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Photo to Painting: How to Use a Photo Reference in Your Art

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Photo Reference for Artists: Landscapes | photo to painting, photographic art, photo painting

With more than 400 reference photos for artists you are sure to find the image of nature that catches your eye!

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Video Download: Painting from Photos: Pastels with Maggie Price | turn photo into painting, photo to oil painting, convert photo to painting

Effectively use photo references to create paintings that go beyond copying to lively, lifelike art

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Photo Reference for Artists: Water and Skies | painting from photo, photo reference, oil painting from photo

Capature the true beauty of nature, from crashing waves to glistening snow covered landscapes

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6 Reference Photography Tips and Tricks to Create Lifelike Artwork

By Courtney Jordan, Online Editor

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 photo reference, photo to painting

Forest Edge Study by William Hook, 12 x 12, acrylic painting. Content adapted from an article by Bob Bahr.

Using a photo reference is a convenient and rewarding way to make drawings and paintings if it is done right. But there are a few pitfalls to avoid, so if you are interested in ways to go from photo to painting, these six tips on painting from photo references are for you along with our editor picks of the top resources for painting from photographs as well!

  • Don’t forget that when you want to transform a photo into a painting, first look at the scene, person, or composition with your own two eyes if possible. Take in the view, make mental notes, and memorize the scene. Only then take out your camera and photograph your composition carefully.
  • As you turn photo into painting, remember that consistency in your treatment of the light source is key to a convincing painting. So look at your photo and ask yourself, where is the light coming from?
  • Shadows are crucial to study when you are going from photos to paintings. Often times you can lose the light in the shadows with a photograph, so be sure to interpret these hidden areas when it comes time to paint them.
  • Even when using a photo reference, it is important to squint. You will see patterns in your reference and avoid unwanted patterns on your canvas.
  • Painting from photo references can make you forget that thoughtful cropping of the scene you want to paint or draw is necessary. This will help you reduce a lot of work composing on the canvas. If you take the picture with this in mind, you significantly cut down your workload.
  • You don’t have to paint from photos that are large, with high resolution. Instead, use small photos of low resolution. It will help you to not rush into the details. And small, indistinct reference photos force you to simplify and reduce what you depict.

There are several resources that can help you learn to successfully go from photo to painting. The first is a unique photo-painting guide full of landscape photography reference photos. Photo Reference for Artists: Landscapes is full of images that will allow you to create art from photo references that are significant to you. There are over 400 images to choose from so you are sure to garner strong results with whatever image you pick.

One of our editor’s top resources on painting from photographs is the video download, Painting from Photos: Pastels with Maggie Price. In this video workshop, Maggie reveals how to correctly use a photo reference to make artwork that is not just about copying static images but instead gives you convincing and lifelike paintings as a result of careful observation and understanding.

And to capture the ever-changing water and skies you see and so want to depict in your landscape paintings, use Photo References for Artists: Water and Skies to help you.  You’ll find compelling images to draw and paint from and more than 400 photo painting references to choose from.


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Courtney Jordan is the Online Editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.