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Thread: Using photo reference correctly
April 13th, 2008 #1
Using photo reference correctly
Is it ok to use photographic reference when making art?
Yes. In fact, it can be a very smart thing to do.
This is a scan from Norman Rockwell’s book Rockwell on Rockwell: How I Make a Picture. In his early career, Rockwell created his illustrations using live models. Later on, he adopted photography and projection because of their convenience and time-saving qualities.
Because of his excellent drawing skills, Rockwell can use the reference as the basis to create exactly the type of character he wants. Notice all of the small changes he makes. Sticking too close to the reference is often called “being a slave to the reference” and can result in characters that look too stiff or posed.
Also, if there are problems in the photo where the pose is not exact or clear, someone who can only trace will copy these problems into the final image. A skilled artist can solve the problems in the drawing.
Is it ok to use other people’s photos as reference?
It depends. Just like you own the copyright to your art, a photographer owns the copyright to his or her photos.
If you copy all or most of someone else’s photo without permission, this could be a copyright violation. There is no rule that says “if you change it X%, then it’s ok.” In U.S. courts, the test is if a reasonable observer could look at the original and the copy side-by-side and tell that it is a copy. It is ok to copy someone else’s photo as much as you want if it is only for your personal study. It is considered a courtesy to acknowledge your source if you then show that work to anyone.
Here are some examples of ways artists can use others’ photos as reference:
Using individual, generic parts of a photo. Ex. A tree, hills, clouds.
Using individual, specific parts of a photo. Ex. The Empire State Building, a Jeep.
For historical research. Ex. Looking at pictures of WWII uniforms to get the design accurate.
Gathering multiple photos of a subject without using a specific one. Ex. Looking at many photos of lions to see how they are built and how they move.
Using multiple photos for general inspiration. Ex. Gathering photos of different kinds of machinery in order to get inspiration for your own machine design.
If you're looking for good places to find reference on the internet, check out our wiki and references subforum.
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April 14th, 2008 #2
April 14th, 2008 #3
April 14th, 2008 #4
Visit Paul Cava's site to see some reference photography from Frank Brangwyn, Alphonse Mucha, and Maxfield Parrish.
Jon Foster process thread.
Photos from Art Out Loud 2 (scroll down): Jon Foster, Adam Rex, Dan Dos Santos, Greg Manchess, Julie Bell, and Boris Vallejo at work.
Art Out Loud 3 (scroll down): Donato Giancola and Todd Lockwood at work.
To see reference shots by CAers, visit the Show Us Your Reference thread.
April 25th, 2008 #5
I can't see what was so terrible about this thread to merit a one star rating. The star doesn't give me that information, whereas a constructive comment might.
I just figure people don't want to have to read things. That must be why a thread about posting other people's images with minimal commentary gets 5 stars.
I still think some people around here could stand to read a book.
April 25th, 2008 #6
Lovley thread thanks for posting it.
Dang about the 2 stars i've voted lets just hope more people move it up
I think i would personally follow Iain's way not a big fan of using refernce straight into the drawing
Last edited by Nibras; August 19th, 2008 at 10:43 AM.
April 25th, 2008 #7
This is a terrific thread and more people should read it!!! I have awarded it 5 stars because it is such an important topic. Not only should illustrators learn to use reference correctly, but we should learn to shoot our own (especially for figures).
April 25th, 2008 #8
April 25th, 2008 #9
Voted 5 to help bump this up. All the quotes were great to read. It's always good to get opinions from people you respect on matters like this.
Plus the Norman Rockwell stuff was just cool.'Cuz life is full of your regrets, and I should be one...
April 25th, 2008 #10
Helped by giving it a five, too, Luv. Great stuff that we all should have known when we were 10-years-old...No position or belief, whether religious, political or social, is valid if one has to lie to support it.--Alj Mary
Ironically, the concept of SIMPLICITY is most often misunderstood by simple-minded people. --Alj Mary
April 25th, 2008 #11
April 26th, 2008 #12
April 26th, 2008 #13
I'm amazed no one has thought of a thread like this before! Great ideas always seem obvious once somebody has one. 5 stars from me.
Emily, is that book on Rockwell's methods called 'Rockwell on Rockwell' and is it still in print? I saw one like this some while ago and couldn't get hold of it - it looks very much like the same book.From Gegarin's point of view
April 26th, 2008 #14
April 26th, 2008 #15
Emily, thanks for posting this. Great thread (5 stars )
I especially loved the Norman Rockwell stuff.
All the best,
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