Monday, December 22, 2014

Painting from Photographs

One thing that you hear from every good landscape painter is that you have to paint on location because photographs never contain the colors and values the human eye can see. I have found this to be true over and over. I paint on location and snap a photo for further reference. Back in the studio, the photo is always inferior in information compared to the plein air sketch.

This photo is a good example. It was taken by a friend walking in a field I often walk myself. I have seen this sunset sky and colors dozens of times. What doesn't the photo show? The camera pushes the values to the dark end of value scale, because the aperture on the camera has closed down to give a truer value to the sky. The camera always compensates to retain the color and value in the area with the most light (the sky), to keep it from being burned out. That looks great in a photo. But the mid and mid dark values are pushed into a tighter value range than they actually were. The distinction in value between the horizontal plane (the ground) and the inclined planes (the hills) is almost lost. Having walked here at this time of day, I know that the horizontal ground plane was lighter in value than in the photo. It most directly faces the light from the sky.

Another problem is that the temperature play between warm and cool has almost totally been lost in the photo. The light was coming from the left and the left side of each tree was lighter and influenced by the pink light. You could see the temperature variation on the green hill, between the areas in light and the areas where the trees blocked the light.

Also, the dark vertical planes of the trees have very little color in the photo. They are almost black. To the eye, I could see the warm toned green of the trees. They were dark but I could see the local color. The further trees were distinctly bluer. The photo doesn't show this.

If you have painted on location a lot, it will be easier to work from photos ... because you will be aware of what is missing and what has been changed. You can make adjustments that correct the shortcomings of the photo.

It is a lovely scene, though. You can imagine what is was to walk through it.