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  1. #1
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    Drawing from photo reference- Bad habits

    Hey everyone,

    Along time ago my teacher explained why drawing from photo references is a bad idea, something about when the photo is taken the camera clips or distorts the image. However I cannot remember exactly what he said, could anyone explain in more detail how the camera distorts the image? I also realize that drawing from life in general is more effective and gives you a stronger understanding. It's just bugging me trying to figure out what his exact explanation was.

    thanks

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  3. #2
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    "Camera Distortion", Page 193 "Creative Illustration" (265 on the pdf).
    http://acid.noobgrinder.com/Loomis/

    There are other reasons as to why photo ref should be used with caution.

    -Cameras have one eye, we (hopefully) have two
    -Cameras have a very limited dynamic range compared to human eyes- we can distinguish many more shades of light through dark than cameras can.
    -Your eyes can "white balance" on the fly, focus and aperture settings are kinda automatic, cameras generally can't do this well.
    -The colours are always wrong.
    -Unless you shot it yourself, it's probably been Photoshopped to death.

    Last edited by Flake; December 22nd, 2008 at 04:41 PM.
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  5. #3
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    thanks alot this helps!

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  6. #4
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    it is however still slightly confusing to me even after reading the link you sent me, I just dont understand the interior of the camera enough I guess, it's hard to comprehend how much the figure is being compressed and distorted when we take a photo at a closer range. I understand stand that it does now, I just do not fully comprehend the underlying meanings.

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  7. #5
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    Everything is relative though. Our eyes are far from perfect. The thing about working from photos (regarding distortion) is just being aware of what lens distortion is and why it occurs. There are all kinds of situations where it may or may not be appropriate to distort or correct your subject in a drawing or painting. If you're doing a dynamic action scene with limbs and such flying at the viewer, you'll approach the figure (in terms of foreshortening and distortion) very differently from an image of somebody seen from a great distance.

    As far as compression of color and value ranges, these are things that you can learn to correct by doing alot of study from life. Once again, you can better control it once you've had a fair amount of experience working both with photos and with direct observation.

    so to better understand the underlying meanings, you really just need to roll up your sleeves and start experimenting. Shoot photos up close, shoot photos far away, shoot under different lighting, shoot with wide lenses and with telephoto lenses, shoot from eye level, shoot from knee level. You'll understand better with hands on experience. Then, compare what you see from the camera to what you see in reality. The more you play around with these things, the more you learn how things can be seen differently and how to make this work for you. Even if you then choose to never use a direct photo reference, I personally feel that knowing how and why a camera and lens operate will strengthen your ability to create believable space.

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    Tristan Elwell
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  11. #7
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    This may have been included in the links already, but I think a big proportion disparity is that the lens shape causes the image to be fish-eyed (slightly convex). Things closer to the middle of the image are represented as being slightly larger than they are in life

    While I haven't experimented with this myself, I believe some of the photo distortion could possibly be corrected by adding a very slight reverse fish-eye effect (concave distortion) on an image in Photoshop.

    (Can any of you prove/disprove this?)


    Also, I was told that some digital cameras actually squeeze the sides of images slightly, in order to "improve" the image by making the subjects look thinner...


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  13. #8
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    Lenses come in a wiiiiiiiiide variety and some fisheye by design (for super wide angle, popular for landscape photography) while others distort due to simply being inferior quality. Longer lenses should give minimal distortion in this respect, but they also require you to be very far from your subject and tend to give everything a very flat look.

    I've done some distortion correction in photoshop (really only when shooting paintings though, where the subject is flat and it's easy to see if the square of the painting surface is wonky), though that was with my old camera which had a kinda crappy lens. I use a Sigma lens at 35mm now and it has barely any perceptible distortion for shooting paintings, so I haven't had to bother about it.

    As far as shooting people, I don't know if it's practical to compensate in photoshop. It seems a much better method to me to just study and have a good understanding of both the human figure and the equipment you're using. You, in the end, need to decide what looks right and what looks wrong.

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  15. #9
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    Also, photos flatten three dimensional objects. If you don't understand the forms first, then your studies/copies will feel just as flat if not more so.

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    Interesting point is though, that Sargent, Schmidt, Speed, Leffel, right side of the brain and countless others say the less you know about your subject the easier it is to accurately depict it, In fact, I think he said somewhere he'd rather you know nothing at all about you subject ( So as to paint what you SEE, not what you think it should look like)

    We are usually also taught to paint patches of light, and focus on abstract elements, NOT to try to depict form (at least not until the final stages of a painting) for a more accurate representation. Kinda goes againt the whole " photographys bad because it flattens shapes and simplifies values". Thats what one does with a Lorrain mirror too, AND squinting for that matter.

    Then its up to you where you take the piece after that. Most artist would like their paintings to have a little something else than what looks like a straight up photo anyways right?

    They all had extraordinary abilities of course and knew forms inside out, but still, Its an interesting contradiction, don't you think?

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    As a fan of comics, in which photoreferencing is taking over, I dislike this method because the action ends up looking static and expressionless. It's referecing an object or person stuck in time. If the artist is just doing a poster or a cover it's not so bad; but in sequential storytelling, where movement must be captured, it renders a lot of actions unintelligible.

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  21. #12
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    the less you know about your subject the easier it is to accurately depict it, In fact, I think he said somewhere he'd rather you know nothing at all about you subject ( So as to paint what you SEE, not what you think it should look like)
    it's not a bad argument, and it certainly makes sense that even if you have no idea how, say, a hand is constructed, it will look like a hand of you exactly replicate the shapes of light and dark. The problem with this is that it's very very difficult to do this by eye and takes a tremendous amount of practice. Meanwhile, you're probably going to start understanding those structures anyhow. Supposing that you don't though, you're training yourself to be 100% dependent on your reference and unable to make choices which will sacrifice "reality" for message, aesthetic improvement, or any number of other reasons why one may choose to deviate from, or flat out ignore, some aspect of their refs.

    Knowing why light reacts the way it does on different surfaces, how perspective works, the structure of the human body, etc... knowing these things doesn't stop you from seeing them in front of you. I think it helps you to see them because you know what to look for and how to process it. Otherwise, there's just too much information to absorb and transform into a 2 dimensional image. You need to make choices. Lots and lots and LOTS of choices. Wouldn't you rather make informed choices?

    Sargent and Schmidt can talk in abstract theory about this and break it down as to what we really are looking at or creating in pushing pigments around on a piece of cloth or wood, but it's just theory. They both have a terrific understanding not only of the human form (and particularly the head), but of light and form in general.

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  23. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by timpaatkins View Post
    Interesting point is though, that Sargent, Schmidt, Speed, Leffel, right side of the brain and countless others say the less you know about your subject the easier it is to accurately depict it, In fact, I think he said somewhere he'd rather you know nothing at all about you subject ( So as to paint what you SEE, not what you think it should look like)
    I see where you are coming from with that, but I'd disagree. Knowing your subject matter helps to clarify what it is you are seeing when your observation or other conditions fail. Having knowledge beyond what you can see gives you confidence and allows you to make choices. For example the situation where what you see is actually a confusing mess. Knowing what is actually there allows you to make decisions so that your painting isn't the same confusing mess that reality may be.

    If you had absolute beginners, and your goal was to get the best image out of them, rather than to teach, I could see giving them something they weren't familiar with to force them to actually study what was in front of them. Maybe you've forced them into observation because they have nothing else to fall back on, and gotten good results, but I'm not sure you've impressed upon them the importance of observation in the same way you would if they had painted something they thought they knew and showed them how wrong they were. It's like the trick where you paint something upside down. It's a good exercise for learning to copy what you see, but it isn't a good learning tool for understanding WHY what you see looks like it does. I think those tricks are only of limited value, and understanding is more valuable than just forcing a limited copy of what you see.

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