Painting using overexposed photos

I am a student, I have been painting for a little bit more than 2 years, I have been improving but off course I have a very long path ahead to become the painter I want to be.

I like to paint portraits, and I have study many techniques from many painters, when I paint from dramatic paints (light and shadows) they are fine I guess

There is one painter I am studying now called Scott Waddell, he is awesome, and he achieves some results painting very closed value skin tones, no dramatic changes and somehow they work great, I have seen many of his videos and I am not able to achieve that smooth transitions between very little value shifts.

So, the question is, how do I get those results? I tried to paint like that but my results are flat unless I push the values wich will make it work but wont have that realistic result

Thanks in advance for the answers and sirry for my english, it is not my natal tongue


  • To be able to answer your questions with any accuracy, I would need to see Scott Waddell's work and your efforts also.  I will look for his paintings on line, but we will need to see yours also.
  • dencaldencal -
    edited April 2022

    There are two ways to achieve fine value transitions.

    1. Premix say, nine skin tones grading from dark to light and a greying complement colour. Place the values as tiles with slight overlap. If there is too much difference, use a dry brush to blend the transition.

    2. Paint as normal using the blended stroke if needed. Allow to dry. Mix transparent glazes and apply to dry areas. This method will give a smooth luminosity to skin tones. Artists sometimes use a dozen glazed layers. This method takes time and patience. Use Liquin as a glazing medium to speed the process.

    Have a look at the paintings of William-Adolphe Bouguereau.

  • I love Scott, he is so funny as well as a great painter!
  • To be able to answer your questions with any accuracy, I would need to see Scott Waddell's work and your efforts also.  I will look for his paintings on line, but we will need to see yours also.
    My attempts to use his techniques so far are beyond bad results, they are so bad that hurts the eyes and the souls of those who see them, so I dont will be showing those.

    If I manage to paint some bad but worth seeing for critiques piece then I will glady share it, I mean, I love to share and get critique for my paints, I do it all the time at my IG but... this attempts I am talking about.... just garbage
  • @Alexev Don't be discouraged. We've all been there. My second portrait I did Sargent's Lady Agnew. It was a mess, I got discouraged and didn't touch it for 9 months. I came back later when I was in the right headspace, took her face back to just three tones and built it up again. Subtleties of value, colour and even mixing the right colours come with experience. I used to mix mud all the time trying to get the right colours. Believe in yourself. That hunger you have to paint comes from an inner ability inside that needs time to master the skills.
    I ask questions: too warm? Too cool? Too dark? Is the edge right? Is the shape right? All the time...
  • well, I would shift my attention to the reference first, maybe the light on your subjects is too harsh, I'm looking at Scott Waddell's work and it seems to me that his subjects are lit really softly, so that could be a good point to start
  • If you look at the videos of Scott painting you will see he constantly alters the hue, value and chroma of the paint as he follows the curve of the surface. I think this is very hard to do, but he obviously has huge experience and a comprehensive knowledge of human anatomy and lighting of 3D surfaces.

    I think an easier way to start is to paint with just a few values and then paint in the transitions between them. Then correct when dry.

    @Alexev, the above link is one of Mark's videos.  Perhaps it will help?

    I note that apart from the title of this thread, you make no mention in your posts about reference photos at all?   Did you realise as you wrote your opening posts, that your concern is not really the photos you are using, but your technique and colour mixing that is holding you back?  I am a little confused, so the video I suggest may not be of use to you?  I am sorry if that is the case. 
     I look forward to seeing some of your work when you feel brave enough to ask for direct critique, or better still, when you feel confident that no critique is required and you are comfortable with what you have produced.
  • Somewhere on this site, Mark has a video about the quality of source photos.  If you haven't see it, look it up.  Shouldn't be hard to find.  You'll be surprised at it's conclusions.  He shows clearly how to achieve the proper look of your source material.  And frankly, you should never use overexposed and blown out photos. 
    As for the kind of kind of look Waddell achieves, the only answer i know is to keep on keepin' on . . .or as the vaudevillian comedian's joke goes . . . how do you get to Carnegie hall . . . practice, practice, practice. Art is not a destination, it's a lifelong process.  You learn a little something every day. One thing I can tell you is tht. I saw a noticeable improvement when I switched to soft hair brushes.  If you've never tried this, go to Wallmart or an art store and pick up a $5 pack of those cheesy soft hair brushes they sell for "craft" persons.
  • broker12 said:
    ...He shows clearly how to achieve the proper look of your source material.  And frankly, you should never use overexposed and blown out photos. ,,,,

    Sometimes you have no option but to use bad photos and "fudge" as best you can.  I have had to use bad photos for both animals and people who were long dead.  I just collect all the photos I can and try to reconstruct from there. 
     It is not easy, but is a learning process in its own right.  The resulting gratitude of recipients of the paintings has made the process more than worthwhile, in my experience.

  • TedBTedB -
    edited April 2022
    Most photographs have exaggerated contrast and chroma. The technology is programmed that way for a more vibrant result. They used to call this "postcard color".

    Depending on what software you might have, consider altering the color balance and the contrast halfway to "gray" and comparing it to your digital "original".
  • @TedB, I have encountered this "postcard color" problem repeatedly. It's giving me grief right now with the the painting I am about to start. Down here in Tasmania we have the cleanest air and water in the world apart from Antarctica and the skies and seas are brilliant blues and greens. But the camera exaggerates even these. I shoot RAW in an effort to overcome it but the colours and contrasts are still too strong. I know this is so because my usual practice is to make colour notes on site for my landscapes as well as to take photos. The photos are always too high in chroma and so I have rely on my colour notes for colour. But you can also do a lot in Photoshop and Affinity Photo to dial down the chroma and vibrancy. I do that until I can get the colour in my prints to match my colour notes. I rely on the photos for detail and my images editors to help me with composition but for colour I rely on the colour notes I make on site on scraps of canvass. This is one way to get around the problem if it's not possible to work entirely en plein air:)
  • Hi @tassieguy that’s a really good suggestion, doing on. site color notes, I’m working off a photo right now that is from a close enough place that I can revisit it and do that and retake photo …so will do that today 👍🏻. I found that in my planning that the colors are to strong … there’s my answer. I also recently got a new updated apple tablet and a apple pen 2 so I’m learning Procreate to use in planning my paintings too.. lots to learn 🤔. 
    Hope your feeling better , take care.
  • Thankfully image editors can alter chroma and lightness really easily. But yes we are surrounded by high chroma photos (and impressionist style paintings) that it can be hard not to want to boost up the chroma. I know when I did this for one painting I didn't like the results, so try hard to stay with more natural colours now.
  • Hi, @joydeschenes. I'm getting better, thank you.

    It gets bloody cold in Tasmania in winter, and I'm getting a bit old to be standing out in the weather trying to do large paintings en plein air, so taking colour notes is a shortcut. I hope you find it useful.  :)
  • You need some kind of portable greenhouse.. :D
  • I had a big one of those on the farm, @Richard_P, but too hot in there for me. A portable one might be the go but they're only warm inside when the sun is shining and in Tassie in winter that happens more or less, approximately, never. :)
  • Earlier in this post, I commented about not using overexposed photos.  I fear it may have come off a little harsh.  I didn't mean it that way.  I have used many overexposed, fuzzy, raggedy old photos to paint many of my paintings.  Like Don Quixote, my use of these poor photos is my windmill.  My artistic goal for the last 10 years or so has been to paint free for parents portraits of their children killed in the 911 wars.  It's not hard to figure out that more than half of the photos I receive from parents range from poor to bad.  They are old, out of date photos, or grab shots taken on the run.  From this, I try to find material for a painting.  So far, I have painted around 300 portraits for families.  So, I  know about using poor photos because I've used many of them.  I was thinking about Mark's video in which I believe his intent was that a poor photo could be "fixed" by going out and taking another.  In my case, and perhaps in yours, too, there was no chance of 'acquiring" a new and better photo.
  • @broker12 I have used AI enhancement programmes to greatly improve bad or old photos. Maybe that would help?
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