Monday, March 14, 2011

Reference Photo as a Point of Departure

So, today I thought I'd talk about using reference photos. Yes I often work from reference photos. I think most of us do, if not entirely at least from time to time. I look at photography as a mechanical sketchbook most of the time. I also work directly from nature quite a bit, more and more actually, but reference photos still are important to me. When using photos though you must be aware of certain limitations. The darks tend to be too dark or the lights are washed out or some combination of the two. Color is seldom if ever completely correct so don't follow it too closely. And then there is the problem of lens distortion. A lot of potential problems to keep in mind. That's why working directly from nature is a good thing and reference photos are really just a point of departure to augment what you already know.

Let's look at this fairly simple, nothing out of the ordinary, photo.

Not really a lot going on here other than that nice sweep of water. So let's focus on that.

That's better. But still it could be better with just the addition of a distant hill something like this.

A very minor addition, but it gives the picture a little more depth and it echoes the curve of the water. Repetition of form is always a good way to unify a composition. Here's a quick illustration of what I mean just in case my words aren't making much sense.

At this point I'm thinking this isn't too bad. The sky could use some more interest, but basically it's something I would like to paint. It should be pointed out that I really like the salt marsh paintings of Martin Johnson Heade and this is right down his alley. Back to the interest in the sky though, what could be more interesting than a sunset? A good storm, but I want to do a sunset today, and work with that glow that comes at the very end of the day. Besides a sunset is much more of a departure from the original photo and that is what I set out to talk about today. We'll save the storm for another day.

Light is usually the most important part of a landscape painting. That's why I start with the sky, that's where the light comes from. In this case the entire landscape should be infused with this golden sunset light. That's important to remember because all this color is made up. A lot of people these days don't particularly like the warm, cool designation, I don't either actually, but in this case it's kind of useful since everything should have a warm golden glow.

So, my intent in this painting was to capture that very end of the day glow when night is trying to take over from the day, but the daylight isn't quite ready to go yet. That plus can I do it without having the scene right before me either in the form of nature or a photo?

1 comment:

Jeanette said...

Great input on using photos and you`re right most artists do in some form or other. Making them your own with alterations breathes new life into them. The light at the end of day is wonderful.

David, I`ve searched for your email address but can`t find it. I do tend to miss obvious things sometimes...I have a question, perhaps you could email me at jeanettejobson at gmail dot com and I`ll email yo back.