Three Tips For Choosing Good Photos (That You’ve Taken) To Make Paintings Of

Well, I thought that I’d talk about making art based on photos again today. This was mostly because, out of the hundred or so photos I took on one photo-taking expedition, I could only find about four or five that seemed worth turning into paintings.

Whereas, on a shorter impromptu expedition to Westbrook a few hours before I wrote the first draft of this article, I ended up with dramatic photos like these:

This is a photo of the motorway bridge near Westbrook that I took a day or two after the “mini beast” snowstorm last March. It looks a bit like something from “Twin Peaks” 🙂

This is another photo from the same day. Expect a painting based on it to appear here on the 15th February.

So, I thought that I’d offer a few tips about choosing which photos (that you’ve taken) to turn into paintings:

1) Light and shadow: Generally, a dramatic-looking painting will have a good contrast between light and shadow. My personal rule (which I’ve found far more difficult, if not impossible sometimes, to follow when making paintings based on photos) is that at least 30-50% of the total surface area of the painting should be covered in black paint. This makes all of the colours stand out more by contrast.

As such, look for photos that also contain darker things (eg: trees, buildings etc…) – preferably as close to the foreground as you can get. To give you an example of what I’m talking about, here is one of my photos of Cowplain contrasted with one of my upcoming paintings.

Although I used a bit of artistic licence, the gloomy bus stop in the foreground helps to add visual contrast to the rest of the picture.

So, if you want to make a dramatic photo-based painting, then look through your photos for any of them that contain a good mixture of lighter and darker areas.

2) Buildings vs nature: Simply put, nature looks a lot more dramatic than buildings – but buildings are easily-recognisable and easier to paint with some degree of accuracy and detail – when compared to visually complex natural scenes like the one in this photo of mine:

This is a photo of a really cool-looking tree that I took in Westbrook last March. I have probably got at least fifty gothic photos of trees from my various photo-taking expeditions, but I don’t tend to use them in paintings often since they’re difficult to paint accurately and quickly.

So, deciding whether to make a painting based on your nature photos or urban/suburban photos will depend on a number of factors. If you’ve only got one or two hours to make the painting and/or you want to make something that people will recognise – then paint buildings. Most buildings can be broken down into simple 3D shapes, and are relatively quick and easy to copy with practice.

If you want a bit of a challenge, you’ve got a bit more time or you want to make something “timeless” that will appeal to everyone (rather than people who recognise particular buildings, towns etc..), then use your nature photos as a basis for your next painting.

Yes, nature photos look more spectacular when you’re actually there with your camera. But, it is usually worth taking a few photos of buildings too.

3) Close-up details: Annoyingly, one of my favourite scenes to photograph – Portsdown Hill near Portsmouth – is surprisingly difficult to turn into a good painting. Although the view from this hill is utterly spectacular (especially at night, although I’ve only photographed it during the day so far), see if you can guess what the problem is with painting a photo like this:

This is a photo I took from the top of Portsdown Hill last March. This was utterly spectacular in real life, but it wouldn’t make a very good painting because….

All of the detail is really far away. And, unless you are spending months painting on a giant canvas, you won’t be able to really do all of this distant detail justice. So, one tip for choosing photos that will turn into dramatic paintings is to make sure that they contain at least some kind of interesting close-up or mid-range detail.

If you can make something close to the foreground look detailed, then the audience is less likely to care about less detailed background elements. But, if all of the detail is in the distant background, then choose another photo to base your painting on – no matter how spectacular the scene looked in real life.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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2 comments on “Three Tips For Choosing Good Photos (That You’ve Taken) To Make Paintings Of

  1. Agreed! I remember when I started to discover that my drawings/paintings were only as good as the photos I chose to copy. Not to say that the photos weren’t good, but some just lend better to interpretation. I’ve tried my hand at a landscape like the one you took from the hill. I felt like it was a good challenge, but like you said, a ton of work if it would yield anything worthwhile. If I had the time…

    Meno<3

    • pekoeblaze says:

      Yeah, some photos seem to be more well-suited to paintings than others (even if, as photos, they might work quite well). But, yeah, it’s surprising how difficult/time-consuming traditional landscapes are – not to mention that, in order to add any kind of detail to them, they need to be fairly large too (and, for time reasons, my paintings are usually quite small).

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