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 🙂

Two Ways To Make Greyscale Drawings/Paintings Based On Your Colour Photos

As regular readers of this site know, I’ve spent the past month or two making “realistic” paintings based on photos that I’ve taken. This is mostly for time reasons, but when I’m in an absolute rush, I’ll make a greyscale image (typically a digitally-edited drawing, rather than a painting) instead of a full colour painting – like this upcoming picture:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size picture will be posted here on the 8th March.

Anyway, when I was talking to someone about this subject a couple of days before writing this article, they were surprised that I was able to convert a colour photo into a greyscale drawing. To me, the process seemed reasonably simple. But, I thought that I’d write a guide in case anyone doesn’t know how to do it.

However, I’m going to assume that you’ve already had some practice at copying pictures by sight alone. If you don’t know how to do this, then some basic tips include looking at the exact outlines of everything in the photo (a photo is a 2D representation of a 3D image. So, things get distorted..) and paying attention to the relative sizes and positions of everything in the photo (eg: “this tree is half as tall as the photo, so it should be half as tall as my drawing” etc..). If you practice it enough, then you’ll get the hang of it.

Anyway, how do you make greyscale art based on colour photos? There are two ways of doing it – the easy way and the fun way.

1) The easy way: If you’re totally new to this, then one way to learn how to convert a colour photo into a greyscale drawing is to use image editing software to create a greyscale reference image. Needless to say, this only works with digital images. So, if you have a physical photo, then scan or digitally photograph it first.

Start by making another copy of your photo and then opening that copy using an image editing program. If you don’t have one, then there’s an open-source editing program called “GIMP” (GNU Image Manipulation Program) that can be legally downloaded for free.

Once you’ve opened your editing program, look for an option in the “colours” menu of your program that includes the word “saturation”. In most editing programs, the option is called something like “hue-saturation” or “hue/saturation/lightness”. Once you’ve found it, decrease the saturation to the lowest possible level and you should end up with a greyscale image that you can use as a reference. Like this:

This is an example of how to lower the saturation levels (using GIMP 2.8) in order to create a greyscale reference image from a colour photo.

So, that was the easy way. But what about…..

2) The fun way: If you’re feeling a bit more confident or you just don’t have time to mess around with image editing programs, then it’s possible to convert a colour photo to a greyscale image without using software.

This gives you more room for artistic licence (more on that later..), it’s great for impressing people with and it will also possibly result in a better-looking drawing or painting too 🙂

So, how do you do it? Simple. You look carefully at the brightness of everything in your photo and use this as a rough guide for how much black, white or grey you add to that part of the picture. The thing to remember here is to look at how bright everything is in comparison to everything else in the photo. In other words, look at relative brightness.

To give you an example, here’s a chart based on one of my recent greyscale pictures and the colour photo it is based on:

To see a readable version of this, either download it or click on the picture and then click on “View Full Size” at the bottom right of the screen.

But, as you can see, the finished drawing doesn’t quite follow the brightness map in the chart (eg: the coast is darker than it should be etc..). But, why did I change this? Well, it is all to do with making the picture look more dramatic. Allow me to explain…

One of the important things to remember with greyscale art is that, because you can’t use colours, you need to use contrast to make things stand out. In other words, each of the main areas of your picture should be a noticeably different shade to the areas directly next to it.

For example, I chose to make the coast in my drawing much darker than it was in the photo because this meant that it stood out more when compared to the dark grey wall and light grey sea next to it. If I’d made the coast a more realistic shade of light grey, then it would be difficult to tell it apart from the sea at a glance.

So, yes, pay careful attention to the brightness of everything next to each area of the picture. And don’t be afraid to take creative liberties if it results in a better drawing or painting.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Two Basic Tips For Making Drawings And/Or Paintings Based On Your Photos

Well, it’s been a while since I last wrote an art-based article. So, for today, I thought that I’d offer a few tips for making drawings and/or paintings based on photos that you’ve taken. This is, as you might have guessed, because a lot of this type of art has been appearing here recently. This is mostly because, with practice, it is quicker and easier than painting from imagination (since, at the time of writing, I’ve been kind of busy).

So, I thought that I’d offer two basic tips for making art based on your photos. I’ve probably mentioned some of this stuff before, but hopefully there will be some new stuff here.

1) Get some art practice before you take the photo: Although you can use artistic licence to improve your painting, it helps to have a good photo to start with. This is where traditional artistic knowledge and/or previous art practice can really come in handy.

Although having some practice at drawing, painting etc.. won’t help you with the technical details of photography, it will help you with everything else. It will mean that you will be aware of things like composition (eg: where everything is placed), it’ll make you think about perspective (eg: the “camera angle”), it will help you to think about things like lighting, colours etc… Simply put, knowing what makes a painting look good will help you to work out what makes a photo look good.

For example, I’ve had relatively little experience with photography. At the time of writing, my technical photographic knowledge is literally just “point the digital camera in the right direction and press the button“. But, thanks to all of the art practice I’ve had over the past few years, I was able to take this photo of Westbrook shops last March:

This is a photo of Westbrook shops that I took last March.

When taking this photo, I ducked beneath a tree so that there would be something in the close foreground (eg: the branches) that would help to “frame” the picture and add depth to it.

In addition to this, the dark tree branches also help to make the colours in the rest of the photo look bolder by contrast. Likewise, by taking a photo of the corner of the building and angling the camera very slightly upwards, I was able to place extra emphasis on the building’s size and shape.

This then allowed me to make this gothic digitally-edited painting (and, yes, I’ll explain what went wrong with it – and why- at the very end of the article):

“Westbrook – Haunted Mansion” By C. A. Brown

A lot of the reason why I was able to make the painting look so gothic was because I remembered a few of the artistic “rules” (that I normally follow whilst painting) when I was choosing where to take the photo from. So, yes, having some artistic knowledge will help you to take photos that you can turn into interesting-looking paintings.

2) Proportions: Aside from learning how to look at the actual shapes of things in a photo (a photo is a 2D representation of a 3D scene, so the precise outlines of things will be different to what you might think), knowing how to handle proportions is one of the most important skills to learn when making art based on photos.

This is because your photo will probably be a different size or shape to your painting or drawing. Yet, you still need to make sure that everything looks at least vaguely “right”. So, how do you do this?

Simply put, you think about everything in relation to everything else. So, if something in your photo is half as tall as the photo, then it should be half as tall as the area you are drawing or painting on. If there is a tree that takes up a quarter of the width of your photo, then it should take up a quarter of the width of your picture. Basically, think of your photo in terms of ratios and fractions.

It can take a while to get an “eye” for this kind of thing, but it is well worth practicing until you do. If it helps, then use a ruler to take and compare measurements (eg: if something is 10cm tall in a 30x30cm photo, then it should be 5cm tall in a 15x15cm drawing etc..). When done vaguely well, the results look a bit like this comparison:

This is a photo I took of Westbrook shops during the snow last March.

“Westbrook – Gateway” By C. A. Brown

But, yes, there are limits to this. This is why, for example, the gothic painting I showed you earlier looked so “squashed”. I tried to use this technique to compress a large rectangular photo into a much smaller and shorter rectangle (within a square-shaped area).

So, yes, this technique will result in distortions when compared to the photo, but it can help to minimise them to some extent.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂