Tips on painting from photos

I touched on this briefly in a recent post, but I wanted to share some practical tips that you can use when painting from a photo, to keep your painting from looking flat and lifeless. So, in no particular order:

  • Simplify everything.
  • Don’t paint everything. Play with cropping the photo in different ways to find a pleasing composition.
  • Reposition elements in the scene to make a more pleasing and balanced composition.
  • Experiment with the rule of thirds.
  • Have a clearly defined focal point, or centre of interest, which the viewer’s eye should be guided towards.
  • Keep your edges sharper in the focal point, and softer outside of it (in general).
  • Emphasise the sense of atmospheric perspective in a landscape by making objects lighter in value and less saturated the further away they are.
  • Add more colour to your shadows than you can see in the photo (but not too much).
  • If you take a photo to use as reference, make notes about the colours you see while you’re there, so you can inlcude them in your painting later.
  • Simplify everything.
  • Use HDR mode on your camera to capture a greater range of hues and values.
  • Don’t have any sharp edges leading your eye out of the painting.
  • Avoid uniform, repeated patterns (except on manmade objects), even if they appear that way in the photo, you can create a more pleasing effect by making them irregular.
  • Consider greying down a bright blue sky to keep the attention on the focal point.
  • Merge shadow shapes together if they are a similar value.
  • Don’t worry about matching the the exact colours, but do try to get the value and temperature relationships right.
  • Don’t paint all the detail you see in the photo, instead try to paint it as if you were looking only at the focal point in real life, so everything else would be slightly out of focus.
  • Simplify everything 🙂

That’s all I can think of for now. Please feel free to share your own tips in the comments.

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