How to Shoot Your Own Reference Photos

Shooting your own photo references for your artwork can be very effective for getting the visuals you need!

This video explains what is necessary for a photo reference to be effective, what visual elements to look for and emphasize, how to make choices on setting up a model, lighting, props, and more.

Discussion led by Art Prof Clara Lieu and Teaching Artists Lauryn Welch and Cat Huang.

Prof Lieu’s Tips

I don’t think it’s bad to work from photos at all! I use photos all the time. There’s a big difference between using a photo as raw material that you then manipulate and transform, vs. copying a photo verbatim.

I think the most effective use of a reference photo is when you look at the artwork, you don’t think to yourself “that’s from a photo.” It’s a tough skill and takes many years of experience to do it well.

Video Walkthrough

  • Google Images is convenient, but it’s very limited.
  • Many images you find online are low resolution and poor quality.
  • Finding a good reference photo is surprisingly difficult & time consuming.
  • Photos of people online are often Photoshopped and too “perfect.” Shooting your own reference photos seems like extra work, but the results are really worth your time.
  • Shoot TONS of reference photos when you do.
  • It’s always okay to have too many reference photos.
  • Not having enough reference photos is a hassle.
  • Shoot various points of view: from above, from below, from the side.
  • Avoid copying the reference photo’s composition verbatim.
  • Think about your reference photo as a raw material you will manipulate and transform dramatically.
  • It’s not a good sign if your reference photo looks better than your artwork.
  • You can set up a specific lighting situation when you shoot your own photos.
  • You don’t always have to plan the exact reference photo you want.
  • Try shooting some spontaneous reference photos to get new ideas.
  • Blend together multiple photo references to create your artwork.
  • Sometimes you can shoot a reference photo of yourself.
  • Other times you will need someone to model for you for the photo.
  • Use pieces of a reference photo; perhaps you want to use a similar color scheme and put it in a new context in your artwork.

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