Thursday, May 24, 2012

How to Make an Ordinary Photo into a Great Painting

'Coffee on the Porch'             9x18             pastel        ©Karen Margulis available here $175
No matter how you slice it.....deciding what to paint in a landscape can be a challenge. Whether you are painting en plein air or from photos it is hard to choose what to paint from all of the information in front of you.  In today's post I am going to share a way to help you choose a point of view to paint from a photo. Often our photos include too much information. We are excited about a beautiful landscape so we hold up the camera and try to capture it all.  When we try to paint from the photo somehow it doesn't seem the same as we experienced. It is boring!  I have two suggestions to help you make more interesting compositions from your ordinary photos.
  1. Take time when you take reference photos. Many of us use our cameras just to record the scene especially if we consider ourselves just casual photographers with a point and shoot camera. If this sounds like you I challenge you to take a little extra time when taking photos. Think like a photographer and 'paint and compose' with your camera.  Change your viewpoint...stoop down or get up higher...shoot a vertical...zoom in on just a part of the landscape...try your macro setting...play with the scene modes and see what they do. You don't need to be a pro photographer to take more interesting reference photos.
  2. Take your boring reference photos and crop them to find better compositions.

My underpainting with my cropped reference photo clipped to my board
My View finder made of matboard
I use reference photos for inspiration. I don't ever try to copy them exactly. Many times the photo as a whole is uninteresting but there are little parts that would make a great painting. I cut two L shaped pieces of matboard and use them to look for these little gems.  The L pieces allow me to be flexible with sizes and formats. Once I find a composition I tape it off with artist tape. (see top photo) For today's painitng I chose a long and narrow format with a low horizon. The original photo still has many other compositions to discover!

So the next time you are flipping through your photos and nothing speaks to you....take out your cropping tool and look at those boring pictures in a new way!

8 comments:

Michelle Wells Grant said...

You've got so many great tips! I'm going to look at my reference photos with new eyes now! Thank you!

Karen said...

Thank you Michelle! I appreciate the comment!

Cindy Michaud said...

good advice...I get so overwhelmed en plein air...yet the studio lacks the ambience of being on site!! not to be married to the scene at hand is the mission...

Vanessa said...

Great idea. I tend to find landscape works overwhelming perhaps because I've been trying to capture everything. Maybe I'll give them another go using this technique. Great tips Karen!

Karen said...

Thanks Cindy! I've used a view catcher for plein air but this is a great way to find better compositions from your photos. Don't know why I didn't think of it before!

Karen said...

Thanks Vanessa. Much appreciated!

robertsloan2art said...

Great article! I started doing this a few years ago and discovered something wonderful with online reference photos or digital pictures displayed online.

I just open them in Windows and adjust the shape and size of the picture window to suit myself. It gives me a casual, reversible crop. I can play with it a lot without actually changing the photo, so if I crop out an area but decide to move something from outside the crop back into the picture, it's still there. All I have to do is move the sliders.

If I do more than one session, the second time I use my sketch or half done painting to decide where to move the sliders. Occasionally I'll use Rectangular Select to choose my crop, do a Save As and save the cropped version for later. But even when I do that, I test crops by moving the window edges around till I like what I see.

Donna T said...

Great tips - thanks so much Karen! Sometimes I find it helpful to take a few extra photos to the left and right of the subject in case there's something in them I can import into a painting, or swap for a more interesting composition.