Advice on reference photo

Hi, folks.

I'm trying to decide whether the photo below could form the basis of a large painting and was hoping to get others' thoughts on it. It's the view from the rocky beach at Fossil Cove on a bright mid-summer morning. You're looking east with the sun just above the top of the picture.

Try to imagine it painted big -  at least 30" X 40" or 76cm X 102cm - so that when you are standing up close you will be able to explore all the detail in the pebbles and small ripples on the rocky beach and, from a bit further back, you would be able to take in the full scene. I want folks to step forward and back as they explore the painting. But I just can't decide whether it will work or not and I don't want to start it without some input from others because it will be a hell of a lot of work. 

There are a couple of yachts in the distance and a bird near the furthest rocks to add a bit of interest there and I could add more but but I don't want to do too much of that sort of thing. It's really about the pebbles in the foreground and the sparkles and glare on the water leading the viewer to the horizon and minimalist clouds.  But is the whole composition too minimalist or, on the other hand, too busy. I find composition one of the most difficult things in painting. I rarely ask for advice on subject matter but I just can't make up my mind about this one. 

Anyway, I'd be very interested in any input folks could give on this scene and whether they think it might work as a large painting.

Thanks for looking and commenting.  :)



  • @tassieguy

    I think you have picked quite a challenge.  There is an extreme high dynamic range here.  I'm no expert in HDR or gamma curves or perception, but the risk here is painting something that really does look like it came from a camera... if that makes any sense.

    For whatever reason the default look of a shot taken by a camera in extreme lighting conditions, always has an underwhelming, there's something missing here feeling for me.

    I would suggest you take a look at other paintings in extreme lighting which do work, and figure out why, and how they are different from what digital camera makers assumes looks good.  With that knowledge (or perhaps even without it) apply as many adjustments, contrast, curves, histogram, gamma, etc. which gives the photo reference the sense of what you actually want to paint.

    Aside:  I think it would be a splendid idea to paint plein air (or even just to sketch to get valid samples of of perceived colors and values), and to take photos of what you are painting, but not rely on the photo.  Go back in the studio and see what weaknesses there are in the photo and how to correct for them digitally so that they match how you perceived the environment when you painted it plein air.  If there is a consistent pattern, you can reliably adjust what your camera does to suit what you actually see when you paint plein air.
  • hi,
    just a thought, so this will be about pebbles on the beach and reflections in the water. I was thinking how would this be to get closer to the water on the right hand side to also see some details of the stones through the water and get the beach area on the left...
    That's probably just me wanting a part of your last success in this one as well.
    Anyways I like the composition as it is.
  • edited April 2022
    Thanks, @CBG and @adridri

    @CBG, I'm glad you raised the issue of it looking like a photo. That was one of my concerns and it is what I would try to avoid if I were to paint it. Try to imagine those sparkles and that glare as thick impasto paint of the brightest white dragged across the picture surface on top of the varied blues of the water. Up close it would be highly textured and almost completely abstract. And that's why I mentioned the size of the painting I have in mind. Up close, the painting would be about the texture of the paint as much as what is actually depicted. But from a distance I would want it to look very realistic. The foreground rocks and pebbles and the the water there would receive more detailed attention but would still be highly textured. Whether all that would work or not I'm still unsure about. Maybe I'll just have to suck it and see.

    And I'm glad you mentioned recording info en plein air and not just relying on a photo. That is, in fact, my usual practice. I take scraps of canvas and a little palette and make colour notes on site. I rarely rely solely on a photo.  

    So, I hope with my notes, and what I have said about how I would paint it, that I could make a work that is clearly a painting and which doesn't look like just a copy of a photo. But you are right about the dynamic range here. It will be a challenge and I don't know if I'm up to it.  :)

    @adridri, thanks for your feedback. My idea is that when the painting is seen full size on a wall the viewer would see those details in the stones and water so there would be something reminiscent  of the last painting in this one. But I guess it's hard to imagine when looking at just this small photo.

    I'm glad you like the composition. I thought a lot about it and did a bit of rearranging of the rocks so they lead the viewer through the picture to the horizon. 

    Thanks again @CBG and @adridri. I will keep your comments in mind as I try to decide whether to go ahead with this project.  :)

    PS, it might help folks visualize what I have in mind if the photo is opened in a new tab and zoomed into. 
  • I tried to improve the brightness range and a very slight increase in saturation:

  • Thanks, @Richard_P. Something along those lines might improve it. Did you use Affinity Photo? I'll fiddle around with it in Affinity some more. You seem to have slightly increased the overall brightness and saturation. The contrast, too, seems dialed down a bit. Is that right? Or is that just a function of increasing the overall brightness and saturation? 

    What do you think of the idea in general in light of my description/explanation in the OP? Do you think it would work? 
  • edited April 2022
    In light of your suggestion @Richard_P, I raised the overall brightness by 20% and increased the saturation of the foreground by 20%. There is more color and, hopefully, more interest in the foreground now. It seems to have reduced the dramatic contrasts a bit and maybe addressed @CBG's concern abut the high dynamic range. Do folks think this is an improvement?  Zoom in and imagine a big painting.

  • Yes I use Affinity too, and your edit is stronger in terms of colour and brightness (I like it!)

    I think it would work but there might be just a little too many white highlights at the moment..
  • Thanks heaps, @Richard_P. I'll experiment with getting rid of some of the sparkles in the central area.   :)
  • There are a couple things that I winder about.  The foreground seems to bend downward.  That feels a bit disconcerting. 
    Also there isn’t any focal point compositional notes.  I am thinking the boulders in the water need to be larger and closer. 
    I like the little bits of cloud but I think they need to be repositioned compositionally.
  • Thanks, @GTO. Good point about the foreground and the need for more large rocks in the water.  I'll think about how to address those issues. I'll also experiment with nudging the clouds a bit.  :)
  • @tassieguy

    I’d go even a little brighter.  When the foreground on its own looks as bright as you remember it looking, it’s bright enough.

    It’s definitely paintable. 
  • I think this photo is right up your alley, @tassieguy, and that you'll make a remarkable painting of it.  I look forward to it.  I wouldn't prove much help in the saturation/edit discussion, but I would say that if you paint the stones in the foreground as you did in your most recent painting (naturally colorful), it will make it especially memorable.  

    When you say large painting, how large are you thinking?  For me and probably some other people, the paintings you paint are already delightfully large!  Even larger would certainly work in my opinion and would be thrilling as a viewer.
  • Thanks, @CBG and @allforChrist.

    @CBG, yes, I agree. I've decided that the pebbles and rocks need to be more like those in my last painting, as @allforChrist said, because that's where I want people to find interest when they are up close to the painting. As it is, everything is too black and white on the beach, especially towards the edges.  And along the water line you're blinded by the way the camera handled the glare (or didn't handle it).  So I'll be doing some work there in Affinity Photo to bring up the pebbles in value and colour and to get rid of some of the glare in that area.  

    Thanks so much everyone for your help and advice on this one.  :)
  • edited April 2022
    It's a lovely image. I love details in the foreground offset by the distance and using both. I agree that the camera appears to have distorted the perspective downwards. This is visible when you view the whole. If it's big and you look out, then down, it's kind of the way we would experience it if we were standing there, if that makes sense. You could probably fix it in affinity or photoshop if it bothered you, but it will push the centre of interest out to sea. I think photoshop has an autosetting. It'll be a great painting either way.
  • Thanks very much, @Abstraction:)

    The beach is actually that shape and it doesn't bother me much but, since a couple of you have mentioned it, I might build up the right side a bit or pull the left side down a little but I want it to come to a point about a third of the way across from the left so it points to those two elongated rocks that take you across the water to the mid-distance rocks. I want that elongated "Z" that takes you from the beach to the horizon. 

    Again, thanks everyone. I'm very grateful for your help with this.  :)
  • Ah, the stones are stacked on an angle? That makes sense. I think it deserves a big canvas. There is a lot of movement for the eyes, and you will naturally end up studying the stones - particularly with the skill you executed the previous painting.
  • Thanks, @Abstraction. Yes. it will be big. At least 30" X 40".  :)
  • My input should be taken with a grain of salt.  I think it needs some bigger boulders in various places to add a little more interest to the foreground and mid distance.  It reminds me of flat fields of cotton and grains that grow in north central Texas. Every little mesquite tree adds to the scenery. 
  • Thanks, @oilpainter1950. I'll think some more about the rocks.  :)
  • I've finally decided to have a go at this picture. I've made a start by completing the sky and the sea at the horizon. I think that section of the water works. The rest - most of the water and all of the pebbles and rocks - will have to wait until I get out of hospital where they are trying  to fix my waterworks.

    This painting is going to be about painting past the glare. I'll still keep the sparkles on the water and wet rocks but not allow the sparkles to blow everything out. I can't see a way to do it in my image editor first, so I'll have to imagine the real, unblown-out colours because I didn' make enough colour notes on site. 
  • Sorry to hear you’ve got plumbing problems, hope it all goes smoothly.  I look forward to seeing how you sort out this painting.
  • edited April 2022
    Thanks for your good wishes, @GTO.
    The sky and distant sea were the easy bits  All I want now is for the pain to stop and to get back to the easel so I can start on those stones.  :)
  • All the best for the upcoming op., @tassieguy.    Looking forward to seeing how you resolve your issues with your reference photo.    Give yourself time to heal properly before rushing into hours on end at the easel.

    At the end of this month I am in for a second operation on my eye to replace this new clear  lens with a yellow tinted one.  I am having such difficulty mixing colours when I see a different hue from each eye.  
  • edited April 2022
    Thanks, @toiujours. I don't want to bore folks with my kidney and prostate problems but if I'm AWOL for a while it's for health reasons and not because I'm deserting the joint. I hope to get out of hospital today. I'll have a stent in my ureter and have to go back in two weeks to have it removed which will be another general anesthetic. Until then it's two more weeks of pain. Ah, the joys of getting older. Fingers crossed you eye op brings you back to good vision.  :)
  • Neither of those are recommended. All the best with the procedure. You're very much appreciated here.
  • I agree, get well soon!
  • Thanks, @Richard et al. I appreciate the sentiments .  :)
  • I hope everything goes extremely well and you recover quickly.
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