I know a lot of very good artists do most of their paintings from photos, many will even use photoshop or other software to cut and paste part of the image into the desired final composition. I’m probably not so interested in that approach. I must admit I would rather get the basics of composition, colour and what detail gives the character of the scene. Perhaps the most important part is figuring out what not to include. Many painters slavishly copy all the detail from their reference photos and I feel can easily become a little tedious and boring, whereas the en plien air equivalent may look more exciting because it tends to leave out the things that doesn’t catch the artist own eye.
Another big issue that is becoming very controversial relates to the ownership of the reference image, whilst it is probably best not to use any photos as the principal reference to you painting is you don’t have permission from the photographer. So my suggestion is to take a sketchbook and also your camera and collect your own reference photos. Using a digital camera or smartphone there will be little cost is taking many photos. Here are few recommendations of what to include.
- Take lots of photos, look at your subject from a range of views. Don’t just use the zoom on the lens, walk around and take photos from different angles, some low etc.
- Take some close up or flora (& fauna) or the rocks.
- It may be wise to return to the scene at different times of the day, or in different weather conditions to choose the most appropriate lighting. However only use those photos with consistent and similar lighting (and shadows).
- Make sure you have an extra memory card (or two) and a spare battery handy.
- Learn to use your software, to maintain albums/collections.
- Some artist will printout simple black & white prints and sketch on them. Others, like me, don’t bother with printout any images and displays reference on their compute as required
- Remember you are not trying to take one perfect photo, you want the support to do a great painting