Do you paint from photos or screens?

When you paint from a photo reference, do you print it out or paint straight from a computer/tv/ipad screen? Why?

I love to paint straight from my computer screen. I have a little laptop that I bring into my studio and put beside me when I paint. I think the colors are so much richer than from a printed photo. Plus I can adjust the photo just like I want it, crop easily, put in grid lines and then erase them when I’m done drawing, and even try stuff out on the photo (like turning the background blue) before I commit the paint to my painting.


I love using my iPad, set up on a very versatile stand (by Rocketfish). I can bring up a photo, crop and edit the heck out of it using iPhoto and other editing apps, and then paint from it. All while streaming whatever lovely tunes I feel like, and checking my email, looking at Carol’s website…etc!! (I think Apple now owes me some advertising fees!!)

Shelley Breton


I use photos to do an initial thumbnail sketch. Afterward, I paint from both photos and the computer screen - whichever provides the best image. I do tweak my photos a little in Photoshop when I feel the contrast, color or saturation needs to be adjusted and the photos/computer screen images reflect those preferences. I like the photos when I’m working out the design and the computer screen when I want to get a sense of the light (since screens illuminate the image from behind and give a closer approximation of what I actually saw). That said, nothing beats painting from life.

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Me too! All of the above.

I use ipad, iphone and my pc with Icloud photostream to open on all devices.

I like to use my iPad or laptop screen. Sometimes I have to email a photo to myself and retrieve it on my iPad mail or laptop mail. Other times I’ll just do a high quality photo-print to work from.

One of the reasons I bought an iPad was so I could set it up on a tripod and have a very clear photo. I thought having a better quality photo for reference would help, and it does in some cases. But since I can see more sometimes I get hung up on capturing details now. Some of my better paintings were done with poor quality prints, which probably forces me to improve on it.

There’s nothing like painting from life. I just don’t have the ability to do that as often and I want to paint everyday.

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Do you find it infuriating that you can’t hook up your iPad to a laptop and exchange images? Emailing them seems so retro.

Interesting point Raphael, when you mention more detail…I sometimes take off my glasses to blur things if I tighten up too much. I usually use photos.

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I used to work from printed photos, but a teacher recommended an iPad. That’s the only reason I got the iPad! I love it! I use it for other things too, but most of the time it’s my painting buddy. :smile: I also have a desktop computer at my studio, and will do the old-fashioned email thing to transfer photos to and from the computer to the iPad.

I agree with Rafael, that working from life is the best, but alas, I can’t do that all the time!

Sitting with my morning coffee, I sometimes take a photo or I will email one to myself (I agree with Rafael it seems retro). I then feed it into photoshop express also on the ipad and adjusted by cropping and fiddling with the saturation etc. I then feed the image into artrage on the ipad also and paint over it where I knew I want to adjust some things. I then use the ipad with a program called Photo VideoCast to send it to the monitor that is in my studio equipped with a Chromecast device which cost $35. I can paint directly from the reference on the monitor which is right beside my easel.

It sounds complicated but its not and in a few minutes while I am having coffee, I have figured out what I am going to paint next.


Oh, I do have a printed image too that is grayscale so I can see values better without all the color jumpin gup in front of it. :slight_smile:


I rarely print any of my photo references - the color on screen is definitely closer than what my printer is going to produce. Besides, I can easily zoom in on a detail if I need it. Sometimes I do collages of a few photos - quick comps to work out a composition. The thumbnail sketches are great, but occasionally the photo comp is a good way to figure things out.

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I paint from a large Samsung HD screen hooked up to my Surface Pro 3. I download all my photos from my camera or Iphone, or take them with the Surface Pro (it’s a pc/tablet). And I edit, crop, and recompose my images with Photoshop Elements. The editing often takes more time than the painting. And I often project the image right onto the painting surface. It sounds so mechanical, but since I paint people on beaches or crowded places, but want to eliminate the “noise” in the background, it seems that all the mechanics we have available to us now just make sense.

Ditto the iPad, working from edited photos, streaming music, etc. However, when possible (primarily for still life) I like also having the actual set up in front of me for more accurate color.

Maybe this should be a new thread, but does anyone use © photos as reference? I don’t mean “copying” a photo as a verbatim image, I mean using it as reference for interpreting composition and/or colors and making it your own. Also interested in what you think of the legality/morality of doing this?

As an illustrator, I sometimes needed reference for things I had no way of photographing, so found reference was a must. A lot of paranoia came with that. Before the internet, illustrators collected “scrap” and filed it in their “morgues.” (Hence the website name, “morguefile.”) The key question is: can someone looking at the art and reference side by side clearly see that any part of the art is a copy of the photo. If the answer is “yes,” and the art is used for profit, it is copyright infringement. (Contrary to myth, there is no safe “percentage” that is legal to copy.)

Several years ago, I illustrated a number of exotic animals for a Macmillan children’s dictionary. At one point, the art director sent a group email warning that illustrations too closely resembling photos found online–which several did–would not be accepted. Adrenaline surge/near-panic-attack before confirming that none of the ones he was referring to were mine.

Now that I no longer have anyone ordering impossible-to-photograph subjects, I have no excuse for using anyone else’s photos and much prefer my own. With royalty-free images available online (and a few “challenges” that use them) I occasionally use one of those; but I always try to change and combine images to make them more my own. I don’t think it’s legal or moral to use a copyrighted photo as reference without permission, if it can be identified as the source. Note: if asked, sometimes photographers will allow their images to be used for painting reference.


If you store your images on icloud you can open them with any device.

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I remember the term “scrap” when I was studying illustration many years ago! LOL.

I use a lot of stock photos, and photos that I have permission to use. I wouldn’t feel comfortable or right using photos without permission. If for no other reason, that it’s almost invariably going to backfire. All you need is one irate photographer smearing your name and claiming you’re a thief! No thanks!

You’re right, plenty of photographers will let you use their images as reference. I usually find photographs online where the photographers have already made them available for that purpose. They usually seem tickled when they see a traditional painter has used their photos (as opposed to a “photo manipulator,” which is much more common these days in some online communities).

So really, for us regular artists, there are plenty of resources for us.

I work from my iPad. I agree colours are much richer on a screen than from printed paper. I also crop to a square size and place grids which I repeat on my board . I don’t erase but keep the grids so I have accurate colour placement. The trick is to cover all the grid lines, though, I’ve seen some artists that like to include them as part of their design.