Photo Reference Sites

flickr Though sometimes I am left waiting forever and then some for a response back even though it might say:
You are free to:
Share — copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format
Adapt — remix, transform, and build upon the material
for any purpose, even commercially.
The licensor cannot revoke these freedoms as long as you follow the license terms.

I always feel the need to get permission first.

Other sites:
wet canvas
paint my photo

and i know many more…now it’s your turn to add your favorite.

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DeviantArt, the stock photos category. I abide by the terms the individual photographer puts, and it’s been working very well for me so far.

I recently added PaintMyPhoto and Morguefile to my go-to sites. Didn’t know about flickr!

I’m new to painting and have a question about using other people’s photos. Is it okay to paint a photo that I see on pinterest?


I talked about this in my reply to Raphael (desoto_studio) on the thread “Do you paint from photos or screens.” In a nutshell: Most photos on Pinterest are copyrighted. If asked, sometimes photographers will allow their images to be used for painting reference. But if you use the art for profit (sale, promotion, reproduction, etc), and if a copyrighted photo can be identified as the source, it is not legal to use it as reference without permission.

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. Things like changing the sex of a figure, flopping the photo, etc. likewise are not sufficient change. Of course, with photos so accessible online, people do it anyway, but it isn’t legal. If you must paint from other people’s photos, you’re better off sticking to royalty-free images from the sites listed above.
You don’t have to take my word for it, the copyright question is addressed many places online. Here’s the “About” answer:

Thank you so much! That is really helpful information. Makes me feel a little sick to my stomach because I have painted some pictures from photos that I found on line but won’t be doing that again unless I find it on one of the websites listed in this thread. I’ve started painting more from my own photos so hopefully can mostly do that!

MorgueFile says “no stand alone” copies, so I’m assuming that means that you can’t just interpret the photo, you have to make it completely unrecognizable? That confuses me a little.

From Morguefile: “Stand alone basis - You can not sell, license, sublicense, rent, transfer or distribute this image exactly as it is without alteration.” That only means you can’t sell, license, etc. the photo itself, by itself, as if it were your own. You are free to apply it to products, use it as part of collective works, or to paint from it exactly.
(This is the type of agreement I would never consent to for my own work!)

Be careful of using other people’s images as reference.
I once made a study of an Indian man, based on a photograph from someone who had given me permission to use it. Lucky for me the photographer told me he had also sold his image to Getty Images so I contacted Getty and I had to remove my painting from my online portfolio or pay a 400$ licence fee per year.

So even if you have permission of the person who made the photograph, you don’t necessarily have permission to publish it. You can use it as a ref for a painting, but you cant’ show it to anyone unless you also have the publishing rights or a licence.

Thanks for clarifying “Stand alone basis” on Morguefile. :^)

Google Street View is great for doing virtual “plein air”

Yes it is, are you aware of a challenge blog using google street view? It’s called

I always planned on taking part but haven’t yet.

Hi, Sunny - I’ve long admired your work. Yes, I’m planning on doing the monthly Virtual Plein Air challenge. Learning to use the Street Views and especially how to save your location took awhile. I painted a boat and then when I went to post it on the challenge page I couldn’t find the boat again to capture the link required for submission! This month the location is Estonia, then it will change again July 1st. Like waiting for Christmas morning. Thanks so much for the heads up. I’m also interested in doing a “thirty paintings in 30 days” in August - do you know anyone who is doing that??

Betsy Seeger

Thank you! I tried the 30 in 30 and ashamedly I made it to 6? Haha. Life is busy!

I don’t know anyone personally who is currently doing a 30 in 30 but I did a search of "30 paintings in 30 days" and only in the past month. You can just do your own whenever the mood strikes you. Good luck!

That’ll probably be me too, Sunny, but it sounds fun to try. Thanks,betsy

It will be in September and I will be doing it although I doubt I’ll make it to 30!,

Maybe you need a partner? :wink:

I would definitely love to, but my painting time is always interrupted. Life is very busy.

I believe Leslie Saeta is doing the “30 in 30” in September. She has been talking about it on the Artists Helping Artists blog talk radio show.

She may be the one who started it, now that you say her name. She has done it before and she is where I first heard it from!

yep-here is the link. It was Leslie! Can’t believe I forgot it was here. :frowning:

Thank you so much, Sunny, will check - would be fun to do with others.

Thanks, Kaethe - I was going to do a 30 in 30 in August. Am going back to work, just don’t know when, but if September is free, I will join all of you doing the 30 in 30. I probably wont make it either, but I will have a go. At least I will get more work done and available.