Oil Painting from a photo isn't that difficult when you remember these steps.

How to paint from a photo in just a few steps!

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Oil painting from a photo or photographs can seem difficult once you start, and things just go to pieces, and you wonder what happened to the painting that seemed to start out so well.

If you look for advice on the web, most of the site's that come up when you search for "photo paintings", are sites that want you to send them a photo, and they paint it for you.  For a price!

Why not try it yourself first!  How to paint from a photo in just a few steps.  Check out how we start the process.

Well, lets try to start you off in the right direction.

If you’re one of those folks that can free hand an image directly to the canvas (and there are many that can!) without much to use other then the pencil in your hand for checking measurements, well, I'm jealous!

Bear with us cheaters as we discuss this very important first step in the process.  Even though Leonardo Da Vinci had a great command and dexterity of the pencil to draw exactly what he saw, he also used a primitive form of camera that helped speed up his process.

Vermeer did too!

If you’re reading this, then obviously you have a computer.  Most of us can’t afford a computer within our studio or painting space, but if you can, it will help greatly in this process of oil painting from a photo.  

Most computer stores today, especially the little Mom&Pop shops, sell used laptops and older dinosaurs very cheaply.  Some even for under $100.  All you need is a computer that will run an imaging program in order for you to view the image up close, and also a few other tricks that I will list below, while in your painting space.

Since you're using modern technology with painting from a photo, then you should think about incorporating that 2nd hand computer out in the garage for a few steps I talk about next.

So lets get started!

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A few major points to remember in oil painting from a photo:

The first thing we need to talk about is transferring that photograph to a canvas.  I talk about it some here in learn to draw, transferring your drawing.  It mentions the use of carbon paper, or graphite transfer paper to transfer your image. 

This is from a computer printout of your photo.  Yes, you need to scan your picture in, transfer it from your camera to your computer using the cable that came with it.  Or have some else scan it to a USB stick drive to upload it to your computer.  The objective, get the photo into your computer.

The drawing lesson link above also discusses the grid method, and a projector method (my favorite). Two additional ways to get that photo onto your canvas in an accurate method.

I'll talk about another method here, not mentioned elsewhere on the site, and it involves the computer you're viewing this site with! 

Most image programs allow you to print out a copy of your photo.  It should also have a print command that allow you to blow up or enlarge the photo, like a poster.  It will print out several sheets of paper that you tape together to create the complete picture. 

I mention this because most photo's are smaller than the painting you want to do, and this is a viable method to use in getting an accurate picture on paper of what you wish to paint.

Of coarse, you tell the program the size of your canvas and it will match the photo to the canvas in size prior to printing.

This print out can also be in black and white, or gray scale printing.  You'll be drawing over top of it, so no need for the color ink.  Once this is done, you are well on your way to painting from a photo!

After you've printed out your picture, use the "gray scale" or "black and white" setting to print out one more picture of your photo in a gray scale (no color).  This print out will make your painting of the dead layer sooooo easy! You can do it on a single sheet of paper (smaller) to hold in one hand while painting.  That should be large enough to get what you need.

Now, if you have the computer in your painting space, you can also view your photo in gray scale or black and white on your monitor.

Once you have everything together, and you're ready to start tracing, what do you trace?

Check out this photo.

painting from photo example

This picture is from my Value Scale in art lesson.

But it shows you some trace lines similar to what you want to do with your own drawing.  Maybe not so many in the center of the apple, just your major intersections between light and dark.

Use cross hatching to catch area in between light and dark, or where a smooth transition if taking place.

Once you have this done, your drawing traced, creating your painting from a photo becomes super easy!  Continue to follow the Flemish Technique navigation button on the left.

Or you may want to use the alla-prima method, a direct method or process of painting to complete your painting with.

Whichever method you decide, read below some of the things you need to be mindful of when painting from a photo:

Things to remember when oil painting from a photo.

Now, here's your list of pitfalls, problems, and general area's of concern I have to pass onto you before you begin this project.

  • Use your own photo's, period! Never copy someone else's unless you are 100% sure it is not copyrighted.  Bad stuff can happen when involved in copyright infringement.
  • There are clearing houses for buying stock photo royalty free, which means you can use them according to their license.  Too much legaleese gets involved here, so I won't bore you with licensing details, just remember. 
  • If you didn't take the picture, and you didn't get written permission from uncle Fred to paint his trophy rainbow trout when he was in the process of netting him, then don't paint it! A photo clearing house will state their rules well as to what and how you can use their photo's.
  • You can check our free photo stock.  There is a number of great photo's that readers have given full permission for you to use in painting the image.  Go through them and see what your next master piece will be!
  • Oil painting from photo's also have a pitfall that is difficult to overcome unless you actually took the photo yourself, and made a few color studies.  Film camera's and digital camera's can skew the color terribly.  They get close, but they cannot mimmick fully the way your eye persieves color.  Women can see a few band a violets and pinks that us men lack. (we don't have the receptors!)  Women can see a lot of things most men miss, but that's another subject you can take up with my wife! I just claim the 5th!
  • There is also the pitfall of the camera not having the depth of contrast that your eye can detect.  So shadow's with all manner of beautiful blues and reds will just come out black in the camera!  Keep that in mind when landscape photographing.  Take a few snaps close up or zoomed in of the shadow areas.  These may reveal the colors once you get back in the studio.
  • Don't be a slave to the photo.  Even within the photo-realistic genre of painting, if the leaf or flower head is mispositioned slightly, we take artistic license to move it in the painting if it makes for a better balance.

I hope this will be a good launching point for you to utilize some of modern technologies wonders and oil painting from photo's will be an easier method for you to paint by.

Keep me posted of your work, won't you?  Post them to the Your Paintings section of the site.


Till next time, Happy Painting!

Click here to head back to the top of our oil painting from a photo page.

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