Working from photos

When painting from your own reference photos it really is important that they are taken in good light. Thankfully, in this digital age we can take large numbers of photos to get ‘the best’ shot. Of the hundreds of photos I’ve taken for reference over the years, there are only a few I have worked from.

If you are taking photos to use at home, or for a commission that you have asked me for, here are a few tips:

  • Ideally, take your photos in good daylight, bright sunshine can reflect too much, mid morning or mid afternoon can be softer. For buildings and outdoor locations, ensure that there is clear contrast between sunny and shaded areas. For building and landscapes, remember the ‘Golden Hour’, late afternoon sunshine can give your photos a fantastic colour balance.
  • If you are taking pet photos indoors, try to catch your pet near a window and avoid using flash if possible.
  • For pet portraits, the photo needs to be taken fairly close up because the eyes and expression need to be clear whilst keeping the full shape of the head in view.
  • If you want your pet to be looking at you in the portrait, encourage them with a treat or their favourite toy above the camera, – they will then be in the right position in the photo.
  • If you want your pet to be looking off into the distance, you may need someone else to take the photo whilst you are off camera in the direction required.
  • Aim to be at eye level with your subject so their proportions are more natural and not distorted in perspective.
  • If you have a smaller animal and you find it difficult to reach ground level to take the photos, simply lift it up onto a table or higher surface temporarily.

A little bit of patience and planning is usually required, but it really is worth the effort to get a good reference image. Remember, the better your reference photographs, the better the finished sketch or painting is likely to be.