Photoshop Techniques to Create Photo Reference

Luana Luconi Winner’s Book, Painting Classic Portraits: Great Faces Step by Step, is in stores now. To celebrate this fantastic guide on how to capture faces, from different skin colors to getting proportions and shapes just right, we’re giving you a free excerpt about how you can make the most of your photo references using Photoshop® techniques. Read on to find out how to remove color from your photo to create gorgeous grayscale tones and learn why making an image black-and-white can help you paint better portraits.

Painting Classic PortraitsDigital Techniques in the Art Studio

Working with people in their own spaces, instead of the light-controlled painting studio, creates constant challenges for the portrait painter. Often the location is so much of the story of the painting, any assistance in data collection is valued.

Digital has changed the way we use photography. Its greatest asset is the obvious ability to shoot and immediately see what was captured. It’s particularly useful when working with large outdoor sculptures or at locations that have finicky weather. Constantly active children and their pets pose different challenges. Props that are too large or too valuable to move to the studio for a later sitting also need to be photographed. Also, military uniforms with their intricate insignias, ribbons, braid and exacting details; wedding dresses; debutante gowns or any clothing with complicated designs, beading or lace are more easily painted from life in the studio or by using macro close-up photography.

Digital photography manipulated on the computer screen can help us strengthen our drawing and observation skills. Here are a few helpful digital tools for the portrait artist.

Locate and Simplify Form

Value is one of the hardest things to determine when drawing and painting each area of the drawing. Strong rendering of the values will provide a form that will be solid and have dimension. Use any means you can to understand and strengthen this light/dark concept. Using digital photography and your computer will give you a unique opportunity to study values. Most software that arrives with new digital cameras or with an affordable,readily available software program like Adobe Photoshop Elements®, will help you perform a simple task, starting with changing a color photo into a monochromatic one. Make a colorful scene simpler to assimilate by removing all color from the digital image using Photoshop Elements so you can study the image’s values more easily.

Understand Value Divisions

If you are having trouble using a photo for reference, it is likely that the color is confusing you or the value differential is not broad enough on the value scale. Photoshop Elements can assist in dividing a photo into two, three, four or an infinite number of values. Let this help you practice and train your eye to see these variations. Use this computer technique whenever you are having trouble with drawing from life. This is a valid tool to teach yourself what to look for in life and future photography.

Monochromatic Textures

Really study the black-and-white image. Notice how much more closely related the textures and objects of different colors are. Might you have painted two objects too different if you had not seen it this way?

How to Remove Color From a Photo in Adobe Photoshop Elements®

1. Open a photo in Photoshop®.
2. Go to Enhance on the toolbar at the top of the screen.
3. Pull down the menu Enhance, and put the cursor on Adjust Color. This will open an additional menu to the side.
4. Find and click on Remove Color. This turns your color photo into a black-and-
white photo.

Like this demonstration? We think you’ll love this oil painting technique for black skin tone. For more on using digital techniques for your portrait photo references, snag a copy of Painting Classic Portraits: Great Faces Step by Step, or learn more about painting from photos with watercolor through our great Wet Canvas download.

Bonus article! Photo to Painting: How to Use a Photo Reference in Your Art (6 Reference Photography Tips and Tricks to Create Lifelike Artwork

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