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Using Reference Photos
For Your Paintings - Part 2

Do use more than one reference photo of a scene to create a new picture that is still representative of the view you've recorded. This then becomes much more 'your' creation.

Look at the example below....

I used three reference photos of a beach in Pembrokeshire in South Wales, then played around with small, black & white tonal sketches in my sketch book until I came up with an idea I liked.


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Now have a look at the final painting I came up with, having used parts of these three reference photos to give a completely different picture, but one which still says 'Pembrokeshire Beach'.

I turned the large rocks in photo 1 around to face the other way so they pointed into the picture and moved the family group further back into the distance as I felt it improved the composition.

And of course, it's unique to me because it doesn't actually exist in real life, but looks right...



Incidentally, this scene features in one of over 80 tutorials in the Watercolour Landscape DVD course I've produced, if you want to see the picture created from start to finish....

Right, let's consider a few more do's and don'ts.

Photos are great to find out in detail how, say, the muscle structure works in a horse. Or, you could even trace the outline through a print onto your paper as a starting point.

If that gives you the confidence to go on and draw it freehand in future, great!

Remember though, copying from or tracing over reference photos do not provide a long-term substitute for developing a strong drawing technique by observing and copying from real life.

See how much detail you can leave out of your picture that may be in the photo. Ask yourself the question about every single element - "Does this add to the composition ?

If in doubt - leave it out!

And finally, just a few paragraphs about copyright. For example, most photos you see in magazines or on the Internet will be copyright-protected unless you specifically have the photographer's permission to use them.

Now it's highly unlikely that someone will necessarily come banging on your door if you see a magazine or Internet photo you admire and make a painting from it for your own pleasure or practice.

The copyright issue is certainly one to bear in mind though if you intend to sell a painting. Clearly it would be morally and probably legally wrong if you copied someone's painting off the net, out of a book or in a gallery and tried to sell it as your own original composition.

I can't go into the full details of copyright because:-

  1. I'm not a lawyer and;
  2. different parts of the world have different rules on a very complex subject.

If you're concerned, you can find free, or buy 'royalty-free' photos on the net for a small fee to use for reference purposes - in fact I often use such a source if I haven't a suitable photo to illustrate a point I want to make in an article.

And even if you've used a photo or other artwork with permission, it's good to acknowledge this fact eg: "Morning Sun" - from a Photograph by Thomas Jones" - or "Poppy Field" in the style of Monet - or similar wording.

By the way, it goes without saying that all my drawings and paintings on the site are there for you to copy and practice to your heart's content.

However, I don't want to overplay the copyright issue and if you're just using photos to help you develop your painting skills and enjoyment, then you're unlikely to fall foul of anyone. Nevertheless, it's yet another reason why using your own photos is best!

Anyway I hope that's helped clarify one or two issues about the best way to use reference photos and that you'll get even better results to help you with your painting.

Back to Reference Photos Part 1

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