Hi guys, it’s obvious that between drawing all these mermaids, and some tragic personal family stuff (extended family, we are all fine here), I have not been writing any articles this month! I’ll be back in form soon! But for now…here’s some more mermaids.
I’m attempting to draw a mermaid every day in May. I’m already a couple behind, but I’m having a lot of fun! You can follow along on Twitter or Instagram, and you can see what other mermaid crazy artists are drawing by searching for the hashtag #mermay
Here’s my first batch of mermaids. References linked below.
[Ref] This was for Star Wars Day (May the 4th)
[Ref] This one is my favourite so far.
Which is your favourite?
If you don’t know why you should bother taking your own reference photos, read last week’s post: 3 Reasons to Shoot Your Own Reference Photos.
As a professional photographer, reference photos are the spot where my two skill sets come together. These are my tips for taking great reference photos, to help take your art to the next level. I do all my photography with a DSLR (I just upgraded to the Canon 6D and it is gorgeous!) but most of these tips will apply even if all you have is a good camera on your phone.
1) Take a lot of photos
More than you think you’ll need, even if you like the first one.
It often takes a few shots for your models to relax into the shoot, even if the model is you, so the first few shots will often look stiff and awkward. You should also try a few variations of the pose you have in mind, to see what will look best. I sometimes end up combining parts of different photos to get the perfect reference. Watch for awkward hands especially, people often don’t know what to do with their hands unless you guide them.
2) Have your models wear mid-toned clothing
The style is the most important factor, of course. Get your model to wear clothes as close to what you will be drawing as possible, but colour is also important. If the model wears black or white, your camera will often interpret that piece of clothing as a single blob, losing all the folds and details.
This is especially true if white and black are in the same photo, as the camera doesn’t know what to pick! Even if you are shooting in manual mode, as I always am, if you expose for the skin, those black pants lose most of their folds and seams. Mid grey pants? Show you all the details you want to include in your artwork.
3) Put the model’s hair up
If your model has perfect hair for what you need, obviously go ahead and style it for the shoot. But if you know you will be using another reference for the hair, or making it up as you go, get your long haired model to wear a ponytail or bun. This keeps their hair from obscuring their shoulders, or anything else you might need to see well for the reference.
4) Take detail shots
Once I’ve taken a few good shots of a pose, I like to get in close to some of the details, especially the hands. This allows me to make sure that the hands look good, and it comes in hand later when I’m drawing to get the hands perfect. You can do the same thing with any little clothing or hair details that you want to make sure you can see really well.
5) Take your photos outside, on a bright overcast day.
Your second best option will be outside in the shade. If you are a skilled photographer, and you have a specific lighting in mind for your artwork, go ahead and set that up. But when in doubt, go with the bright overcast day outside as it will avoid any harsh shadows or weird colour shifts. My illustrations tend to have detailed line art with flat colouring, so clear details are more important than dramatic lighting to me.
6) If you don’t have a willing model, use a tripod and timer
Nearly anytime I need a single female model, I just take photos of myself with the tripod and timer. If you are shooting manually with a DSLR, but sure to set your apperature to around 5.6 so that you nail the focus. I can sometimes get away with 4, but no lower than that. Just put a marker on the ground and either focus on the marker before you set the timer and run, or stand on the marker and focus on the tripod head.
Be sure to check your shots as you go, it’s easy to see what’s working and what just looks awkward, and adjust your pose accordingly.
If you feel silly doing this, have a look at this amazing post on Muddy Colours of artists using selfies as reference photos. So great.
I hope you find this helpful! If I’ve convinced you to take your own reference photos for your next piece, I’d love to see the photo and the result! Leave a link in the comments, or tag me on instagram: @hannasandvig
I love to draw from photo references, it’s how I do my best work. For years I fought it with the misguided notion that “real artists” could just draw well from their heads. Well, my friends, there are some who do, and many more who work from a reference or combination of references to get their art to look the way they envision it. A reference is not a crutch, it’s a tool. If it works for you, then I say embrace it and use references to their fullest potential to make your art great.
My use of reference photos has gotten far more effective since I started taking them myself whenever possible. Here’s why:
1) Starting with your own photos makes your artwork unique
Have you ever looked at an illustration and immediately recognized the photo it was drawn from? The better the stock photo, the more often it’s been used. It’s the same principle as book cover design. If you want your art to be different from everyone else’s you can’t start with the same photograph.
2) Taking your own reference photos saves time
This seems counterintuive, I know, but looking for the “perfect” reference photo is a huge time suck. The more specific your needs, the harder it is to find a good photo. There’s nothing worse than sitting down to draw, and spending an hour and a half scrolling through the black hole of Deviantart stock photos. And then you need another photo for the other character. And then the hand isn’t quite right so you need another photo…
Drawing from a reference photo that is just what you need is fast and painless. It might take time to take the photos, but it could save you hours by speeding up your drawing time. I’m currently working on a book cover than includes a couple with the girl in a sundress holding a pet goat while the guys looks at her sceptically. I’d rather not imagine how long it would have taken to find the perfect photo for that.
3) Working from your own reference photos lets you create the artwork you intended to.
The best way to create the artwork you envision, is to plan well from the start. Sketch out your idea, then take some reference photos, then draw from the photos. If you plan out your idea, and then try and find photos that match it, your final artwork will have shifted from your initial sketch, often by quite a bit. If you’re drawing for yourself this can be no big deal, but if you’re doing client work it isn’t ideal. You want to deliver the artwork you promised the client.
If you’ve followed my work, you know that I do use other people’s photos as references from time to time. Sometimes I come across a really fun photo that’s just begging to be turned into an illustration. But when I want to work quickly, and I have a specific end goal in mind, I’m always better off when I take my own photos.
Are you convinced, but don’t know where to start with reference photography? Check back next week when I’ll be sharing my tips for taking the perfect reference photos for your illustration work.
Here’s a new cover I did for Nicole O’Dell’s upcoming book Just What I Almost Wanted.
I’m still working on the cover wrap, so I’ll post a behind the scenes peek once it’s all wrapped up (pun…intended?). But I will tell you that it involved a fun photoshoot and at least four small children being disappointed that there was not actually anything in the package. Presents are so enticing!
If you’d like to hear about the cover design from the author’s perspective, you can read Nicole’s blog post here.