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Re: Portrait Basics - Variations of Reference Photos

"Becky Laura" by Becky Syroka

Re: Portrait Basics - Variations of Reference Photos

Postby Becky Syroka » Mon Oct 19, 2009 6:26 pm

Reference Photos – Help to “SEE” Those Fine Details
Learning to “see” is the first step towards achieving a portrait likeness. Before I begin any portrait, I devote a considerable amount of time to studying every detail and nuance I can discern from my study photo. I will use the photo editing software on my computer to create a variety of reference photos. (If you do not have photo-editing software on your computer, you might request these same services from commercial providers such as Kinko’s, Office Max, etc.)

Prior to beginning any portrait project, I prepare myself a packet of variations of my study photo which is useful to me throughout the project. Below is my list along with a photo illustrating each type of photo.

1) I print my study photo on quality photo paper and to the exact same size and orientation that my project will be painted on your porcelain. (Photo paper allows the best crispness and clarity, especially compared with the slight blurr of the ink you typically get when printing on regular copy paper). The benefits far exceed the extra cost. This will be my primary visual reference while painting my portrait and I will also use this reference photo when comparing measurements with calipers or under grid. Below is the original study photo used by my recent seminar student Ruth Price of North Carolina. This is a photo of her son Robert.

Ruth Price original.jpg

2) I convert this study photo to black and white and print the B&W version as another reference photo. It is too easy for my eyes to confuse variations in color with variations in value. Eliminating color helps me to distinguish variations of values (relative gradation of light to dark). (TIP: When you think your painting is about finished, take a photo of your painting and then convert that photo to black and white and compare this B&W photo of your painting with your B&W study photo. You will immediately discern the areas and degree to which your painting might be lacking in values and this comparison will guide you to make any needed corrections). Remember - A primary reason a portrait might appear “blah” is because it lacks adequate value contrasts, so put your painting “to the black and white test”.

Ruth Price study b&W.jpg

3) Sometimes a study photo will have only subtle variations of values (even when converted to black and white). This can present a challenge because accuracy of likeness is dependent on accurately painting those shadow shapes that give form to facial contours and features in our painting. Here is another technique that helps me to “see”: Create an additional reference by editing the black and white version of the study photo by darkening the “exposure” or brightness level while also increasing the “contrast”. This exaggerated contrast version will help me see the patterns of both the shadow shapes and the highlight areas. It will also help me identify the brightest highlight areas and the darkest shadow areas (brightest lights and darkest darks).

Ruth Price study b&W Contrast.jpg

4) Crop and enlarge specific features within your study photo to give you a clearer view of the fine details (such as the eyes, the mouth, etc……ANY features for which you need a closer look.) Print copies of these enlarged features to use as references to guide your painting.

Ruth Price Study  Close up.jpg

Just remember – The better you can see it, the better your chance to capture the likeness. So, do yourself a big favor and take time and spend the extra money to edit your study photo and print off these helpful variations for your study reference.

By the way, Ruth did a FABULOUS job on her portrait. Here is a photo of her at the end of my seminar. She still had some more work left to finish her painting (background and fine details), but she obviously captured her son's likeness from the photo. GREAT job Ruth!!
;beer; ;thumps; ;bravo;

Ruth Price with her painting.jpg
Becky Syroka
Portraits on Porcelain
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Becky Syroka
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Joined: Sun Oct 11, 2009 7:14 pm
Location: Pennsylvania

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