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Saturday, March 01, 2014

A Tip for Making Reference Photos Better

'The Field Where Dreams are Made'              11x14          pastel        ©Karen Margulis
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 The photo didn't do it justice.  It didn't capture the colors in the grass. It certainly didn't capture the emotion I felt when I came upon this magical place.  This is one of the reasons painting from photos can result in paintings that don't have the magic in them.  Copies of poor reference photos can easily result in poor paintings.

So what is a painter to do?  What if you can't or don't care to paint  en plain air.  What if you take bad photos?  I actually like bad photos because they allow me to interpret the scene with more freedom. But sometimes it is nice to have interesting photos that help this process along.

Why not alter your photos and make them magical?

Look at the photos above.  The top photo is the original photo. It is dull and washed out. It would make a boring painting if I copied it. The photo doesn't make me say 'Wow' which is how I felt when I took the photo.  So I decided to play with the photo and make it more interesting and painterly.

I used the Snapseed app on my iphone.  I love Snapseed. It is very easy to use and you can save your manipulated photo along with the original. I increased the saturation making the pinks more vibrant. Then I used the 'grunge' feature which softened the image and made it appear more dreamy. I love to grunge my photos!  Now the photo is more like my real impression of this dreamy place.

I didn't intend to use the manipulated photo to paint from. I like to play with Snapseed just for the fun of manipulating photos. But it occurred to me that the new photo would make a great reference photo. And it did! See how it simplified all of the grasses?  I plan on doing more Snapseeding on my reference photos. What a great way to move away from copying bad photos!

My first layer (block-in) on Canson Mi-Teintes dark green paper 

The finished painting



Unknown said...

Thats beautiful! and magical! I often take reference photos that I have taken and tweek them in photoshop, saturating them to pull out some amazing colors, bluring to soften and sometimes just lightening or darkening depending on the photo if needed. Great tips. :)

Unknown said...

Great tip Karen - I've been manipulating some reference photos in Photoshop to simplify colors and even to view in black and white.
Thanks for pushing the envelope a bit more!

Observe Closely said...

Another handy thing to do is to use the polarize filter to find out where the principal value areas are. Polarize sliders can slide to where you can see only four or five values. Works well on pix of still life sujects as well as landscapes.

Unknown said...

First, I have to thank you for this amazing blog and your sharing of your time and talent. I am a watercolor painter who has just discovered pastels and you have helped me so much. I also boost my reference photos in photoshop but another free program is Picasa which will boost and saturate your photo. Your paintings are just beautiful.

Unknown said...

Loved the "new" version of the photo with the more vibrant purple. The grunge effect is really good and I am certainly going to look into this app. As you say - quite often the photo doesn't do justice to what one saw, but tweaking it (cropping, enhancing colour etc) can suddenly make it a good reference photo. Many thanks for the blog entry.