How To Know Which Details To Include In Photo-Based Paintings/Drawings

If you’re new to making paintings or drawings based on photos that you’ve taken, one problem can be trying to work out which details to include and which ones not to.

After all, although a photo is almost as detailed as real life, paintings and drawings will often be less detailed than this for a variety of reasons (eg: picture size, time, artistic licence etc..). So, how do you decide which details to include and which to leave out?

The easiest way to do this is to start by sketching the largest and/or most important details of the picture first. If you have time or room to add more details than this, then start adding them (in order of importance) until you run out of time, room or enthusiasm.

The thing to remember here is that a painting or a drawing isn’t a photograph, so it doesn’t have to contain literally every detail. It should give a general impression of the scene in the photo, whilst also being a little bit creative too. So, focus on the most essential and noticeable details first.

For example, here’s a comparison of a photo I took last year and the digitally-edited painting I made based on it.

Two images of an empty street side by side, a photograph and a painting. The text beneath the photo reads "This is a photo I took of some disused shops in Waterlooville in May 2018". The text beneath the painting reads: "This is a digitally-edited painting I made that is based on the photo (the full-size photo will be posted here on the 15th April).  As you can see, the basic shapes of the buildings and several other details (eg: the cannon, the soldier etc...) have been kept, but the painting is less detailed than the photo."

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] This is a chart comparing a photo I took and the painting I made based on it.

As you can see, I’ve kept the really noticeable details – such as the shape of the building, the cannon etc.. but I’ve also left a lot of smaller details out. In this particular case, this was mostly for time reasons (eg: I only had 1-2 hours to make the painting) and for practical reasons too (eg: most of my paintings are 18 x 18cm in size, so there isn’t room for lots of ultra-fine details).

So, yes, you need to be able to prioritise when choosing which details to copy from a photo.

And, if you’re having trouble with the idea of leaving details out, then one way to get around this problem is simply to set yourself a few limits.

For example, if you set yourself a time limit, this will mean that you’ll have to pay more attention to the more noticeable details in the photo (since you won’t have time to copy the smaller details).

Likewise, if you try making a smaller drawing or painting than usual, then this will mean that you’ll have less room for detail – so, you’ll have to focus on the scene as a whole and try to give more of a general impression of it (by focusing on the most important details).

So, yes, try to find a way to focus on the most important and/or immediately noticeable details – since they matter the most when making a painting or a drawing based on a photo.


Sorry for such a short and basic article, but I hope that it was useful 🙂

2 comments on “How To Know Which Details To Include In Photo-Based Paintings/Drawings

  1. David Davis says:

    What program is best to use to convert from photo to painting?

    • pekoeblaze says:

      Ah, I usually draw and/or paint the initial artwork by sight (this article might be useful). Although when editing the scanned drawings or watercolour paintings, I usually use MS Paint, an old program from 1999 called JASC Paint Shop Pro 6 and/or an open-source image editing program called “GIMP” [GNU Image Manipulation Program].

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