have a look at Terry Isaac's book 'Painting the Drama of Wildlife', you'll notice that some of his best paintings are taken almost directly from photos, but he uses more than one photo and improves on the composition, lighting, etc etc to find an original way of showing us something outstanding.

If it wasn't for photography, I'm afraid most wildlife art would still look like work from the 1800s. Photography has allowed us views of wildlife that the naked eye doesn't capture.

05-29-2007, 09:51 PM
A reference photo is just one of the tools available to artists. I agree that we shouldn't be a slave to them. But, as animal artists, we need them for accuracy. I love to draw horses, but I have never seen one that would pose for the several hours it takes me to complete a drawing.


05-29-2007, 11:48 PM
Here's my two cents:
If it weren't for photos I wouldn't have been able to do some of the pet portraits I've done - where the subject was deceased. It would have been like doing a police drawing, "Well, Fluffy was a Cocker spaniel/Basset hound cross and had long ears, but not too long; a flat coat but with some curls, and was sort of a tawny brown, but with some red in it. No, make her nose longer." I've got to have something to go on.
And even with photos, an artist is always making improvments on the photo - fully half the photos I've worked with have "devil eyes" or extraneous details in the background, or the owner wants the animal "to look like she did when she was younger."
To make art I need a connection with my subject. And when the only connection I can make is through a photograph, I'm going to take it and not feel one little bit guilty about it. And neither should you.

- Tania

05-30-2007, 08:54 AM
I have always used reference pictures to paint from.

05-30-2007, 09:17 AM
I agree with what's already been said. Now imagine trying to realistically draw a certain animal's movement without a reference. It would probably look very contrived and unrealistic. Even Robert Bateman uses photos for animals since you can't make one pose for you long enough to draw.

05-30-2007, 09:30 AM
I agree with what has been said already. If I didn't use reference photos, I couldn't nearly be as accurate when drawing action, whether it be a horse in mid-canter or a dog in agility.

Of course, when it is possible I want to observe the real thing, but the photos can help remind my eye of details. And as Tania said, doing commissions pretty much requires reference use, especially if they are no longer living. :rolleyes:
Not all photos are created equal, however, as many can distort the perspective and "flatten" images. Colors can be changed and shadows/highlights washed out, so it is important to choose your reference with care.

05-30-2007, 01:08 PM
this is a great subject, and a lot of wisdom here,

I'd add only a great exercise is to set up a simple still life or flower, whatever, and take a photo then do the piece from the photo and compare it to real life...then do it just from the real thing...now compare the two paintings, this way you find out what the camera is adding or substracting, and what is missing, or distorted in the photo...and when you use a photo in the future you know how to compensate.


05-30-2007, 02:20 PM
I love Photos especially nice clear ones...helps me see details and how things really are. The drawings always look better when I get details right instead of making them up. So my 2 cents votes yippy for good photos:)