10 Tips for Taking Artist Reference Photos

camera reference photoResource photos provide invaluable reference material for your paintings and will complement any on-the-spot sketches you may want to do of a location or subject matter.  If you need to take reference photos for your paintings, here are some tips and things to keep in mind.

Tip #1: Photograph objects or locations that interest you. The same applies if you want to paint people or animals. The reason for this is you will be spending a lot of time staring at those subjects as you create your painting. If you don’t like the subject matter, it will show in your painting.


lunar landscape painting on canvas“Moonset”
Space Art by Teresa Bernard
20″ x 16″
Oils on gallery wrap stretched canvas

>> More info


Tip #2: Have a camera available to use at all times, if possible. A good “point and shoot” digital camera will work for this. They are affordable and easy to use. Try to get one with at least 12.1 megapixel capability. Never leave home without your camera. You never know when “photo ops” will present themselves. So be prepared.

Tip #3: Remember the basic rules of composition also apply to photography. Before snapping your photo, try composing the subject matter in your viewfinder. The more your do at this step in the process, the less work there will be when you actually compose your composition on canvas. A good rule of thumb is to utilize the Rule of Thirds when deciding upon the placement of objects within the scene.

For more information about the Rule of Thirds refer to the article titled “Creating Better Compositions in All Your Paintings“.

Tip #4: Take lots of photos from may different angles and levels. Take at least a dozen or so photos, if not more. Later as you are looking at them on your computer the many photos will allow you to determine what elements will work in the composition and which ones will not. At least one (maybe more) will present itself as being the best one to use to compose your painting from. Set aside photos that simply don’t work. Never settle for using a photo that you don’t feel good about.

Tip #5: Use your zoom to get close-up shots for detail. If you can’t zoom in close enough then your shot will probably not provide you the detail you might need.

Tip #6: Don’t limit yourself to taking photos from eye level only. Bend down or even lay down to get a bugs-eye point of view or stand on something for a birds-eye view. These angles can also make interesting compositions for your paintings.

Tip #7: When photographing a building, it’s best to move around and photograph one section at a time and squarely on. The picture of the building will be distorted if you stay in one spot and pivot your camera.

Tip #8: For panoramic views of a location, it is best way to snap a number of photos that overlap each other. The next step is to piece them together using Photoshop or some other photo manipulation software program. Consider taking portrait (vertical) shots rather than landscape (horizontal).

Tip #9: Snap resource photos to capture fleeting moments. Moments like cloud formations, sunrises and sunsets, birds in flight, or seascapes.

See article titled “Photographing the Setting Sun for Your Sunset Paintings” for more information on shooting reference photos of sunsets.

Tip #10: Take reference photos when you have a model sitting for you. They can reduce the time a model needs to sit for you. Utilize your resource photos when painting the extra details in portraits, such as clothes and chairs, etc. They can also be referred to when it isn’t convenient for the model to be in the studio.

Additional Reading

Is It Really Okay For Artists To Use Reference Photos? Part 1 and Part 2