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Portrait painting from photography

Portrait painting from photography

Portrait painting from photography, what do you need to know?

The portrait all the way at the bottom is painted from a live session. Based on this portrait I will show you what are the pitfalls in case of portrait painting from photography.

 (Below: after a live session I always make a photograph of the sitter for comparison.)

portrait painting from photography

The left copy is too light, the right one is OK.

  • 1. It is very important that the copy of the shot is printed dark enoughPrints often are too light, as most cameras nowadays are adjusted to a large light-dark contrast. For family snapshots that is a perfect solution, but not for portrait painting. Make sure that the local colour and tonal value of the skin is not too light. (My model is always outside in the open air, therefore he is strongly tanned by the sun. Hence, the darker picture does more justice to that reality.)

But what is that, the local colour?

It is the actual, pure skin colour. So to say, look for zones of the skin on which there are no light spots and not in planes that belong to the halftone or the shadow. You must be able to detect the real skin tone and the good tonal value. Therefore all that information must be visible, at least to a certain extent, on the photo print.


portrait painting from photography

  • 2. A photo print gives limited colour information. For an interesting painting it is better to add colour, as I did for example in the background. Also in the flesh tones are more colours than a photo will show. In my painting more yellow ocher can be seen on the temple, more crimson on the cheek, more gray on the chin and more green in the shadow part of the cheek. All of that is difficult to perceive on a photo print. So try to invent some colour. (Look also here for common skin colours)

  • 3. In portrait painting from photography there is a tendency to copy exactly every wrinkle and every subtle detail. Don´t do that.

Try to keep it as simple as possible, without too much unnecessary explanations. A nice portrait with a good likeness does not depend on the accumulation of details!

Show your painting skills with bold brushwork. That is where the power is!

See also this post.

My workshop portrait painting in France this summer.

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