Monday, July 28, 2014

Photographs Are 99% Wrong

Photography is certainly a necessary part of painting but we need to be aware of certain limitations. My students remember the small sign in my studio that reads "Photographs Are 99% Wrong".

The mechanical camera has no emotional response to the subject matter. Depending on your exposure settings, colors in shadows may be too dark and light areas may be bleached out. The visual depth of field is altered, flattening the perspective and putting everything in focus, often distorting shapes at the edges of the picture frame. Colors shift according to the camera's digital interpretation. Colors and values are further shifted by viewing on a computer monitor or having the photograph printed. 

So what are your options? We do need the photograph as a reference for the general scene. Remember all the photographs you took on vacation - and how many of them were a disappointment? Paintings that adhere too closely to a photograph often are a disappointment too, lacking emotion and having a stiff, overworked appearance, a poor composition and lacking color harmony.

Your Breakfast is Ready 9x12, oil SOLD

Reference Photo

First, and most importantly, use your own photographs. You already have an emotional connection to the scene - to what was happening at that time, the people you were with, the sounds and the smells and your own response. The camera can't register any of this. Emotion is what you need to incorporate into your painting.  

Begin by looking closely at the photograph, asking yourself what impressed you about this scene. This will tell you what is important and what objects were “just there” and need to be omitted. Lightly sketch in your composition, moving or eliminating objects and modifying shapes.

Before you begin to paint, indicate the extremes - the darkest dark, lightest light, most intense color and the sharpest edge. Most of these extremes will be in the center of interest. These are your boundaries.

Once you have the basic composition and the extremes in place, put the photo down. Now paint, incorporating your emotional response and artistic knowledge. Employ all the concepts you have learned – aerial perspective, color harmony, correcting compositional errors, modifying boring shapes and eliminating distracting objects.

Don’t put in something “just because it was there”. Paint the way the eye sees by enhancing the center of interest and downplaying the edges. Think about the actual scene and how it impressed you at the time and paint your interpretation. Your painting will be so much better than the photograph.

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