Shooting 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.

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.


Flamingo Reference #51