Monday, 25 January 2016

Photos: Friend or Foe?

The dahlias were out of season, but I painted them anyway.

“The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” 

―Dorothea Lange

Now, this one is an old argument, is working from photos a cop out? For some, yes very much so and of course working from a love subject is an experience we all savour. By having the subject in front of you, you can observe it's characteristics, it's movement and the very fine details. By getting a magnifying glass out and really getting up close and personal, every hair and vein comes sharply into focus.

Are you ready for your close-up?

Ways of looking.

That's the ideal but sadly, it is not always possible to work from a live subject. Seasonality or availability will often put a subject out of reach and in commercial art, there is not the luxury of waiting. If there is a requirement for such a subject, what do you do?  Well, let's face it, you have to use a photograph.

Using a photograph to work from is not a sin in my view but merely another tool in the toolbox to assist and provide knowledge. It's not just a case of snapping away and leave it at that though. By giving a little careful thought and preparation to what you are doing, you can gain a useful portfolio to work from. 

“The eye should learn to listen before it looks.” 
― Robert Frank

By using the Macro setting, you can get a better look

“What I like about photographs is that they capture a moment that’s gone forever, impossible to reproduce.” 

― Karl Lagerfeld

Lovely to see the fine details close up

My Top 5 Tips for Working from Photographs

1. It's best to take photographs outside on a bright, but slightly overcast day. Bright sunshine will cast too many harsh shadows.

2. Try to take your photos at the same distance from the subject, this will give you the best idea of size in relation to other plant elements. By placing a small ruler in the shot, you will even get some accurate measurements and perspective.

3. Close-up, or Macro photographs will be needed of fine details such as stamens, leaf vein patterns and petals. Make sure you have enough so take more than you think you need. The Macro function is usually a small flower symbol on your camera  and will give you really close up pictures.

4. A white background against your subjects will take away any distraction of other plants. A piece of card or white plastic works really well.

With a white background, the colours of the tulip are isolated and easier to see.

Although the painting was started with the love subject, it didn't last very long so photos were needed 

Colour chart of the mixes used, in the order they were painted.

5. It's a good idea to make some colour notes and sketches of your subject at the time. If you can, take some accurate measurements and draw your subject, making note of leaf connections, nodes, position of petals, size of stem etc. It's an idea to consider composition too. By taking a good photograph, you may find the composition works too. This was the case for 'Fade to Grey' and the dahlia studies. The more information you have, the more successful and less stressful the final painting will be.   

Working from a photo and an image on my tablet
as well as colour notes and drawings in my sketchbook,
gave me all the information I needed for the dahlia painting

All thanks to photographs

And I definitely needed the snaps with this one 

A more in depth video, with further tips on how to take successful photos to work from will be available in the 'Technique Tool Box' section of my new website when it launches. 

See Also:

The Pleasure of Sharing


Janene said...

Interesting post--I agree about working from photos. They are not ideal but can be a helpful tool once the flower fades!

Sketchbook Squirrel said...

Yes, it's interesting how some artists really dislike using photos, but if you take enough good ones, and do all the prep, they can be quite useful. x