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Painting from Life vs Photographs

I am always intrigued by the arguments and panel discussions that get rather heated about using photographs.  For me, I love photographs because I can flip them upside down, sideways or any number of ways to right brain paint but that is the only benefit I get - I hate the printers and the screens and the cameras and so many other variables that mess with simple colors and values that are plain as day in life situations.  I never once wonder what color that is, what value that is, what is that shadow doing when painting from life like I do with photographs.  Heck, I even hate my photographs of my paintings lately.

I found this blog interesting.  More than anything - his still life set up fascinates me!  I had to blow it up many times to figure out how he did that with the frames and grid.



  • Interesting, thank you for posting.  I think his setup with the one eye, and the frame are what you did with the mirror and the red dots.
  • @PaulB   holy cow, I didn't even think of that!  I definitely had to have one eye closed for the dots on my forehead and chin and ear to line up to the dots on the mirror - I honestly can't remember if I painted then mostly with one eye - that's weird.
  • edited October 10
    I'm a great proponent for drawing from life. I do use photographs, to make master copies and learn techniques and sometimes photos of models I've work with in life but run out of time. There are big technical reasons for this - photographs introduce aberrations, as discussed, that relate to color and value. I'd add to this the spherical aberrations camera lenses introduce. For me though I think that we are trying to reproduce 3D realism. To do this the best material to work with is a 3D subject not a 2D copy of a 3D subject, a filter of reality which just has to introduce error. In addition, how can you relate the emotion of your subject or the emotion they stir in you if all you have to go on is a photograph? 
  • That is interesting @KevinGE because I was reading today about why photographs of oil paintings look so much worse than in real life and an oil painter commented "why are people surprised by this.  When you take a photo of anything it loses it's 'aliveness'"   I thought that was interesting.  Your example of a 2D into a 3D is so true.  I can't say that I get a color correct in life but I never question what I see in color - in prints or screens or paper, I question the settings, saturation, tint, any number of things.  Matching color to a photo has so many variables - painting from life is so much easier.  I just wish my roses from my garden would cooperate and not die like a vase.  Painting a living thing from life gives those paintings extra oomph or something sensed immediately that I love.  
  • I think this is true and that's why I go out with my colour checker and paints to make colour notes even though the actual painting of my landscapes is done in the studio. You just can't rely on cameras, computers and printers to reproduce what your eye perceived. So much gets distorted at each step.  However, photos are great for remembering details of form. Much better than my brain. 
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