One Basic Tip For Taking Dramatic Reference Photos In Bright Weather

Well, it’s been quite a while since I last wrote an art-based article. This is mostly because, due to planning time reasons, most of my paintings over the past few months have been realistic landscapes based on photos (rather than imaginative sci-fi, gothic, 1990s-themed etc.. art). And, well, there’s only so much you can say about this.

Still, during a photo-taking excursion to an area near Portsmouth called Broadmarsh the day before I originally prepared this article, I remembered one of the rules that was an integral part of my art style when I had the time to make more imaginative paintings every day.

The rule is that the total surface area of each painting should consist of at least 30-50% black paint, so that the colours in the rest of the painting look bolder by contrast. It creates an effect that looks a bit like this:

“Architecture” By C. A. Brown [2016/17]

However, one of the problems I’ve had with taking reference photos for my more recent “realistic” paintings is that the digital camera I use is absolutely terrible at night photography – not to mention that most of the chances I get to go out and take photos are during the day.

Needless to say, this makes using this element of my art style a bit more difficult, especially during hot weather. Even so, during the trip to Broadmarsh, I found myself taking quite a few photos that fitted into my ” at least 30-50% of the picture should be shrouded in darkness” rule.

This is a photo I took in Broadmarsh last July. As you can see, the bridge adds some much-needed gloom to the photo.

And here’s another photo from the same trip. This time, some overhanging trees help to provide some much-needed gloom.

So, how did I do this? The first part of taking intriguingly gloomy, contrast-filled reference photos in bright weather is simply to look for shadows. Things like overhanging trees and bridges are especially good for this sort of thing.

Then, once you’ve found some shadows, it’s usually best to stand in them (if possible) and point the camera at something bright. This might seem a little bit counter-intuitive, but some digital cameras have an auto-focus (?) feature of some kind or another – meaning that taking a photo of a gloomy area from within a gloomy area will just result in a slightly boring and muted photo like this:

This is a photo I took of a shadowy path near Broadmarsh last July. But, it just looks muted rather than dramatic due to being a photo of a shadowy area taken from within a shadowy area.

However, if you stand somewhere gloomy and then take a photo of a much brighter area, the camera might correct for this by making the gloomier area seem even darker. Kind of like this:

This is a photo taken on the same path, but because it is a photo of a bright area taken from a shadowy area, the contrast is a lot more noticeable.

Yes, this is a pretty basic technique and I’m not exactly an expert on digital photography, but it certainly seems to work. So, if you want to take dramatic gloomy reference photos during bright weather, remember to stand in a shadowy area and then point the camera at something much brighter.


Sorry for the short and basic article, but I hope it 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 🙂

Why Does Art Sometimes Look Better On The Page Than On The Screen?

2017 Artwork Why Can Drawings Or Paintings sometimes look worse on a screen

If you’re an artist, then you’ve probably had an experience like this – you make a really cool-looking drawing or painting, and then you either scan or digitally photograph it, only to find that the digital copy doesn’t look quite as good as the physical copy does.

It’s a strange experience, so I thought that I’d try to think about some of the possible reasons why this can happen. Here is what I came up with after a few minutes of general thought:

1) Too much or too little digital editing: Often, when an image is scanned, it can look slightly “faded”. This can be corrected by opening the image using an editing program (if you don’t have one, there’s a freeware open-source program called “GIMP” [GNU Image Manipulation Program] that can be useful) and adjusting the brightness/contrast levels in the image until it looks less faded. A good rule is to lower the brightness and increase the contrast.

However, heavy digital editing of an image can also affect some of the more subtle details in a picture (eg: slight variations in colour may be lost if the contrast and/or brightness level is too high or too low etc..) too. Likewise, strong adjustments to the brightness/contrast levels can also expose every small flaw in your image (eg: small unpainted areas etc…). Although this can be corrected with brush/pencil/ colour picker tools in most editing programs, this can take a bit of practice to get right.

So, too much or too little digital editing can also make your picture look better on the page than on the screen. But, just remember that if you’re actually selling the original of a painting or a drawing, then any digital copy of it posted online must be an accurate reflection of the original work.

2) Lighting: Although I’m not an expert on photography (and have relatively little experience with it), I do know that lighting can seriously affect the quality and appearance of a photo.

So, if you digitally photograph your artwork, then it may be worth experimenting with different types of lighting (or doing some research on lighting), to see if you can find a better type of lighting.

Even though some of the problems caused by too much or too little lighting can probably be corrected with digital editing, you’ll probably end up with a better photo if you sort out the lighting whilst actually taking the photo.

3) Technology: Put simply, even modern technology has it’s limitations. After all, colours can only be displayed on computer screens using a combination of red, green and blue (compared to how we view and mix colours in real life). Computer screens also have a limited display resolution too.

Likewise, all cameras and scanners have a physical limit on the resolution of any images that they take. Likewise, file size might also play a role in the image resolutions that you use. So, a lot of extremely fine, close-up details (eg: the texture of the paper, ultra-subtle colour variations etc..) might be lost in an “ordinary” digital photo or scan of your artwork.

In addition to this, your choice of file format will have some effect on the quality of the image. For example, JPEG images can have a slight blurriness to them when viewed in close-up (albeit with the considerable benefit of a lower file size). However, Bitmap images are significantly crisper when viewed in close-up – although the file size is often significantly larger due to the lack of image compression.

4) Physicality: An actual painting or drawing obviously has a very physical quality to it – the paper has a certain texture, the paint or ink has a particular smell etc… After all, it’s a blank piece of paper or canvas that you have sat in front of and physically altered for several minutes, hours etc..

All of this additional stuff is lost when an image is converted into a digital file. So, although the picture itself might not change much, it might seem slightly different without all of this additional physical stuff.

Likewise, when you are actually drawing or painting, you are probably looking at the picture from a very slightly different angle to the angle of your computer screen. For example, I tend to balance my sketchbook on my knee whilst drawing or painting, which means that I view the picture at a slight angle. However, when the image is scanned, it is seen from a “straight-on” perspective.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂