Sunday, March 9, 2008

Portraits & Photo References

One of the most rewarding things about drawing is doing a portrait. It can also be one of the most frustrating. I use photographs as references to draw. Sadly, reference pictures are usually less than desirable and they may be the only picture someone has of this person or pet which makes it very emotional too.

Nine times out of ten, the reference picture is blurry or taken with the dreaded flash, which flattens out all the details. My heart goes out to a person that wants a portrait done but just has one lousy reference picture, making it all but impossible to see those details that will make a drawing come to life. The client also has the advantage too of personal knowledge of the subject so a lot of times they are recalling memories instead of what is in front of them in the picture. They don't understand why the picture they have is not a good reference. I have stressed out numerous times when doing a portrait from a bad reference picture - it isn't fun! So far they have all turned out where the client is thrilled with the portrait but after stressing one too many times over bad reference pictures it is now my policy that I will not accept a commission for a portrait unless the reference picture is a good, clear, high resolution picture.

I'm not a photographer, but here are a few suggestions for you when taking pictures:
  • Go outside - a bright overcast day is great - it's not too bright and doesn't create harsh shadows.
  • Avoid using a flash. A flash will wash out color and flatten details.
  • When taking pictures of children or pets, get down on their level - or lower. Follow them around if you have to.
  • Get someone to help you when taking pictures of children or pets. Distracting them with a favorite toy can make for a great picture.
  • If you are taking pictures of several people or pets at different times but want them in the same portrait - try to get the sun/shadows coming from the same direction even if it is a different spot.
  • When you want two or more subjects in a portrait be sure to get at least one picture of all of them together so it will be easy to determine their sizes in relation to one another.
  • Take candid pictures - just sit and talk taking pictures occasionally - their personality will shine through.
  • Take close up pictures - fill the frame with the person's or pet's head. It is really difficult to do a detailed head portrait when you are looking at a tiny, full-body picture that doesn't even fill the frame.
  • Take lots of pictures. I can't tell you the number of times I've been told "that is the only picture I have of . . ."
  • Patience. Patience. Patience. It takes patience to get a good picture. Don't get in a hurry and don't get mad if you don't get the perfect picture on the first try. Have fun and take another picture!

I hope these suggestions will help you when you are taking pictures. Even if you don't want to commission a portrait you will come away with quality pictures for you to enjoy for a long, long time by putting a few of these suggestions in to practice.

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