Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Optimizing Photo Reference in Landscape Painting

To Crop Or Not To Crop! 

I take a lot of landscape photographs. Panoramic, far, near, close-ups, it doesn't matter. I'm a photo junkie. Just ask my wife who always complains that we have more shots of trees than relatives when we travel!

I paint from life en plein air and I also paint from photographs as I noted in an earlier post. When I shoot a scene I try to compose the best shot in the viewfinder so that any future composition is "ready made" but there are exceptions to this and they have to do with cropping a photo on your computer.

I look at enlarged shots on my computer screen to not only see details but to see if there is another picture inside the larger one just waiting to get out.

Making the best use of a photograph.

Using a simple photo editor I can crop out select areas of a photo to see if it makes a good composition. For example in this photo I took a small area, cropped it and then enlarged.

From photo by Warren Peterson, Warren Peterson Fine Art

It has the makings of a cool painting -  single focal point, good use of negative space and a strong foreground. It so happens that the original photo is a much broader shot. It has a lot of character and unique elements and the two photos are good subjects. Here's the full shot.

Photo by Warren Peterson, Warren Peterson Fine Art

Judicious cropping can solve a number of composition issues. Let's say you really like a possible subject and take what you think is a great shot of a great looking tree, as shown below but on review there is to much detail on the right side of the photograph and the composition is lop sided.

Photo by Warren Peterson, Warren Peterson Fine Art

In this crop I looked for the opportunity to tell the story of the main tree while getting some flavour of its setting. Here's what I did.

From photo by Warren Peterson, Warren Peterson Fine Art

The tree trunk here is now a small landscape unto its own! It would make a great 18"x24" painting and I would even consider taking out some of  the background trees.

Be picky!

Artists train their eyes to see the possibilities in a scene and in landscape painting training your eye to edit out too much information is very important for you to grow. Landscapes are rarely all made up just perfect for an artist. You need to be selective and learn how to edit a landscape, either while painting en plein air or in your studio using photo reference since reproducing the details in paint can drive you crazy. Some artists revel in this challenge, others like to let your eye fill in the blanks.

In this shot you can see a great looking waterfall with the fast flowing river descending into the foreground.

Algoma waterfall, with permission from Eric Peterson, Photographer

There's at least two other compositions in this shot. One is a close-up of the foreground.

Algoma waterfall close-up, with permission from Eric Peterson, Photographer 

The other is a close-up of the background.

Algoma waterfall close-up, with permission from Eric Peterson, Photographer 

Three paintings in one! Always edit from their original raw or largest dpi state to get the best results. Reduce their size by choosing a percentage lower than 100 before cropping so you can see the whole photo.

Get personal.

Getting close to your landscape subject is near impossible for some scenes unless you have eyes like a hawk or a telephoto lens. I don't have either so I rely on a few clicks on my laptop to see what a scene may look like. Then again some scenes are best left alone. For example, we all have seen some incredible sunsets and are overwhelmed by their beauty, but try to paint one to capture that fleeting moment. In this cropping I was looking for a section of the photo that would give me the drama yet not so detailed as to start to look too busy. I cropped it like this:

From photo by Warren Peterson, Warren Peterson Fine Art

A little plain looking at first but it has some great colour and the sky is the hero. The original shot is one of my favourites, taken one early fall evening at our cottage on Lake Superior. And yes it was really like this!

Lake Superior Sunset by Warren Peterson, Warren Peterson Fine Art

Get cropping! 

Whether you have a great selection of landscape photographs or a tired collection and little time to add to it you can jump start your painting by looking at them with your artists' eye and an editing function on your computer. Try some out. Play around with the editing settings and give your photographs a new chance to become a great work of art from your artistic interpretation of the scene.

Who knows what's lurking in your camera or photo file just itching to get out.

Happy cropping!

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