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Old 08-26-2010, 09:26 AM
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Question Tell tale Signs of a Photo?

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.
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Old 08-26-2010, 10:30 AM
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Re: Tell tale Signs of a Photo?

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.

Don
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Old 08-26-2010, 10:47 AM
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Re: Tell tale Signs of a Photo?

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.
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Old 08-26-2010, 11:10 AM
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Re: Tell tale Signs of a Photo?

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
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Old 08-26-2010, 11:15 AM
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Re: Tell tale Signs of a Photo?

Superb examples Derek.
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Old 08-26-2010, 12:15 PM
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Re: Tell tale Signs of a Photo?

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.
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Old 08-26-2010, 12:21 PM
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Re: Tell tale Signs of a Photo?

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.

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Old 08-26-2010, 12:38 PM
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Re: Tell tale Signs of a Photo?

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
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Old 08-26-2010, 12:43 PM
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Re: Tell tale Signs of a Photo?

Oh My Gosh, not trying to show off my work...just trying to make a point.
Derek
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Old 08-26-2010, 12:44 PM
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Re: Tell tale Signs of a Photo?

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.

Last edited by Talley : 08-26-2010 at 12:47 PM.
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Old 08-26-2010, 12:57 PM
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Re: Tell tale Signs of a Photo?

Sorry Talley. You have asked a great question, and Thanks.
Derek
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Old 08-26-2010, 01:05 PM
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Re: Tell tale Signs of a Photo?

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.
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Old 08-26-2010, 01:54 PM
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Re: Tell tale Signs of a Photo?

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
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Old 08-26-2010, 02:10 PM
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Re: Tell tale Signs of a Photo?

hello
well this is fun (?!)
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

Last edited by sketchZ1ol : 08-26-2010 at 02:26 PM.
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Old 08-26-2010, 02:38 PM
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Re: Tell tale Signs of a Photo?

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.

Peggy
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Last edited by PeggyB : 08-26-2010 at 02:41 PM.
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