Artsnips 9 - When Photos Kill Colour
Typically when I paint a still life I work from real life as you can see in the above photo. But when we have to paint from photos it's helpful to know the type of problems that can occur. In Artsnips 8 I showed an example of a mountain scene in which the shadow was heavy and dark lacking luminosity and depth. And as we discovered in Saturday's class photos can also eliminate important details like eyes on dark animals! The camera causes problems not only for shadows but for the lit areas too and it can be evident in the overly harsh highlights of candid portraits when a flash has been used.
The photo above is a perfect example of how the camera can sometimes overexpose the strongly lit areas, in particular the highlights, killing the colour and bleaching it out. If you look at strongly lit objects you'll notice that they usually contain colour with a lighter coloured highlight but you can see how harshly bleached out the camera has made the lit side of the pumpkin. The stem has the same problem. The finished painting on my easel shows the light as it really was with the exception of the background which I warmed up a bit. In the larger painting below you can see that the stem is full of colour, the fabric is full of rich neutrals and not a pure white like the photo and the pumpkin itself is an array of reds, browns and oranges with the highlight being quite subtle and the iconic pumpkin grooves being visible.
So what to do about it? If your photo has exposure issues you can edit them somewhat in your photo software as I did with the mountain scene. If you can't edit from your software get photos with similar lighting situations to help fill in what is missing. It's not a magical solution, it takes practice, and learning. Most important, you must develop your observation skills so that you begin to notice what things look like so that you can make it up when you need to or recognize which photo resources will help fill in the blanks. We tend to see but not really SEE. Not that you must paint every single detail, in fact a certain amount of eliminating detail is desirable but you certainly wouldn't want a great big bleached out white area on an otherwise lovely orange pumpkin.
Now that you are aware that these issues exist you can start looking about to see where they occur.