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backlash
03-16-2008, 05:35 PM
Hi all,

I posted my most recent landscape, "River Run", to the landscape forum and got a critique about my having "followed" the ref photo so closely, and that was a bad thing. That I should have "done more of a departure from the photo". This got me thinking.... is using a photo, whether it be one of yours or someone else's necessarily a bad thing?

I liken it to my piano playing. I can read music with ease and play it, but if I had to ad lib and just sit down and play something out of my head, I just couldn't do it. My boyfriend says that it is something that could be learned - study chords, music theory, all that (maybe in another life, I told him!) But he may be right, I don't know. Is it like that with art? Can you learn the "chords" and then be able to apply them to each piece?

I use my own photos for my references. I consider many
of them "art" in their own right, so is it wrong to use them as a "map" when painting? There were decisions that had to be made when taking them - subject matter, cropping, lights, darks, etc.... the same as when we paint. Why then is taking that same photo and translating it to a different medium looked down upon? I'm starting to get away from "copying" my photos - adding color that isn't there for the most part, and eventually would like to be able to do some plein airs (when it warms up!), but is copying something that you feel is good and speaks to you so bad?

I'm sure I'm opening a can of worms, and it's probably been discussed here before. Just curious how you all feel about it, as I see many artists here also use photos as references.

Leslie

Bringer
03-16-2008, 06:33 PM
Hi Leslie,

It's not wrong to work from photos (either just using a photo or using them as a refrence together with a study).
However, photos do have positive and negative aspects.
While a photo will help you to remember details and "preserve" scenes that cannot be painted live (or are difficult to), they also distort reality.
Photographs have trouble to show us the subtlety (sp?) of shadows, for insteance. You won't be abble to spot a rich range of values.
If you can, it's important that you also paint from life.
And like if you compose your music, you'll be different from the rest, composing your own subjects will make you different.
Of course that for someone who lives in the city, it's not easy to go open air and paint landscapes with rivers and mountains.

Kind regards,

José

mrking
03-16-2008, 07:33 PM
Meh, there is always an opinion on this. Mine... you're the artists not the others.

dvantuyl
03-16-2008, 07:58 PM
Leslie, I think painting from a photo is just fine. I use both a photo and on site study as much as I can, but sometimes it is impossible to stop and paint particularly close to heavy traffic. I have started painting from my LCD screen and find that it is a better reference than painting from a printed photo.

At all of my workshops the instructors have emphasized both photo's and painting from life. Not all of us live where we can get out every season. High winds are impossible to paint in as is cold freezing rain. I think painting from life can teach you what you are missing in photo's alone. That way you can take advantage of both.

However, your river painting is just beautiful, I love that painting, feel proud, you did a wonderful job. Making water look like shinning water is very difficult even if you are painting from life and you did this beautifully!

Deborah Secor
03-16-2008, 09:37 PM
I suspect that if you had posted a photo, shown how you cropped a section out of it, as well as a few sketches to help you decide on the colors you chose, and then posted the painting, which was a credible rendering (not a slavish copy) of the photo, you might not have received that negative-seeming criticism--so what's different? Nothing. You posted your own photo, which was a part of your creative process. You were there, you saw the reality, and the photo helped recall that real place.

Can you learn the "chords" and then be able to apply them to each piece?
In a certain sense, yes, you do learn the craft of painting just as you learn the chords, but you know as well as I do that a pianist can play a piece perfectly and still have it sound quite wooden. (Some savants, for example, can copy by ear exactly what they hear but with no emotional connection.) It's the emotive power that the artist brings to the instrument that makes the music into more than the sum of the chords...

I liken it to being a cook. You take the recipe, you plug in the ingredients, you get a cake. But a chef has learned just how much of a certain spice to add, or how to make the perfect icing, or she adds a filling between layers...and the resulting cake is special and individual--a work of art.

So I wouldn't worry one bit about a comment like that from one person, except that it made you think, which is always good!

Deborah

DAK723
03-16-2008, 09:53 PM
Every art book I have recommends observing or painting from life whenever possible. They also realize the reality that painting from photos is far more convenient. Therefore it is important to realize the limitations of photography. Many people will be surprised at just how limiting photos are, since we sort of take it for granted that they are capturing the scene before us fairly accurately.

Photos have a much more limited value range than the eye. Roughly speaking, the eye may see a range of 1 (white) to 10 (black). If your camera is exposing the white correctly, a value of 6 or 7 (approx.) might be black in your photo. For this reason, you lose all the colors and values in the dark areas of your photo. Conversely, if you expose so that the darks are properly exposed, everything lighter than value 3 or 4 becomes washed out or white. It is important to know this and compensate by using observation to note what colors are in your shadows, or to take multiple reference photos, exposing for both the lights and the darks.

I think every artist that takes photos of their artwork is confused and somewhat dismayed at how difficult it is to get the colors right. Unfortunately, photo color is not identical to real life color. Not only are subtle color differences lost in a photo, the basic colors are not really the same as reality. They are close enough that we rarely notice the difference, and non-artists might never notice the difference, but there is a difference. That difference changes as well with the type of film used, and now different companies use different digital sensors which are not identical.

I would love to do some plein air work, but up to now I use photographs exclusively. But I constantly observe the differences and try to compensate in every painting I do.

From a philosophical point of view - is using a photograph OK? Absolutely - especially if it is your photo. Many times your artistic judgement may cause you to move things around a bit, or add or delete some details, but that is your judgement. If the photo is compositionally sound, there is absolutely no reason not to use it exactly as it is.

Don

Donna A
03-16-2008, 10:00 PM
Hi! I've thought this was an interesting subject for a very long time. Here is text from an article I wrote "Painting from Life; Painting from Photos" when I was asked to do an article for the Pastel Society of America's magazine a year or so ago. I haven't included the photos or the side bar text. Donna ;-}

ps---I spent the first two or three decades of my painting life working solely from life---plein air or models or still lifes in the studio---and it is still my first choice, though these days I paint a lot of landscapes from photos I've taken on my travels. D


Painting from Life / Painting from Photos
Donna Aldridge psa m-maps

Decades ago, in my very earliest years of painting, The Word was that painting from photos was “copying” and painting from real life was “creating.” But I soon realized that there were artists “just copying” even when standing in front of a real live model, a still life or out in the field — and other artists were marvelously creating from anything, everything, including subjects they were observing IRL (in real life) and/or from photographs which they had taken! How fascinating to understand that the real difference was in creative spirit, real-life experience and the attitude of the artist! There are certainly interesting differences between what our own eyes see and what our camera lens sees and records. Being more aware of the differences can serve us well since each offers us some wonderful opportunities which the other does not!

Of course, photographs deliver fewer nuances of color. Scientists learned that human beings will see more difference in colors in close proximity to each other than is actually there (which offers delicious possibilities,) while the camera will lump “similars” together as a single color. When we paint from our photos, our real-life experience comes into play to augment what the photo reveals! Having actually stood before the real source to take the “photographic notes” leaves us with rich memories of what originally excited us about the scene and inspired us to capture it!

Several years ago, I was painting plein air in the park behind my house and mid-way through, decided to also photograph various scenes around me which were so lovely. When I developed the film a week or so later, I was so surprised that my favorite painted scene on site was absolutely boring in the photo! Why? When we concentrate on a single object or area, it gains contrast and everything else looses contrast. The camera just records it all equally! Research led me to the understanding that the human eye can see and distinguish pattern considerably better than anyone else in the animal world — or the camera. Our eye can be selective. The camera can not. And again, added to our artistic spirit — ahh! What excitement we can create!

Some locations would just be to “tricky” to paint in. My daughter, who lives in Santa Fe, NM, introduced me to the Pecos River about 30 miles east. She drove us up the narrow mountain road on two different visits with her. The Pecos flowed beside the little road in many places, and she would quickly pull over once in awhile where the road allowed — and I’d go rumbling quickly through the brush and down the embankment to the rocky river side. Some of the most interesting views called for my “tight-rope walking” (on curvy, smooth river rocks) out into the water’s flow. Perched out on stones peaking ever-so-slightly out of the water, praying not to go plunging in, I found my compositions in the lens and snapped them! Definitely not the sort of places to set up an easel! But I remembered the overall majesty, the watery music, the rustle of leaves in the breeze! We are so fortunate to be able to bring this to our paintings, even in the studio. Some favorite paintings have come from these shots. [Pecos River at Bear Creek]

Another wonderful advantage of photographs is when some fleeting weather/sky/lighting effect, etc. is happening and we can capture that very striking moment — which never would last long enough for us to make even a quick sketch! A blessing! And when traveling, we can use our camera for “note-taking” as we go along, when we do not have time to tarry! Or when we are plein-air painting in a gorgeous location that is “perfect” and we don’t have time to paint everything that engages our imagination! I’ve taken so many photos out of a car window! Oh, the possibilities! [Back Road to Galisteo]

Another interesting issue comes into play when considering that our human vision is stereoptic — and gives us a greater sense of depth perception. The camera lens is “one-eyed,” capturing a flattened pattern. Certainly when we focus on any particular edge, it will appear sharp. But personal experience and creative vision lets us guide the viewers through our paintings with our own artistic choices of harder and softer edges, along with other pictorial qualities which give greater or less depth, as we choose.

We so take for granted that our eyes adjust to lights and darks as we change our focus. Looking into a large shadowed area, we can distinguish the various nuances of hue and value, but the camera will usually offer us a fairly empty, dark space since it catches one overall exposure. This often leads to paintings with dark, flat shadows. Film sets up this problem even more than digital shots, which can often be more forgiving, particularly with PhotoShop CS’s Adjust > Shadow/Light, where we can do some amazing things to retrieve darks which are full of information.

And then there are the “frankenstein” pieces (as I refer to them.) They are images pieced together out of several different photographs. In the “old days,” I would cut up photos and tape together to achieve the composition I wanted, then use Stabillo pencils to “redesign” further. Later, photocopies allowed me a bit more range, even being able to do some limited color-correcting, such as having very green landscapes altered with heavier magenta ink levels. Finally, with great joy, the computer and PhotoShop! Life is good! So very many options, so little time! “American Heartland” is a combination of at least five different photos plus some PS painting. This gave me the scene I wanted to paint! [American Heartland]

The camera had a huge impact on painters in the mid-1800s. Suddenly figures were captured, frozen in awkward positions rarely noticed by us before. The camera began cropping figures or other objects in ways we were not used to considering. A whole new way of seeing — and composing! This cropping often has given a greater sense of intimacy or immediacy than might have been depicted with the model posing for the painting.

Depending on an artist’s style, there are many advantages or disadvantages in working from our subject through photos we’ve taken, rather than in real life. The first main issue is that the photo removes the subject from “reality.” We can’t walk around it to gain understanding of certain qualities. Our subject does not exist in the world with us physically, leaving no “equal presence.” Still, the photo already being reduced to two dimensions can be helpful for some artists to frame things in their mind. It can permit a detached view of the forms, helping some to be less “attached” to the objects and traditional stumbling blocks, letting them be more focused on shapes, color, light, etc. If the artist is not well acquainted with the subject from working extensively in real life, the artist is forced to guess at far too many issues — and there it becomes a liability. If working in a stylized fashion, this can be a moot point or even an advantage, but if working representationally, particularly realistically, this creates great problems without first-hand working experience with the ‘real thing’. That lack of experience can lead to dead, stilted, lifeless, poorly-colored paintings.

With photos, the lighting does not change on the landscape — but no breeze, whiffs of flowers, birds singing. Still, no insects, sudden rain, pollen in the air, etc. And the model doesn’t move, nor do garments shift from sitting to sitting. No waiting for the model’s break to end! The expression on a model never varies, however those variations usually reveal the range of that person’s looks, but can be hard to hold a ‘certain’ expression and tilt of the head. Camera may click at just the perfect smile or at a moment with an uncharacteristic expression. On the other hand, we can save money if photographing a friend or family member, or a model we’ve hired once to pose once for the camera — as opposed to hiring a model to sit for hours or more likely, weeks. The apples in the still life never begin to shrink up, the linen cloth to “wilt.” But we do sacrifice Real Life! We weight our trade-offs!

One of my joys is to settle back with a number of recent (or even older) landscape photos and “plot and plan” new paintings! I love imagining, savoring, envisioning what I might create. Photos offer us an opportunity to study our imagery at leisure *— over hours, days, weeks, months, even years. And with photos, we can work at any hour! Very convenient! There are advantages both ways! I would never want to limit myself to one OR the other! I want both the real life experience that I so enjoyed for decades before adding photographs to my painting life! Both can be so valuable to our inspiration!
— Donna Aldridge psa m-maps


Most of the photos, named in brackets, can be found at http://www.aldridgestudios.com/100-Gallery.html either on that page or with the link "Kansas City/Santa Fe..." from that page.

jackiesimmonds
03-17-2008, 08:19 AM
Most of the responses you have so far cover the subject pretty well; they mention the inadequacy of the camera, and the distortions that often occur. IMHO it is ok to use photos if you understand and appreciate these limitations....the trouble is, we often do not know enough about painting to recognise those distortions in the first place!

I often have, in the past, done art society crits, and I always know immediately when someone has painted from the photo if they did not spot the problem with the photo. I would ask "what is that shape you have included bottom left" and I got defensive replies such as "well, it was there, in the photo, so I had to include it" - which is another way of saying "I don't actually know, I just put it in cos it was there." !!! Fatal. I would spot landscapes clearly done from photos, because the tone values in the distance were exactly the same as the tone values in the foreground - a camera will often do that, a line of dark trees on a horizon will print the same tone as the dark bushes in the foreground.....but as artists, we should know that we need to create a sense of recession, so we need to make the distance paler, cooler, less defined. A figure, photographed at eye level( the photographer's head on the same level as the model's head,) can be subtly distorted - the lower half of the body will have legs which will be much shorter than in real life. Copying these kinds of photographic distortions will not help your growth as a painter in any way.

They are the reason why it is important to spend some time working from life. The experience is quite different, hard to describe, and you need to do it to feel it. Well, let's face it, if you sit in front of a tree, it's pretty big, isn't it. Sit in front of a PHOTO of a tree....how big is it? 3"? How can THAT experience ever be quite the same as sitting down before a real tree?

There is nothing wrong with working from photos, when you know what you are doing. Degas did, all the time. The only thing is, Degas used his photos as a starting point for his creativity. That is the thing. If you slavishly copy a photo to the point of recreating every patch of colour, every shape and every detail, one could argue "what is the point"? The photo is there, and has done the job better than you could ever do. So, as artists, we need to take things further.

Have a look at the portraits painted by Alicia Sotherland, in this forum. They are splendid examples of artistic creativity when working from photo reference. They are painted from photos but they do not look like big photos, they are very "painterly" - ie, you are almost as aware of the painted marks as you are of the subject.

The other thing that happens when you work from photos, particularly landscape photos, is that you can lose all sense of urgency. The photo isn't going anywhere, so you can take as long as you like to copy every detail. That removes the challenge, the spontaneity of working in the landscape when light changes, clouds move, water moves, etc.

My advice would be, when possible, if you have no time to PAINT from life, at least spend a little time sketching the scene. Just the mere act of looking hard, translating the 3D world into a 2D format, will be invaluable. You will begin to NOTICE things that you did not notice when you first sat to sketch. It is wierd, but inevitable, I promise this will happen for you. Then, when you have left the scene, and have your photo to work from, you will "feel" the image SO MUCH MORE, it will have more to offer you.

do try it.

Jackie

Colorix
03-17-2008, 08:31 AM
Leslie, you've already gotten excellent advice, so I'll just focus on the psychological part of this "can of worms". :-)

People tend to have strong opinions regarding painting from photos, and landscape artist especially. Some are devoted "purists", and sneer at anything not painted on location. Others paint solely from photgraphs, taken by other people. And then there is anything between these.The purists usually hang out in the plein air forum, btw. ;-)

One size doesn't fit all. I too paint from my own photos, which I have composed when shooting (good or bad compositions, but I've *tried*). I paint from these to learn some basics, and to get quicker, and this summer I will do plein air sketches. The outdoors experience will help me next winter, when I will have to paint from photos again. A colour sketch and a photo are good references for studio work.

If you want to see the huge difference of light and colour in a photo and seen through the human eye and painted on paper, I have a still-life I did recently, it is here: http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=483491, posts number 1 and 15 have the photos. My painting is as faithful to reality as I was able to make it, focusing on how the light looks. (Not a landscape, I know, but I'm not good enough with those yet.)

You do what works for you, and continue on the path of learning that painting is. And remember, there is never only one single right way of doing anything.

DFGray
03-17-2008, 11:44 AM
for me being out there painting is being alive!
doing exactly what I am meant to do
the outcome makes no difference
I learn more from the dogs than the one that might be a success
it may be that the process is the value not the result
if your photos are art then be a photographer

klord
03-17-2008, 07:11 PM
Dear Leslie,

Eveything has been said here.... eloquently and with a lot of thought.

I would like to share with you my experience of working from life. For over twenty five years I painted animal portraits from photos. When I started to get interested in landscapes I worked with photos. Always, a little part of me felt like I was not worthy, even though the works were competent and the commissions were well received. I never felt completely satisfied. This is NOT to say that working from photos is wrong, bad, negative or anything of the kind. I still work very heavily from photos that I have taken, and my studies from life. BUT, the best thing I ever did for myself and my work was to start working from life. I have learned more than I ever thought possible, and have seen my work rapidly progress. I credit this to developing my eye to the nuances not found in a photograph. Again, I am NOT saying anything bad about working from photos.

My two cents!:D

AliciaS
03-17-2008, 07:34 PM
Do whatever you like! Life, photos, imagination..
when people judge its just their egos!
combine all of these references if you want, your the painter!

Bringer
03-17-2008, 07:55 PM
now I wonder if taking photos of our paintings is ok or bad....:rolleyes:

Kind regards,

José:p

edencompton
03-17-2008, 09:11 PM
Everyone has already said most everything I wanted to point out -- from the obvious deficiencies inherent in photography to the fact that many, many famous artists in the past relied heavily on photographs to create their paintings. There is no question that working from life is the only way to really advance your understanding of color and form but there is a real place for photography as reference material in the development of a painting. There are times and places where it is impossible to paint on site and photography and location sketches are essential to the process. I really think some artists get a little too sanctimonious over this issue (this is a bit of a pet peeve of mine!). As Jackie pointed out, Degas used photographs as did many of the artists of his era including Bonnard, Vuillard and Gaugin. In fact, Gaugin created many of his Tahitian paintings directly from photographs. One of the books I have on Gaugin shows the photos printed next to the paintings and parts of the images are almost identical. So, if it was good enough for them --

Anyway, my two cents as well.

chewie
03-17-2008, 10:51 PM
i think this thread is a real winner! i am saving it, as i've had this same issue running thru my head on various occasions, and i really like those posts by some of the others.

i had a well known artist crit a painting of mine once, and he said i had done great on some aspects, but maybe to not rely so much on photos. hmm, i wondered, how'd he know?? duh, the shadow areas were just deep dark blobs, when IRL, there'd of been alot more info, both color, and shapes. took me years to figure out what those who could tell were doing to be able to guess that!

then i started plein air. ahhh, *now* i was beginning to understand. a dark shadowy area has tons in it, not just some black hole! and fun! it was alot of fun!

dfgrey hit on what was some of my issue--if my photo was good enough to copy, why not just blow it up, frame it and be done? i was missing some piece that was huge, but i couldn't find it. i was feeling down, slaving away at being a photocopier. *yawn* and after i did some plein air (and it is a 'baptism by fire' sort of thing--learn alot in short time!) i could use my photos, rather than them using me. i felt much more free to add, take away, twist, move, etc., anything i want to. before, i felt rather obligated to the photo, and thus my unhappiness.

and as some others mentioned, simply sketching does worlds of good too, you dont' always have to make it an official thing of 'real painting'. i did myself some good just using a dozen w/c pencils in a smallish sketchbook, without even really worrying about having enough or the right colors. take the experience of that, with my good dig photos, and i felt good about what i was painting.

but no, using photos is not bad if you dont' let the photo use you. and for the purists who worry about it, let them! there are those who only use hand made paints too, but eh, i got more things to do, i will buy my colors premade. does that make my paintings less? nah.

Scottyarthur
03-26-2008, 10:28 PM
I'll say this, It doesn't matter, what other people think, it is what makes you happy. What ever works for you that is what counts. It's our differences that make us different and that is a good thing.

Donna A
03-27-2008, 01:10 AM
Hi, everyone! Another thing we haven't mentioned about painting from photos is---what a huge influence they have had in the way we see the world! "They opened up ways of looking at things that have had a really profound influence on artists, such as cutting off parts of objects. The Camera Obscura (dark chamber -or room in Italian) evidently goes all the way back to the Middle Ages, used by Arab scholars to study the heavens. We know it best as something used by Caneletto for his paintings of Venice. Daguerreotypes were developed in 1839. Delacroix, in a letter in 1854, regretted how late the invention of photography had come to his life because of the usefulness of photographs to artists'." (btw---these are a tiny selection of notes from my Mastering Painting from Your Own Source Photos Workshops)

"By the late 1800’s the camera had become an essential part of the artist’s equip. Many became skilled darkroom and chemists. These were people who had a very long history of working from life.  That’s very different from people just beginning to paint and picking up a magazine with no experience observing and working from the real subjects, composing, being moved by the life around them."

Just thought that this might be an interesting addition to the mix! Picasso used photos, too, sometimes! I still stand by the idea that it's HOW we use the photo---and what real-life experience we have behind us---that makes the difference! Best wishes! Donna ;-}

Deborah Secor
03-27-2008, 10:37 AM
Good point, Donna!

I wrote an article once about the validity or not of using projection to make a painting and ended up spending quite a bit of time in David Hockney's book, Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters, in which he purported that the invention of the camera obscura and the camera lucida (a portable device for projecting an image on paper using a prism) in about 1430 shows up in the paintings of the day. He shows exactly how you can see the line is different from anything used before that, and such things as cropped parts or half trees or the folds of a cloth are rendered for the first time. Photos, even today, distort perspective, values, edges, and color. The camera lucida became a "studio secret", used by some artists to capture a likeness on paper before beginning a portrait, for instance. (You have to read his book--or just look at the pictures. Very interesting!)

I asked a LOT of artists to talk to me about using the projector to start a painting and there were plenty who wouldn't even talk to me. It still has the aura of 'cheating' about it! And the odd thing was, the ones who told me they did use a projected image as part of the process were clearly very talented artists who could draw and paint exquisitely. Projecting was just a shortcut for them.

But NO ONE was reluctant to mention using the computer! I think the reason is that a projector (or camera obscura or camera lucida) is a one-trick pony. All it does is project, while the computer image is easily manipulated, making it a more creative tool in the hands of the artist.

Let me quote Judy Carducci, a lady who is never afraid to say it like it is! You might know her gorgeous portrait work. She critiques portfolios for the American Society of Portrait Artists. She encourages beginning artists to draw, not copy, but recognizes that an experienced painter can use photos to advantage, something we've all agreed on here...

"I frequently see paintings that are dead giveaways. It’s true that a portrait demands a certain amount of accuracy in addition to expressiveness, but if the artist only traces, drawing skills suffer. The time a beginner spends copying photos is time taken from learning to draw, where an experienced artist can use a photo as a jumping off point to create something of his own. Drawing encompasses the entire creative process: choosing what to paint, composing the space, values, quality and speed of line, pattern, texture, mood, drama, color—the whole work of art. Projecting to make an underdrawing isn’t cheating because there’s more to it than the underdrawing.”

Deborah

DFGray
03-27-2008, 11:46 AM
There is a path of art that is available to us
that may not be about the finished image
I find that the work is the life,
I think of the drawings I made during my war
works of Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis and many more musicians that have passed on
aircraft crashing, painting in Paris, painting on mountain tops, on seven Seas
the top of Mayan Pyramids and my own shores
there is a value to doing the work from life and the expierence that I can't recreate from another image,

the works from photos that pretend to be works from life seem
a little dishonest,

there might be room in the arts for the dredded purist, if not
I will just continue on anyway as I am alive when working
typing not my first language (I spent English class drawing)

rankamateur1
04-08-2008, 08:41 AM
I have several thoughts on this subject. Although I am very much a rank amateur where pastels and painting are concerned, I am a pretty experienced serious amateur where photography is concerned.

One thing to remember is that today's built-in light meters all expose for 18% grey. Are you photographing a landscape? - the meter averages for 18% grey. Sunset? - 18% grey. A flower garden? - 18% grey. The result is a scene that we SEE as very contrasty with a "high dynamic range" (photography-speak for an image with a wide range of values) becomes a low contrast picture as it comes out of the camera at 18% grey. For us amateurs, photographs almost ALWAYS required some sort of correction coming out of the camera.

Another thing to keep in mind is that cameras can only record about 5 stops of light whereas we see significantly more than that. So to record the full range of light in a scene, the photographer needs to expose for more than just the mid-range of stops. One techique is to take several pictures of the same scene, exposing for the highlights, the mids and the shadows, and then combining the photographs in photoshop. This is a nuisance for the artist, but the key thing to remember is that our eyes see detail in the highlights and the shadows that the camera won't automatically record. So if you need to remember those details in your reference photos, then expose so that those details will be recorded.

The great B&W photographers like Ansel Adams NEVER treated their negatives as their final artistic expression. They always modified their photographs in the dark room to bring out the details in the shadows and highlights, and to direct the viewer's eyes to the focal point of the scene. In my opinion, we do the same thing when we paint from a photograph.

My 2 cents' worth.

Deborah Secor
04-08-2008, 10:09 AM
Good 2 cents, Luana!

I think there's enough good info and discussion here that I'm rating this thread so the Moderators can shelve it in our library when it opens...

Deborah

scall0way
04-08-2008, 03:51 PM
the works from photos that pretend to be works from life seem
a little dishonest,

I'm just curious. How does a work "pretend" to be from life? I mean I see lots of landscape paintings. At the last PSNJ juried show I'd say 90% of the paintings exhibited were landscaapes. None of them had little cheat sheets that said if they had been painted from life or from a photo. They just had titles like "Tidal Marsh" or "Nantucket Dunes" or some such. I guess I just don't see how one claim that one of them was "pretending" to be something.

Deborah Secor
04-08-2008, 05:05 PM
I can kind of understand what Dan is saying about 'pretend' works. (Though I don't mean to speak for him!) I often try to make paintings from photos that look as if they were done on location, which is definitely pretending because I wasn't on location when I painted it. I was only there to take the photo--or hopefully I was there to paint AND take the photo, then used both forms of reference to make my painting.

Dan is a purist, as he point out:

there might be room in the arts for the dredded purist, if not
I will just continue on anyway as I am alive when working

There's definitely room for all kinds, as far as I'm concerned! I would really prefer to be in Dan's shoes and able to go out and paint on location every day. But for now my photos will have to do. I still plan to 'cheat' (from the purist's point of view :D) and pretend I'm there, making a painting that looks like I was. I love escaping in my mind to these places. It's part of the whole experience for me, too.

Deborah

Tracy Lang
04-08-2008, 10:19 PM
I love escaping in my mind to these places. It's part of the whole experience for me, too.

Deborah

Beautifully said, Deborah!

I take many of my own photos and borrow too!!! As I stumble along my artistic path...the joy of creating is pure.

Tracy

WC Lee
04-08-2008, 11:15 PM
I don't believe there is anything wrong with painting from photos as there are instances where there isn't any other options, especially portraiture. Or if the client wants a particular background in a painting, it certainly would not be economical to travel to a remote location to paint it from life unless it is within a few hours drive, even then, I would probably still use photos.

James or Jimmy Jim
04-09-2008, 03:59 PM
There is absolutely nothing wrong with painting from photos, let's make that perfectly clear. I've seen some modern masters do it (they improvise). However, they were masters of working from life, first. One told me that he had worked exclusively from life for 20 years, before using photos (does both now).

If you want to learn ... work from life: life drawing, on location, still lifes. After the initial shock to your system, you will see a big improvement, if you stick with it.

Whenever I work from a photo, I have to force myself to avoid copying. When I work from life, I tend to take risks, trying to understand and translate 3-D space, values, colours, etc. into 2-D. Some risks fail, :( but when they work, it's an educational experience. :thumbsup: :D

CindyW
04-09-2008, 04:20 PM
... is using a photo, whether it be one of yours or someone else's necessarily a bad thing?

I'm starting to get away from "copying" my photos - adding color that isn't there for the most part, ...... but is copying something that you feel is good and speaks to you so bad?

Photos aren't bad whatsoever. They're just another tool for an artist to be able to express themselves whether they use them for reference or view them as final fine art photography.

I use photo reference a great deal. Lately, I've been experimenting with my artistic interpretations of photos, pouring more of my inner self into my expression on paper and enjoying just making marks with pastels to see how they mix with other marks. I like the results...it's quite satisfying and very much my own vision of the photo. I completely understand the comment to move away from the photo but I see it as helpful. IF you wish to move that way. Your choice at all times.

I completely and absolutely see photorealism as a very valid way of artistic expression and it deserves just as much recognition and validity as any other painting style. There are plenty of people who LOVE this style. I have much admiration for it although I enjoy much more looser styles of painting which I currently am striving for in my own work. I have FUN painting loose...it's not so tedious to let loose with a pastel stick across the paper.

There still is much to learn from copying a photo. You may move from that desire in your own creative journey in life or you may not. But certainly, to paint and create is far far better than to not ever paint at all. Free your mind from constraints of what is the accepted way to paint. Paint with freedom and see what happens. :thumbsup:
Cindy

lpb
04-09-2008, 04:37 PM
Making the photo is a part of the creative process I really enjoy, then I enjoy further creation when I develop a painting from my photo. I don't think anyone has the right to tell another artist what their creative process or their learning process should be.

Now my sister creates from images in her mind, but she says she can close her eyes and "see" the image just as clearly as if she were looking at a photo. Does that mean she can't look at the photo in her mind? Because to her, it's the same thing.

James or Jimmy Jim
04-09-2008, 04:55 PM
Lorraine, I disagree. If you like an artist's work, then of course there could be something to be learned from them. Some people even pay for that sort of advice at workshops and schools. I have. :D

If an artist you respect recommends that you squint at your subject to simplify values and shapes, do you say "How dare you tell me how to look at my subject?" :rolleyes:

Anyway, these types of discussions often go off the rails, due to misinterpretation or misunderstanding.

Colorix
04-09-2008, 06:02 PM
...David Hockney's book, Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters, ...Deborah

While I've not read the book, I've watched David Hockney for 3 hours on TV, where he demonstrated what Deborah refers to. Highly interesting, at least to this student of Art History. I can recommend it.

Donna A
04-09-2008, 07:23 PM
Well, James and Lorraine---seems like you both have very valid points---and depends on whether you ask for feedback (or class/workshop) from an artist whose comments/work you respect, as you allude to, James---or on the other hand---if someone just 'up and tells' you you are doing it 'wrong!', as I imagine your are alluding to, Lorraine. Goodness knows---a lot of people knew that Van Gogh was 'doing it wrong!' Etc! :rolleyes:

Yes, James! Discussions like this can, as you note "often go off the rails, due to misinterpretation or misunderstanding," particularly when 'parameters,etc.' are not defined---such as whether asked-for feedback---or someone just issuing a blanket decree. Big difference.

And, Lorraine, I don't think the original spirit of this thread was about "Rights"---but perhaps more about "Good Idea/Bad Idea." But I so thoroughly agree with you that no one has the right to volunteer dictates about how another should paint, which is what I am taking your comments to infer. We each have our own ways of seeing the world and of expressing it! (Well--that's what I think!) :) And I am a huge fan of understanding that---certainly first as a painter and citizen of the universe---and then very, very much as a teacher! That respect seems so important. Yes, there are 'classic understandings' but those, too, have found their exceptions where great creative energy is concerned. Ignorance (lack of knowledge), naivete, and just-not-paying-attention, etc---are other considerations! :D

If you ask for another's feedback, I say---listen and take it for what value it seems to have for you at the moment. (If it is from someone who 'knows what they are talking about' AND has your best interests at heart---what they say may make more sense later IF it does not now---AND IF they are someone who has the ability to see into your sense and style of expression and shares thoughts with that in mind.)

As I commented in the article I wrote for the Pastel Society of America's magazine, which I included (except for the photos and side bars) in Post #7---there are huge differences in what the eye sees and what the lens sees. We need to understand the differences---in those diffences and in everything we use to make the most of our source(s) for any painting, whatever it is! I continue to be thankful for all the real-life experience I had long, long before I ever painted from photos---and I am sooo thankful for all the wonderful cameras I've had in my life and for PhotoShop and my beloved computers! Ahhhhh!

It's all about our sense of creativity---and as I said in the PSA article "Painting from Life / Painting from Photos" I've seen artists copy from life and others create from photos. Depends on the artist. I don't want to be a photocopying machine. Got those. I'm far more interested in painting my own 'take' on what I see! Personal expression. And if it's something I'm standing in front of---or if it's a photo I've snapped---don't care! But I do know what my subjects look like IRL and what lighting/color does and how to REALLY SEE and what limitations photos have and what advantages photos give, how the human eye sees and how the camera lens sees (big differences!!!!!!) and pity the person so naive as to believe the lens sees JUST how humans do. Goodness. That lack of 'sensing' may just be pouring over into a lot of other things that are fixing limits to creativity that they are not yet aware of.

WC has a great point, too, about a particular background or other info that might be important to include in a painting---which might not otherwise be available. The Old Masters would have surely been wild with delight!!! Goodness knows that once photography came into being, it was joyfully embraced by so many serious painters! Yes---soooo many of them had a LOT of IRL painting experience! The photos simply expanded the range of their vision---and gave them particular visual info they had not had otherwise. (Cool!) :)

It seems to me that it's mostly about one's sense of Creativity! Or---on the other hand---being a photocopying machine. (ho hum) We each have our own reasons for painting. Mine is to celebrate the beauty I see around us. We each have our own separate and personal reasons---and our own personal style---and our own needs/desires to express through painting! I wish us all great joy and satisfaction---whatever our source---real life or photos we've taken or a combination!!! Donna ;-}

James or Jimmy Jim
04-09-2008, 07:49 PM
Donna (A ... are you Canadian? :D), I love when someone tells me how to do something better ... I love advice! If I don't respect the person's work, or them, I simply ignore their advice (and them), unless I see some value to it, regardless of their work.

I find that insecure people hate advice. They feel threatened by it, as if they have to follow it, even if they disagree with it. They don't have to follow it! :lol:

My advice, :eek: :D is to learn from life (if your objective is representational work), then work from photos, your imagination, the interweb (:D love that word).

Albert Handell gave me advice last fall (so did Richard Schmid) ... and the year before ... work from life as much as possible. I agree with them ... others here don't have to. Just don't feel threatened by the advice. :eek: :p

Holley
04-10-2008, 01:48 AM
I don't believe there is a right or wrong way to do things. Do what 'you' like, you are the artist. There will always be critics for everything, nothing can ever be perfect, such is life :)

Donna A
04-10-2008, 03:24 AM
Donna (A ... are you Canadian? :D), I love when someone tells me how to do something better ... I love advice! If I don't respect the person's work, or them, I simply ignore their advice (and them), unless I see some value to it, regardless of their work.

<snip>
Hi, James! No, born, raised and living in the heartland of the USA---but I do so thoroughly appreciate the spirit of the Canadians---and the dear friends I have there. Seems like one of the saner countries on the planet. I love good advice! I've had both kinds. Well---suppose all of us have! :rolleyes: And yes---ignore that which does not seem to have value. Their work---well---sometimes there can be some useful insights from some amazing sources. :) And sometimes when we are all alone! :) One of my best insights came soaking in the tub when finally my twins were off to kindergarten (fifty million years ago) (and I could take a daytime bath) and I had a life-changing experience about color and light! Wow! NO ONE has EVER EVER told me/taught me/mentioned/etc what I discovered that day with the double shadows (one very warm falling one direction, the other very cool, the other direction!!!) from the chlorox bottle hanging from the towel rack fixed up for the kids' rubber duckies. Remarkable learning opportunities from all sorts of places! :D The only other ingredient is wisdom to recognize good advice or info from it's opposite! Yes! :) Donna ;-}

dvantuyl
04-11-2008, 10:16 AM
I posted my most recent landscape, "River Run", to the landscape forum and got a critique about my having "followed" the ref photo so closely, and that was a bad thing. That I should have "done more of a departure from the photo". This got me thinking.... is using a photo, whether it be one of yours or someone else's necessarily a bad thing?

I read something this morning that made me think of all the different answers to the above question. I read the following: “the nature of art demands freedom”. I came away thinking there really is not one style, method, or trick in art. As artists we have complete freedom. Having said that, for me, I look at paintings that reflect a style I like, and then look to that person for answers as to how they achieved the work they do.
In this post I see artists with different styles and each artist has a different and sometimes conflicting answer. What a wonderful thing we do and with complete freedom!

lpb
04-11-2008, 06:36 PM
Lorraine, I disagree. If you like an artist's work, then of course there could be something to be learned from them. Some people even pay for that sort of advice at workshops and schools. I have. :D

If an artist you respect recommends that you squint at your subject to simplify values and shapes, do you say "How dare you tell me how to look at my subject?" :rolleyes:

Anyway, these types of discussions often go off the rails, due to misinterpretation or misunderstanding.
Wow, I don't know what I said that means I don't think there is anything to be learned from someone else!!! :eek: I am a big believer in learning from others.

I DON"T believe in dogmatic rules that stifle creativity such as "It's wrong/not true art/cheating to paint from photographs."...and a million other rules that get thrown around. That's all.

Donna A, you hit the nail on the head (as usual)!! :wave:

James or Jimmy Jim
04-11-2008, 08:07 PM
I DON"T believe in dogmatic rules that stifle creativity

Lorainne, that's a pretty strong statement. How about "I sometimes, maybe, perhaps am not too crazy about rules ... how about you ... what do you think?" :D :D :D

When you get to know me, you'll realize that I don't mean any harm. However, you will never be able to match my skillful drawing abilities. :evil: :wink2: Just kidding! :D :D :D :wave:

Deborah Secor
04-12-2008, 12:00 PM
Not to put too fine a point on anything, I was thinking over the old adage that says 'The rules are made to be broken', not long ago. I likened 'the rules' to making a cake. You need the usual ingredients to make a cake: flour, milk, eggs, baking powder. If you leave one ingredient out, it isn't a cake anymore, it's something else. If you add things to it--a bit of nuts, some fruit, flavoring--it's your own cake. You can add things to it, frosting or filling, and it's a cake still, but with your own touches.

Seems like you can think about 'the rules' the same way. Break them and you don't have rules anymore. Flavor them or add to them, and they become your own.

Not a perfect analogy, but I thought I'd try it out here... what do you think? :D

Deborah

DAK723
04-12-2008, 01:03 PM
A few folks have mentioned this, but I think it has gotten somewhat lost in the debate over right and wrong. Feel free to disagree, but I believe that the main reason to be careful when using photos for reference is that photos are limited. The information they provide, both color and value, are not as accurate as your eye. They also distort and lack three-dimensional information. So the question is not a moral or ethical one, but purely a question of what will provide the artist with the best means to produce a quality work of art. Being aware of the limitations of photos is just another part of the learning experience.

Concerning "rules" of painting. I think it would be far more productive, especially for newer artists who are struggling with trying to incorporate all they are learning into their work, to redefine "rules" into "tools". Most of the rules (especially for composition) are not rules at all - since they are often broken, but tools to creating better works of art, and avoiding the most common pitfalls.

Don

Deborah Secor
04-12-2008, 01:33 PM
Oh--very good distinction there, Don! Yes, I agree. 'Tools' is a much better thought pattern.

Deborah

klord
04-12-2008, 01:52 PM
A few folks have mentioned this, but I think it has gotten somewhat lost in the debate over right and wrong. Feel free to disagree, but I believe that the main reason to be careful when using photos for reference is that photos are limited. The information they provide, both color and value, are not as accurate as your eye. They also distort and lack three-dimensional information. So the question is not a moral or ethical one, but purely a question of what will provide the artist with the best means to produce a quality work of art. Being aware of the limitations of photos is just another part of the learning experience.

Concerning "rules" of painting. I think it would be far more productive, especially for newer artists who are struggling with trying to incorporate all they are learning into their work, to redefine "rules" into "tools". Most of the rules (especially for composition) are not rules at all - since they are often broken, but tools to creating better works of art, and avoiding the most common pitfalls.

Don

Brilliantly said!

lpb
04-13-2008, 12:28 AM
think it would be far more productive, especially for newer artists who are struggling with trying to incorporate all they are learning into their work, to redefine "rules" into "tools":clap: I like this a lot!

DFGray
04-13-2008, 11:49 AM
there are alot of people here that figure
the ends justify the means
for me vice versa