Daily Paintworks (DPW) | About DPW

Dos & Don'ts on using others' reference photos

I just received this question and wondered how other artists would respond. I also have included my response, but wondered if I missed anything. Perhaps the person who asked, will be reading and gain more info. Thanks :slight_smile:

“I read that you use reference photos from Pixabay and Morguefile. If you use one of their photos for a painting, are you free to Copyright your painting, or enter it into a contest? Is finished painting considered to be an original or copy? How does one use others’ photos without infringing on their work?”

My response: Online groups that offer copyright free photos have different guidelines. Visiting the two sites you mentioned and reading their guidelines is best source to have your questions answered.

Contests also have their own prospectus guidelines which also vary. Again, reading those would answer your questions. My past experience with juried contests is that they do not allow artists to use reference photos other than their own.

I also enjoy photography and for several years only worked from my own photos. In fact, I had a lower opinion of artists not working from their own photos. (And then there are the artists who think you ‘re not a real artist unless you work from life :wink:

The last few years, I have had less free time and am actually very thankful to carve out a few hours each week to paint. I use non-copyrighted photos as reference for convenience now. While not acceptable for juried contests and possibly not seen as authentic to some artists, I’m having fun and continuing to paint.

The first few words of Pixabay’s description of it’s website (shows up on a google search) states: “Over 1110000 high quality photos, illustrations, and vector graphics. Free for commercial use. No attribution required.” I think it’s pretty clear that the photos are available for use and ready to be transformed into other works of art. I indicate in my description of the paintings here when I use a photo from Pixabay as a reference material. I also use my own photos for painting.

I use copyright free photos and always try to remember to state source in my description . One, it’s nice for the photographer and honest. I see paintings from photos I recognize from pmp_art with some made up story sometimes and to me that’s terrible. Also important to state source so people know you did not copy some other artists artwork if they painted from same photo!

1 Like

I never use other people’s photos. For me the process is not just about the painting, it’s also about the design and the experience. As a matter of my own personal journey I want the design to be totally mine also and I feel using someone else’s photo even if cropped or changed isn’t really my experience, it’s someone else’s. My heart just wouldn’t be in it. I want to feel like I was ‘there’. Also like most artists I have a gazillion photos that I have taken for reference, so I can use those. That’s not to say I’m not inspired by photos I see. My pinterest page is chock full of photos that inspire me everyday.
That’s my own personal choice though. There are a million different ways to create art so I don’t have a problem with people using other people reference photos if they choose to. We all have our own aims, processes and technique and what we want to achieve and using others reference photos might be a way for people to follow that path to those chosen goals.

Edit: sorry I just want to add in response to “how does one use others photos without infringing on their work” … I heard somewhere that if you make enough changes to a photo (I think if you change it by 25%) in your painting then you have no worries about infringement. Now how you judge whether you have changed a photo by 25% is another question.