View Full Version : Tell tale Signs of a Photo?

08-26-2010, 10:26 AM
I keep reading that in certain cases there is clear evidence that a painting was done from a photo, to that painting's detriment.

What are those signs and how does one avoid these pitfalls? Aside from the obvious solution of only painting from life of course.

08-26-2010, 11:30 AM
Photos - despite being an unbelievable technology - are limited. As you probably know, they have a much narrower value range than the human eye. In other words, if the lightest areas are correctly exposed, than the darks will be much darker (and often black) in your photo. If the darks are correctly exposed, then the light values will be too light - often burned out to white in the photo. For this reason, artists have often bracketed their reference photos, intentionally shooting an under and over exposed photo as well as one correctly exposed. Nowadays, computer manipulation can sometimes help find those hidden values in the shadows or light areas of the ref photo. Finding and representing those subtle values (and colors), in the shadows especially, will help you overcome the limits of reference photos. I think this is the number one way that people can tell when a painting is done from a photo.

The accuracy and range of colors is also limited in photos. I recently did a painting where I counted about 9 or 10 distinctly different greens when viewing the scene from life. The ref photo I took showed only about 5 or 6 distinctly different greens. So keep that in mind, too.

And in most photos - with the possible exception of close up photography with a good camera - most objects will be in focus, including everything from the midground to the farthest distance. This often gives photos a more 2D, or flatter appearance than what you might want in your painting.

On the other hand, I think it is fair to say that - aside from other artists - most people won't ever notice these differences. Most people are now far more used to viewing photos (or TV and videos) than paintings - or even real life scenes - so that the reality of what a photo looks like might be more real to people. Many award winning paintings in national contests are won by paintings that look more like photos these days, in my opinion. I guess it will up to you to decide whether paintings that look like photos are a detriment or not.

Personally, even though I only work from ref photos nowadays, I try to make them look more like reality, and to do so, I constantly try to observe the subjects I paint. With repeated observation - and from working from life - you will see the differences between the photo ref and reality.

Hope this helps.


Use Her Name
08-26-2010, 11:47 AM
I've always seen photos as being an "aid" to the artist-- capturing a pose, or a scene, but not used exclusively for the art. Animal art is a good example because most animal artists can't help but using photos simply because many animals move too fast to be captured in a pose. Many artists use photographs, however, I am totally against line by line or shade by shade "tracing." I think there should be a deep understanding of the unexposed surface-- for instance, in animals and humans, the anatomy. I have seen a lot of good copyists who think they are actually artists, but could not draw from life if you paid them. I recently saw a drawing of two animals (will not mention what as to not embarrass the artist) where the two animals were actually fused at some joint because the artist simply copied a photograph and became confused by the fur patterns.

08-26-2010, 12:10 PM
Here are two paintings by the great American Photorealist; Ralph Goings.



The PHOTO was essential to the artist and all those who work in this style: Essential! I can tell you as an Art History Teacher on the college level for many years that Photorealism is a milestone movement in the history of art. You might enjoy a google session in this movement. It is fun to view many art styles.
Happy painting, Derek

08-26-2010, 12:15 PM
Superb examples Derek.

08-26-2010, 01:15 PM
Check these artists out. http://justart-e.com/ awesome works.
Nothing wrong with using photos, but learning from life always enhances an artist's work. I was taught classically. The basics first, drawing, anatomy, form, line, color theory, contours, drawing from plaster casts and live models, bones, out in nature. These have been immensely valuable in my art and should be for others also. People tend to skip the foundations of art training, go right to painting and do not learn in the right order, and that leads to obvious holes in the training and less than satisfactory artwork. I can always tell when someone has skipped anatomy and the basics and copied a photograph when I see their work, there is no doubt that they took a short cut to where ever they are. Photography is a tool but don't let it become a crutch.

08-26-2010, 01:21 PM
A really interesting area where the photo fails the artist, is, in landscape images, the way the photo depicts distant trees.

One of the ways to get a sense of distance, or recession, in a painting, is to bear in mind the rules of AERIAL PERSPECTIVE. This means that tones in a scene get lighter, and cooler, the further away you look. It is because of the "veils" of atmosphere between us, and the distance. It is the reason why distant hills and mountains often look so BLUE.

Now look at this photo. As you can see, the distant trees and the small shrubs, and the nearer dark tones, are pretty similar. If you had been sitting there to paint, the eye would have discerned more of the change in tones than the camera managed to do, probably because it was exposing for the sky and that brilliant yellow field, so it could not, at the same time, expose properly for the darks in the image.


showing you the image in tone only, proves the point really well.

Here is an example of how the shadow side of a warm pinkish brick wall shows in a picture as BLACK. i would like to think that if you had been sitting there to paint, you would have seen a variety of other colours, not black, thro that shadow. If you painted it as black, it would look like a black hole in the picture, it simply would not work at all.

I think these examples show how careful you have to be, when relying on the photo.

it is quite a good idea, IMHO, to use both the camera, and your eyes by spending some time to sketch from life, being true to the tone values you see, so that you learn to recognise when the camera is not doing as good a job as it might.


08-26-2010, 01:38 PM
Drusilla: I am not on the old tracing thing again. We have been down that road to the point of heated argument. I am not going there again to open a can of worms. If we want to talk about experience in drawing; I taught life drawing for 20 years and spent countless hours drawing from plaster casts, nudes, landscape etc. BUT.....This is not my point, with all due respect. If I may Quote Applebee:
You hardly ever see a photorealistic artist attacking painterly artists.

There seems to be two camps here. Painterly and Realist. We can live together.....I LOVE and I mean LOVE both styles. I can tell you that I can work in BOTH styles also.


I have to tell you that often when we realists post our works, someone invariably will say..."too much information"...."show more painterly strokes" "get fuzzy". Seldom is it the other way around. That's my point. Derek

08-26-2010, 01:43 PM
Oh My Gosh, not trying to show off my work...just trying to make a point.
:o Derek

08-26-2010, 01:44 PM
I should have indicated that my question was with respect to works done in a painterly style rather than photorealism. I didn't mean to imply any problems with photorealism, just that I want to know about the limitations of photos as a reference.

Thanks Don and Jackie for those specifics. Very helpful. I knew of the very underexposed and very exposed problem but the more limited palette, the focus/2-D aspect and the aerial perspective distortions are totally new to me. It's helpful to know what to look for in developing my own observational skills. I'll know what to pay particular attention to. I'd like to create some of examples of these things for my own education - directly observing taking notes and sketching and then photographing at different exposures and seeing the differences.

edit: And that's a very lovely painting, Derek.

08-26-2010, 01:57 PM
Sorry Talley. You have asked a great question, and Thanks.

08-26-2010, 02:05 PM
go ahead and show it off, nice work! esp love the use of color and stroke

the 'black hole' shadows are a huge give-away. and painting from life, even just little sketches, with a few colors, will help in teaching where photos fall flat. i think my work improved much faster after a summer of plein air. not to mention how much fun it is! i have rigged a tiny watercolor pencil set, waterbrush and small sketchbook to take anywhere, so even 20 mins waiting for the kids means a sketch. then at home, where using photos is just easier, i know that certain things aren't as dark, light, washy, bright, detailed, etc. i often start using the photo, then by the last hour or more, i find i have actually lost the photo, as i moved onto working from my own visions.

another way a photo fails is keystoning. i have a smaller digi camera, and took a photo of my family's 3 horses standing tied at a rail at a branding. my horse is in front, and altho IRL he's huge, the 3rd horse in the line up is not a shetland pony!! but the photo makes him look WAY smaller than the first or even second horse. if i were to paint this photo as is, many non- artist ppl may not know how to explain it, but they will still know its 'off somehow'.

i seen a website some time ago, an artist wanting to do portraits of your pet. in the samples, there was a girl on a horse with english tack, like they rode up to you, and you were facing the horse. the horses' face was HUGE, compared to the body and rider. obviously from a photo and a poor one at that. if this artist had ever sketched from life, he/she'd of known better, or at least been more skilled to see it wasn't "right". some of the samples were from better photos, and had good technique, but this artist was really missing out being a photo-slave.

when i use photos, which is alot, i usually print one off using a way lightened version if there are very dark areas. then i allow a bit of freedom in color selection in the dark areas as well. when i see my older work, i do not like the dead shadows. and i be sure to not be a slave to the greens either, as someone else said, your eye sees more, so since i have painted them from life, i knw what is missing, and add it anyhow. another reason to not paint from photos you didn't take or esp. from areas you know nothing about, using only someone else's photo.

08-26-2010, 02:54 PM
I think I 'd better stay out of this discussion. As Derek pointed out I have made my point in another thread about this topic. I too have had quite a few lessons in drawing from life, very useful.

My advice would be wherever you are observe your surroundings well, not only for a particular painting or photograph but always whether you are walking, sitting on a terrace somewhere or just in your home surroundings and see what shadows do and light reflections. Just use your eyes.Once you are aware of all that sort of thing, it is no problem reading a photograph and translating it into a painting.

When you have a photo, check all the elements whether there is lens distortion, is e.g. a bottle standing upright or was the photo not taken quite straight. Again really observe all the elements in it. As my teacher always says, it all comes down to looking really well at your subject matter and at your painting.

It is absolutely no problem using photos as long as you use your common sense as well

08-26-2010, 03:10 PM
well this is fun (?!) :lol:
if there is some underground movement to destroy all cameras for the sake of paint, count me out !

for my 2 cents;
as Jackie has correctly noted, a photo can lack information - no camera can provide all information in one shot because of tech stuff
...unless you Really know what you're doing with the device !!!
so i'll go out on a limb and say it's a way to recall the thing that inspired you
or build on someone elses image that perks you
(consider the distinction)
if you paint over a photo, that's mixed media, and nothing new
Jackie has, in other places, made mention of point of focus as a deliberate choice of the artist, but by the same token, as Derek has illustrated, a genre piece (not about anything/anyone in particular) has been opened, explored. and accepted from the past 150 or so years
anyway, the point of focus, literally or figuratively/allegorically, photo or paint, remains the domain of the artist.

choose what fits your objective, at any time, no? :)

:} Ed

08-26-2010, 03:38 PM
This is a good thread, Talley. Thank you for asking the question. Some of the answers read like one of my class lectures. I don't allow photographs of landscapes for in-class use unless they have been taken by the artist or the artist was present when the photo was taken. I also give them advise on how they should take notes at the time the photo was taken so they will know exactly what color, value, and atmosphere was present because as stated, photos don't give accurate information most of the time.

Don and Jackie have given very good advise. Derek, that painting is very nice, and illustrates your point well. I too received my training in a classical manner starting with drawing from life. Drawing from life can't be replaced, IMHO. Having said that, like Derek I too enjoy both photorealism and "painterly" work, and I too have worked both ways. Here in the NorthWET, plein air painting is more difficult to do year around; something about pastel sticks and rain water don't work too well. To top that off, I'm truly allergic to the sun when we do get it. I break out in an itchy rash, and have been known to burn right through jeans and long sleeves with the strongest sunscreen slathered all over. :( Needless to say, I paint most landscapes from my photos or sitting under some type of shelter that is more than a shade tree.

One area that hasn't been mentioned when using a landscape photo is how often it is necessary to recompose the photograph to create a more interesting composition. How often has anyone seen a painting with just a small part of a tree included in one or more of the four corners of the artwork? It is an "eye-stopper" every time. The likelyhood of including that information in a painting done plein air is unlikely. Or how about that lonely tree or bush sitting near the center of a photo with nothing to balance it elsewhere? Same with clumps of grass or rocks, etc.

As for portraits and figures from photos, well as Drusilla said, "I can always tell when someone has skipped anatomy and the basics and copied a photograph..." I have a student who is determined to work portraits from photos, but over the years I've been able to get her to at least go back to the source when she doesn't have something exactly as it should be. She paints mostly her adult relatives, but they aren't willing to sit long enough for her to first draw them from life. She and her relatives have seen a marked improvement in her work. I just wish she could gain enough confidence in herself to sometime take a life drawing or portrait drawing class. The best I've been able to do is get her to draw her own hand! When she was finished she admitted she learned a lot doing so. :) Her husband kids her about "Peggy is always right"... well I'm not really, but having worked for years from life in portrait and life drawing I do know how to "see" even though it has been years since I've done either portraits or life drawing.

Learn to draw from life so when you want or need to use a photograph you know what to do about those parts of it that aren't true to life. If you don't have the patience to take that first step of learning to draw, at least take the time to read & understand a good book on composition, and learn how to use the photograph instead of the photograph "using" you; learn how to see.


08-26-2010, 03:58 PM
Derek, lovely painting, both loose and detailed!

Below is one of my photos, and I've used another version of it together with a quick colour notations on site, to make a painting. (On my site.) I definitely got good use out of the on location work, as I could draw straightish lines.


But, I have seen paintings *winning* competitions, where the distorted perspective, including tilting horizon, have been faithfully copied. (Painterly, too, btw :wink2: )

Another tell-tale sign is that people in a scene are scattered randomly. Thinking like an artist leads to grouping people and/or placing them where they aid the composition.

But, people who say they can *always* spot a paiting made from a photo are a bit too sure. Artists with a lot of experience from real life painting can make a painting from a ref where it is not obvious. (Drusilla, this is not a comment to you, you stated clearly you can see those who have *not* learned, and I agree fully with that. Better put in a disclaimer, during this 'climate'.)

Personally, I've been 'accused' of painting from a photo, when it actually was a real-life still-life set-up. They didn't believe me, until I showed a photo of the set-up. The difference was vast. (Not a real 'accusation', just a non-painter who couldn't believe.)


08-26-2010, 04:44 PM
Charlie: Hur Mar Du? Tack sa mycket, for your response: very good points for sure!
:) :wave:

08-26-2010, 04:53 PM
I think this is a very informative thread!

Its awesome that some of you have so much background and training in art to draw from and share with us! I very much appreciate all the tips you share here on wetcanvas. But for me, unfortunately I only began a few years ago and with job and other life obligations, there is just never as much time as I would want to spend on learning and practicing art! I'm only just touching the tip of the iceberg of what I need to learn.

I draw and sketch both from life and from photos. But since I like to draw/paint animals most, I tend to use photos more often for the reason someone else mentioned. . . they don't stay still! One thing I like to do is to use several shots of the subject to see them from more angles and lighting. I'm working on one right now of a friend's dog and she sent three photos of him laying in the sunlight streaming in a window, he's so cute! Two picts are different angles and one is more of a closer in shot for detail.

Does anyone else find that it is helpful to use more than one photo of subject when using photos?

Thanks to those who offer such wonderful tips. I found the one below especially helpful and just wanted to let you know. But a big THANKS to all!

when i use photos, which is alot, i usually print one off using a way lightened version if there are very dark areas. then i allow a bit of freedom in color selection in the dark areas as well. when i see my older work, i do not like the dead shadows. and i be sure to not be a slave to the greens either, as someone else said, your eye sees more, so since i have painted them from life, i knw what is missing, and add it anyhow. another reason to not paint from photos you didn't take or esp. from areas you know nothing about, using only someone else's photo.

08-26-2010, 05:14 PM
This is such an interesting and informative thread!

I have no formal art training and have come to art so late in life i tell myself there is no time to go throught the learning processes described above.

I started out depicting animals from photos and, yes, I used to religiously copy the photo. It was nevertheless natural for me to try and work out what it was I was copying so, when doing a horse for example (which I know nothing about) I googled horse anatomy so I could focus on certain elements which the photo didn't describe well and get an idea of what I was actually copying (hope that makes sense).

As I progress I'm still using photos but am learning all the time about when to use artistic licence and how to overcome the inadequacies of photo refs.
I too find it good to lighten a photo to see into the darks. if that makes the lights washed out I can adjust that relatively easily.

I've done some portraits from life and am starting with plein air. I'm even going to set up my own still life to have a go soon.

I believe photos can be an invaluable tool as long as the artist is not a slave to them.

Thanks again for posting this thread!

08-27-2010, 01:09 AM
Well, Talley, I guess I'll weigh in too. I do paint from life, but also from photos. When I paint from a photo it is one I've taken, from an area I've actually been and if I don't have time to do a full study on site, I will do colors studies to record the colors that I saw that day.
When I paint portraits(especially if the person is deceased), I will often get standins to pose for me to help with how the clothing lays or how the light would really record.
This is just my method-there are tons more I'm sure.
Great question though and great discussion.

08-27-2010, 06:28 AM
Talley, you asked about the PITFALLS to avoid, and as I have just responded in another thread and in so doing, your thread came to mind, I thought I would offer you this snippet of info too.

I learned, to my cost some years ago, when taking photos of the models I was using, that the camera distorts actual perspective (so not just aerial perspective as I showed earlier). If you stand to take a pic of a figure, for instance, and take a photo from eye level, the feet of your model will be way too small, because they are furthest from the lens!!! The legs may be too short too. HUGE pitfall! Come in too close for a portrait, and the nose will be too large. Aaargh!

This is why it is important to work from life AS WELL AS use the camera as a tool, the camera is ok but only if used correctly. If you work from life as frequently as you can, it will help you to use your photo reference without falling into these kinds of traps.

08-27-2010, 12:24 PM
I usually can tell by looking at works with one eye
cameras are cyclops

08-27-2010, 01:22 PM
Fascinating discussion, I've enjoyed all the posts. I have one more bit of photo distortion to add.

If you use a photo of a scene or still life, the camera will still have a slight "fisheye" effect even if it's not a fisheye lens. The verticals, dead straight verticals, will curve slightly or expand at an angle. Print the photo large and use a T-square or triangle to drop a line along apparently perfect verticals - they aren't. Charlie's photo clearly shows this. (Sorry, I hadn't seen the second page posts when I wrote this, thank you for bringing that up!)

This is a dead giveaway in a still life as to whether the artist copied the photo or understood and drew the still life. Correcting the horizontals makes the painting more accurate than the photo.

Which means a realist painter working from life and taking his time (provided that the setup didn't include wilting live flowers or he did those last, there are tricks for that) could actually come up with something quite detailed all over in that fine-detail realist focus (using other techniques than fuzziness to draw the viewer's attention to the focal point) and still get accused of copying a photo - with proof within the painting that he didn't.

When people see that kind of refined detail there is a certain social pressure to get more painterly. I like both realism and painterly styles. Charlie, yep, I can believe you got accused of painting from a photo with an accurate still life. I think some of it is just that the magic of realism still hits people viscerally, they think of machines as being more precise and accurate. So anyone who does realism from life is doing a sort of John Henry "beat the machine" stunt that will always thrill people because it still takes years and decades to learn.

If I were doing strict photorealism I would have to understand, pay attention to and include all of the camera's distortions to achieve it.

What you do is a matter of what you're looking to create. I posted to the endless copy/trace discussions too. I don't have a problem with tracing or copying, but understanding camera distortion is an important part of being able to consciously decide what to do instead of getting called on tracing erroneously or not.

What helps a lot is to combine photos and looking at something from life. I've got a book of wildlife subjects with much better photos of some animals I haven't got access to in order to paint, but I also have memories of seeing the same animals in zoos. The more I learn about color, light and painting, the more accurate my past memories are even if I last saw a tiger in person before I understood what to look for in either anatomy or color in shadows or any of it. That's eerie but fun.

Combining multiple photos can make rearranging elements easier. Whether to do so depends on what you want the painting to be. If I want the painting to be a permanent record of that place as it is, then keeping large trees in their positions and not rearranging their branches is something important to me and I'll find other ways to balance the composition, like cropping. If it's more to convey the feel of the place, I may uproot five hundred year old oaks and trot them over into another part of the scene just because it looks better.

The more I learn about art, the more choices I have in starting any painting. It's exciting. You can go so far as to make up the whole scene out of your head like Bob Ross. "In my world, I want some trees over here." But they worked because Bob had seen so many scenes like the one he did that his painting looked as if he'd been there.

It also helped me to learn to draw from life fast without much detail. The photo will record all that detail. But the exact pose my cat took washing his tail is something fleeting and I have only a minute or two to block in his body before he's going to curl up the other direction and wash the middle of his back. There's pausing a video but I'm getting pretty good at our Hide and Sketch game - which will someday lead to a very good painting of my cat in a pose he held only for moments that I didn't even catch in a photo.

Life drawing is convenient too. There's nothing like seeing something wonderful in lighting that your phone camera just would not capture at all. Or finding your battery dead when a great cloud moves in.

Copying photos often is also a way to learn anatomy and proportion though. It's how I taught myself to see facial proportions and shapes accurately so I'm still in favor of it. What all this boils down to is that a really close study of a painting will show some of the painter's techniques and how far they've come along the path of learning to draw/paint realistically - until they're so good they're stepping back to do something deliberately that would have been an accident while they were learning.

Beginners seem to make very similar mistakes throughout the process of learning, there are specific things to learn that once learned will be visible. The better anyone gets at drawing and painting, the easier it is to tell who did it and why. That may in itself be the best argument for learning life drawing because by the time you have, you understand everything well enough to do anything you want, give exactly the impression you want. You could do an illustration that looks like someone time-traveled to the Cretaceous and snapped a Tyrannosaurus Rex with his cell phone moments before running for his life. Do that well and people could even tell that it was a cell phone and not some other type of camera.

08-27-2010, 06:47 PM
I have pretty much decided to start making art from a photo that looks like it was made from a photo and furthermore, looks like a photo. Seems less troublesome than making art from a photo that doesn't look like it was made from a photo (if it requires more work to make it look less like it was made from a photo). Of course I grew up in Berkeley in the Sixties....

08-27-2010, 07:15 PM
I have pretty much decided to start making art from a photo that looks like it was made from a photo and furthermore, looks like a photo. Seems less troublesome than making art from a photo that doesn't look like it was made from a photo (if it requires more work to make it look less like it was made from a photo). Of course I grew up in Berkeley in the Sixties....

Chaus, you're awesome!

:lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:

08-27-2010, 07:31 PM
I have pretty much decided to start making art from a photo that looks like it was made from a photo and furthermore, looks like a photo. Seems less troublesome than making art from a photo that doesn't look like it was made from a photo (if it requires more work to make it look less like it was made from a photo). Of course I grew up in Berkeley in the Sixties....

Chuas, I nearly fell off my chair when I read this. :lol: Hilarious!!! You should be a scriptwriter.

oh,:confused: unless of course you were serious............:eek: ?

08-27-2010, 07:40 PM
Naw, tongue firmly in cheek.

08-27-2010, 08:23 PM

:lol: :lol: :lol:

08-28-2010, 12:31 AM
Just goes to show, gotta keep your sense of humor to survive. I grew up in the sixties too, just in the forest. I understood every word Chuas said...;) . Life just gets too serious sometimes......and no Charlie I often am often not climatically/politically correct, gotta take me as I am.... :D Foot in mouth disease....:eek: .:lol:

08-28-2010, 01:04 AM
i got into a discussion with another artist about this years ago and thankfully she swayed my opinion to her side - many of the things are already covered in the thread but the one she pointed out was the strange foreshortening that cameras tend to leave on models, especially arms/legs. they have a tendency to look pasted on - it's hard to spot at first but have a look through images of models' bodies and you will begin to see it.


08-28-2010, 12:28 PM
Just goes to show, gotta keep your sense of humor to survive. I grew up in the sixties too, just in the forest. I understood every word Chuas said...;) . Life just gets too serious sometimes......and no Charlie I often am often not climatically/politically correct, gotta take me as I am.... :D Foot in mouth disease....:eek: .:lol:

Here's to us and levity Drusilla! :lol:

Phil Bates
08-28-2010, 01:24 PM
Wow, I go away for a few days and come back to find you guys are talking about one of my favorite subjects! Here I am again, late to the party...

The over exposed/under exposed problem has already mentioned, but maybe I can contribute another 2 cents. While most cameras can see at the most 10 to 12 f-stops of light, the human eye can process over 20 f-stops. A photo tends to show more accurate color in the mid range. As it tries to represent extreme light and dark, you not only "clip" the highlights and "crush" the shadows, you also lose color saturation/information the closer you get to those extremes. For example, the brightest leaves on a tree may look pale on a photo but in real life, they are a bright green. Conversely you will also lose the rich blues and violets in the shadows.

You will find that if you make your brightest highlights toward white, there is less color to work with, so the highlights can become chalky. It is a fine balance between preserving color and value accuracy. Sometimes you have to narrow the range (lighten the darks, lessen the highlights) so you can preserve color intensity in those crucial areas.

I think photos also have trouble with the subtleties of complementary colors in a subject. For example, I can look at a tree and see much more than green including notes of oranges, reds and violets. My experience is that photos will interpret the tree more of a monotone green having a harder time revealing those subtle colors.

If you don't introduce complementary (or split complements) notes into trees, rocks, fields and grasses, you may be depending too much on what the photo gives you.

Shooting HDR photography can help and I showed examples in this previous thread: http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=554827

The "fish-eye" effect was also mentioned. This problem is called "barrel distortion" and occurs with some wide angle lenses, but not all. Shooting a doorway or square grid with your camera will reveal a problem if there is one.

Painting from a zoomed-in or telephoto lens shot can introduce a compression of distant elements, that is a tell tail sign in some paintings. It's really hard to concentrate on such a small area when painting plein-air, so you rarely see that effect when painting from real life.

As much as I love photography, and paint from photos, I am painfully aware of the limitations and have to compensate for them.

Thanks for starting this discussion. :)


Deborah Secor
08-28-2010, 02:07 PM
I have pretty much decided to start making art from a photo that looks like it was made from a photo and furthermore, looks like a photo. Seems less troublesome than making art from a photo that doesn't look like it was made from a photo (if it requires more work to make it look less like it was made from a photo). Of course I grew up in Berkeley in the Sixties....

Okay, literally laughing out loud at this! :lol::lol: :lol: I was near Berkeley in the sixties, so I relate. (By the early 70s one art prof was busy throwing a typewriter out the window of a moving car at 65 mph and 'documenting' where the pieces landed in photos. Not particularly good photos, at that. :rolleyes: It was called -- say it with me -- "conceptual art".)

The use of a blurry focus behind the cat, car, flower, branch, person, etc. has been mentioned, but one other terribly obvious telltale sign is the much overused bokeh effect. I've seen far too many beginner's paintings in which they religiously copy that particular kind of blur, which no human eye sees in reality. In fact, it's such a hallmark of copying that people seem not to pay much attention to it anymore. (It's a personal pet peeve of mine! Sometimes here at WC I have to just X out of a thread and totally excuse myself from C&C because so often I see people oohing and ahhing over it... and it drives me insane. :eek:)

08-28-2010, 02:15 PM

I've only started using photos because I wanted to try landscapes, and it is not always easy for me to get out and plein aire (I have a 'tween' at home, so heaven help me :lol: !).

Please excuse my ignorance, but what is 'bokeh effect' Deborah? I try not to be so literal with my photos, as I was there when I took them, but using someone elses can be somewhat limiting, although I am recently finding myself more confident to veer off into my own world (which is a good thing, I think). I do try to observe as much as I can when I'm out and about, and I do find shadows to be much more interesting IRL than in photos, as well as the 'highlights'.

But, what is 'bokeh effect'? :confused: :confused:


Deborah Secor
08-28-2010, 03:46 PM
Chris, if you Google bokeh you'll find lots of images, but here's (http://psdfan.com/inspiration/graphic-design/inspirational-examples-of-the-bokeh-effect/) a good example that shows the difference between a blurry background and bokeh. This is in photographs, not in paintings, of course. Once you see it, you'll know exactly what I mean.

There's nothing inherently 'wrong' in painting this effect, of course--it's just a 'dead giveaway' that the painter used a photograph, and a pet peeve of mine, much like the prejudice my high school art teacher had. He wouldn't allow us to draw or paint cars, horses or sunsets! :lol: I'm not that bad...

08-28-2010, 04:19 PM
Thanks Deborah. I'd never heard that phrase before, and I thought it was a 'pet name' you had for something you didn't like :eek: :lol: . I didn't think to Google it! I've seen it before (I just didn't know what it was called), and its not an effect I especially like, but of course, everyone has their preferences, which is okay with me! Just not my approach to a painting. Hmm....... cars, horses, and sunsets, pretty funny :lol: !

Thanks for the info :D .

08-28-2010, 04:31 PM
yeah: Good one Deborah: "Depth of Field" (as it is called in photography) to the extreme.
A D E A D giveaway.

:thumbsup: Derek

08-28-2010, 04:34 PM
Well, what led me to make that intentionally cheeky statement above was reading an interview with Goings regarding the raging controversy sparked by his photorealist paintings ("photorealism, what's the point?") and his response, indicating that the brouhaha only heightened his desire to make controversial art (in fact, he appeared rather gleeful about the whole thing). But that was in the 60's!

In other words, the different (and I deliberately don't use the word competing) creative ideologies have been discussed, debated, batted about, misquoted, miscommunicated, and misunderstood for about the last fifty years (and probably more). We at WC are carrying on a time honored tradition of artists, rightfully defending their right to create their own artistic realities, regardless, in spite of, because of. Bravo to us for having the passion to do so!

I guess the crux of this long winded post is a good natured poke at the irony of people trying very hard to ensure their paintings do not look like photographs, and another set of folks working equally hard to make their work look less like a painting (overstating on purpose). Gotta love the irony, 'cause they are both good!

08-28-2010, 04:50 PM
Chuas: "Can't we all just get along?"

I've decided to take up fingerpainting to reduce the stress!!!:crossfingers:
:eek: Derek

08-28-2010, 04:57 PM
Chuas: "Can't we all just get along?"

I've decided to take up fingerpainting to reduce the stress!!!:crossfingers:
:eek: Derek

Well, actually that was my intention. Have fun with the fingerpainting. You may be the new Marla Olmstead and we can have another raging controversy.

08-28-2010, 05:01 PM
i got some advice from a 35mm SLR hard film photographer to 'bracket' the pix = manually change the f-siops (amount of lens surface exposed to light by a mechanical 'curtain', compared to the earliest cameras)
more info to work a painting from pixs using camera images
:} Ed

08-29-2010, 01:21 AM
... to add to ed's suggestion, work from your laptop and you can adjust the colour any way you like....

here's an artist (http://www.rachelleoriginals.com/#) that intentionally uses the bokeh method in her paintings


Deborah Secor
08-29-2010, 10:48 AM
..but this artist has not used it accidentally, borrowing it from the photos, she has made it her own! "Great artists don't borrow, they steal," as they say! :D

08-29-2010, 02:54 PM
Thanks everyone for your replies. This has been so helpful and given me a lot to work with.

I do want to work from life but I expect to use photos as a resource as well. I think knowing where the camera distorts or provides inadequate information will help me strengthen my own observation skills.