An Artist’s Guide to Using Camera Technology, Part 3


Pastel painting by Richard McKinley


This week’s post continues the conversation from last week and covers a few more ways digital camera technology can be utilized while painting.

The grayscale image conversion discussed in the previous post is very helpful, especially if you struggle with the relative lightness and darkness of color masses within your paintings.

My photo reference seen in a "posterize" setting.

Utilizing this monochromatic digital setting for analysis of both the reference scene and the painting can be taken a step farther by utilizing image processing filters that simplify the value contrasts of the image. One filter that is part of many digital photo-processing programs found on computers, and available in many photo manipulating applications for smart phones and digital notebooks like the Mac iPad, is: “Posterize.” In Adobe Photoshop, this setting is found under: Image/Adjustments/Posterize. Leaving the “Levels” setting on 4 will associate three values to the image: light, middle and dark. Changing the “Levels” setting to 2 will make the image appear in only two values: light and dark. This is akin to the Notan sketch principle of analyzing a scene by simplifying its make-up into abstract value masses to better understand and control the compositional design.

Another useful way of using a digital camera while painting is to take a reference photo of the scene and preview it on the small LCD screen. Details and nuances will be lost when viewed small, allowing the major contrasts of the scene to stand out. While a scene may contain interesting subject matter, it is the make-up of the compositional elements of shape, value and color contrasts that make it successful. If you are working relatively large, it is also helpful to occasionally snap a photo of the painting in progress to see if it is compositionally sound. A general rule of thumb is that a large painting should look good when viewed small. It is why we are encouraged to stand back to evaluate a work in progress. A quick review of the camera’s LCD viewer can provide a similar comparison.

Finally, one of the most useful ways of utilizing a digital camera while painting is to record the stages of a paintings progress. Taking a moment to capture the initial drawing on the surface, followed by the first applications of product, and the subsequent stages toward completion, can prove very educational. Even if the final painting is not a framer, having the ability to go back and review the process will afford you the ability to ascertain what went right and went wrong. This leads to heightened intuition, and intuition is what ultimately guides the artist’s hand.

For many painters, the camera is a curse. For others, it is a useful tool. While it might be nice to fantasize about what the world would be like without its influence, one thing is for certain: Technology will continue to develop, and innovative artists will employ it. Instead of being photography’s slave, I encourage you to understand its limitations and harness its attributes.

Watch Maggie Price demonstrate her techniques for painting from photos in this free video preview. For the complete video, visit ArtistsNetworkTV.

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