My take on reference Photos

“Untitled” – 12×16 neocolors and colored pencils on Ampersand Pastelbord.

This is my recent commission piece which I have been working on for the past couple of weeks. All of my still life’s are drawn from photographs. I thought it would be interesting to write about how I manipulate my reference photos to achieve what I want. Over time I have discovered that we don’t need a perfect photo to use as a reference, an average photo or a set of photos works fine as well.

(Click to enlarge)

Here’s my reference I used for this piece. As you can see the reference has too many unwanted reflections and bright highlights. I had to make several decisions before I started in order to achieve the desired result. I tend to keep my piece realistic rather than photo realistic so I had to make sure that the source of light was subdued. When I was taking this picture I just had 5 apples so I had to stitch 2 photos (thanks to photoshop!!) in order to get this set up. I also used PS and created a seamless background.

The biggest challenge always is the silver; it looks really pretty in a setup but its very hard to take a good picture of it especially if you are an amateur photographer like me. But it’s easy to mimic silver in the painting if you understand some basic qualities about it. First, it reflects everything around it so you can see my whole room in here!!  Secondly, there is always a darkest spot next to the brightest spot. Meaning the highlights are most likely to be surrounded with dark lines making them pop up.

Note the multiple distorted reflections of the Apple on the bowl.Adding these emphasizes the curves of the bowl & plate and makes the piece more realistic.

Thirdly, adding the reflections of objects on the surface. The reflections of the objects on the surface always follows the contour of the surface; in this case it’s a variety of curves and ellipses.The reflections are distorted (most of the time) according to that same contours. So the apple’s reflection on the bowl is distorted according to it’s curve and does not appear spherical.

One tip while working would be to look at the piece in the mirror from time to time. The geometrical errors would be so evident when it’s reflected. Last but not the least, the most important thing in any painting is deciding which stuff to keep and which ones to ignore. Avoiding unwanted reflections – in this case the reflections of pictures that were up on my wall was the key. Always follow the old adage: Less is more.

Once the piece is complete all you see is a still life with just silver and apples. If you have more tips on creatively using your reference photos that you would like to share email me!


One thought on “My take on reference Photos

  1. Thanks for showing us how to deal with reflections. I love to do silver and cut glass–VERY CHALLENGING..and you do have to cut down on all the can drive you NUTS! Ha.

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