View Full Version : WC reference photos - 'professional' or not?

06-10-2009, 04:46 PM
Hi all....especially all you who are fired up from IAPS!!!

The Canadian Association of Pastel Artists is holding a juried show and the rules disallow any pastel painting that copies a 'professional photograph'.
I have frequently used the ref photos on WC (it is a GREAT resource), and while many of them are extremely good, I would not classify this as a library of 'professional photographs', would you? I plan to contact them for a 'ruling' but it would be helpful to know what the WC community thinks about it first.


K Taylor-Green
06-10-2009, 05:14 PM
Most of the photos in the RIL are posted by members who like to take and share their photos. but there are some professionals who contribute as well.

water girl
06-10-2009, 05:14 PM
Pat, only speaking for myself, I have posted several quality photos to the library and I am not a professional photographer. I posted them to share.

06-10-2009, 05:35 PM
Personally, I find it difficult to work from photographs taken by others. With mine, I can remember the mood, moment, etc., especially in a landscape.

Using another person's photo without explicit permission would be a violation of copyright. As for photos that are in the public domain, as in the WC reference library, the photographer has already done the work of composing the scene for you. If you use the composition and other specifics from the photo, whether professional or not, the work you create isn't entirely your own. Any work you submit for a competition really must be your own.

BTW, I'm not speaking in any official capacity, since I don't have anything to do with this event.

Deborah Secor
06-10-2009, 06:33 PM
I agree with Michael.

I also want to remind you that probably hundreds of people have used these images over and over again. Since the RIL is not updated any more, those photos have been there for a long time and probably thousands of people have looked at them, if not painted from them. That may seem like a fresh and inspiring photo to you, but it's a familiar image to a lot of people. Maybe you can use it 'legally', and you can certainly change it, but the roots of the image remain. If you spend long enough at WC you start to see the same photos painted repeatedly!

Personally, I'd stick with my own photos.


06-10-2009, 08:25 PM
Pat, please contact the association for clarification.

Some competitions specifically state that submitted artwork must be original ... not based on someone else's photo, professional or not. You can do a WC search on using other's photos for artwork submitted for competition and find a lot against doing so.

06-10-2009, 09:45 PM
I agree with Michael and Deborah. They've already written anything I'd have to say, but I figured I'd give one more person's opinion about using other peoples' images. To re-write a Nike ad: I just don't do it! That resolves any questions that may come up before they might be asked.


06-10-2009, 11:59 PM
I also agree with all that has been said. But I do have to remark on the wording of the rules for this show. As had been mentioned, many shows specify that your artwork must be from original sources and not from someone else's photo. This is completely clear. To say that you can not use a photo from a professional photographer is vague and unclear. What exactly does that mean? Does it mean a published photo? At least that defines it in some way. I have sold photos at art shows - does that make me a professional? If so, I should put it on my business card! :)

If you plan on using a photo that is not yours, I would definitely ask for a clarification.


Shirl Parker
06-11-2009, 11:54 AM
..Since the RIL is not updated any more...

I got an email from WetCanvas yesterday, touting the RIL. It seems so inappropriate that they not fix the library before sending out email about it.

"Reference Image Library

Welcome to the newest Weekly Tips email - today we are going to highlight some of the great resources that WetCanvas community members provide.

The Reference Image Library is created entirely by member submissions and only includes photos (not paintings or copyrighted images). It's a great place to find photographs that can be used for reference.

You can find everything from fruit and flowers to city skylines and castles. Some of the most popular photographs are..."

Deborah Secor
06-11-2009, 12:19 PM
Well, maybe there's something I don't know. Has the RIL been restored? Last I heard we couldn't add new images, and as a result in many of the forums there are threads offering photos that people can use as resources. I still wouldn't use those pix for any entry into a national level show such as Pat mentioned.


PS I checked and it's still out of order. This thread over in the RIL forum tells it all: http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=567795&highlight=Reference+Image+Library

While there I noticed that the RIL has had (get this) almost 8,500,000 views! That's the problem with using a pic from it, IMHO.

06-11-2009, 12:48 PM
This is great advice and I agree with all the points that have been made. One could nit-pick about using 'elements' from various photos but then how successful will you be if you use a sky from one picture (sunset) with a subject matter photographed at mid-day. I think the most compelling argument is that compositionally you really are 'cribbing'. Okay for learning, but not for competition.

Perhaps I should use this as a reason to invest in a better camera! I have recently kitted up to do plein air work, but in our neck of the woods you would be confined to 4 months of comfortable painting per year if you had to work solely outdoors. [I am a bit of a wuss temperature-wise] I will continue to do photography and use it, I am afraid.

I also agree however that the CPA wording is poor. They might have been better to say that any work that uses photographic references must be limited to photographs taken by the artist. But perhaps they want to leave the door open to using friend/family pictures.... I will check.


06-12-2009, 10:40 AM

As an artist that is still more at the "student level" than the professional level and who is to some extent physically limited in my ability to travel widely, work outside a lot, etc., I frequently base my paintings on photos, taken either myself or from some source like the WC ref. library or photos posted on sketch forums etc. at WC.
I consider most of those paintings "studies". I usually write on the back of the painting as to where I got my reference photo or where I painted it en plein air. This helps keep me sure about my sources!
Sometimes my purpose for making a painting is to practice a technique, or improving my drawing, rendering etc. I separate that from my "works of art".
But, being an academic at heart and having spent most of my professional life teaching and writing articles, books, or teaching others about writing, this is dear to my heart.
The "source" of your painting is as important as your "source" in writing.
Photos taken by others remain theirs. Even if they have granted you use of them. Entering a show/contest/gallery/etc. or offering your work for sale is only your work, if it is your work!
As a "student" I feel I can gain much by following step by step directions in articles, books, and by making some use of photos from other sources. But, I am careful to document from where I got my "study materials". This will help me in the furture to refresh my memory should I want to offer my paintings in any way to others.

When is doubt, go to the extreme and use your own photos or still life or en plein air, or original sketches etc. It is better to error on the side of being too careful than to enter a show etc. and live with the doubts about how original you work is.

That said, I get lots of "inspiration" from photos, from going to museums and viewing other's work, from reading, from browsing the web, from riding along in the car and looking at scenery. All of that gets into my brain as water to be drawn from as from a well. But, how that comes out is almost always as an "influence" rather than as a "photo-copy" of any of those influences.

As I paint more and more, I find I am able to look at a reference and do my own thing, whether it is from my own photo or any other source. I consider this growth as an artist. I have a good camera, if I want to have a photo of a specific scene, I'll take a photo of it. But, if I want to paint, draw, etc. I have the privilege of changing, changing, changing, choosing, altering!
That is the process that makes real art! As I get more experience, I am able to better look at a scene, a photo, a sketch and make those changes in a way that makes a whole, with lighting, color, values, details etc.

To be an art professional, you have to be professional about it!
To be a serious amature you have to be careful about it!
As you move towards being professional, whether or not you ever sell a painting, you have to be aware of your sources, just as a writer, professional or not, has to be aware and honest about her/his sources.

Contest or show or gallery: be honest!