Benefits and Pitfalls of Artists Using a Camera

So much unnecessary fuss has been made about the use of photographs. The fact is that without digital photographs as references we would be doing ourselves a disservice. It is not always possible to paint or sketch a reference or to cover all aspects of a scene even if we do have some time. Digital…

So much unnecessary fuss has been made about the use of photographs. The fact is that without digital photographs as references we would be doing ourselves a disservice. It is not always possible to paint or sketch a reference or to cover all aspects of a scene even if we do have some time. Digital photos have filled a gap and they are here to stay.

The important thing for us is to remember that photos have limitations too. Distortions in perspective event. Shadows are often darker than in reality and we may miss nuances that closer observation would have disclosed. Still I would hate to miss a reference simply because I did not have a camera close at hand.

So the message is clear – have a camera with you and use it.

Photo Opportunities:

The digital camera is handy for:

  • Assessing composition. The ability to crop and view the scene there and then can save much time and hassle;
  • The image can be viewed on your computer and considered once again.
  • As an aid to drawing. Time can be take to capture a subject without the pressure of fleeting light, weather and of course if your subject will not pose for you then a photograph is vital
  • Imaging software can be used to crop a photo to assist with composition or it can suggest other painting options within the same photograph;
  • Software that allows certain effects such as rendering the photo in gray-scale can assist is value assessment.
  • Posterizing a photo can help to assess shapes and values.
  • The images are stored and hopefully backed up for future use without taking up space and this saves you money in printing costs too.
  • Adjusting brightness and contrast can help reveal some nuances in shadows.

Photography is Useful, but …

  • Shadows may be too dark. Compensate as described above with imaging software.
  • Colors may be adjusted by the camera settings. For example a camera set to “landscape” will saturate certain colors like green and blue. Try an make a note of the color in your journal.
  • Lights may be overexposed. The sky may appear very pale and washed out on the photo to compensate for the land. You can take photos of the sky to compare and try the photographers technique of “bracketing” by manually adjusting for under and over exposure. You will then have three or more photos to compare.
  • Faithful rendering of a photo may show your skills at drawing, but without interpretation and expression you are inadvertently to achieve a painterly effect. Use your artist's tools and techniques to make your painting unique and alive.
  • Paintings have a different message that makes them different from photos. Painters must regard the camera as a tool not a means of producing art.

Conclusion:

Use a camera for all the benefits mentioned above, but keep true to your artistic talent by painting from life as often as possible.