Can you Draw From a Photo? A Famous Artist, Nazym Rakhimberdiyeva, shared her expert opinion

The often heard opinion is that drawing from a photo is completely unacceptable for a real artist. Is this statement true, and should the artist draw exclusively from nature, and will everything else be a fake that does not deserve attention? Although only in the 19th century artists worked outdoors, and before that they had worked from memory. And how much has the art lost if the artist’s memory is now fulfilled by photography? The artist Nazym Rakhimberdiyeva will share her expert opinion.

I guess that it won’t be possible to resolve this issue categorically; there are pros and cons here. Let’s consider these points.

I will give all the arguments for drawing from a photo. First of all, using this method, the artist does not depend on any conditions – temporal, weather and geographical. Having a photo, he/she can draw any island and continent, depict any sea. In addition, a photo captures directly any moment – a bird in flight, a person in motion, lightning – so different phenomena that it would be difficult to draw from nature.

Thanks to the photo, it is much easier to consider all the nuances of the depicted phenomenon – colour, shape, volume, colour and tonal solutions, as when drawing from nature they cannot always be noted thoroughly.

The work from a photo is often associated with illustration – thanks to the use of references; it is possible to create phenomena of magical origin – a mythological character or a fantastic landscape.

A photo is undoubtedly able to help the artist in depicting complex poses.

Working with a photo most of all helps the beginners to draw. A photo will clearly demonstrate the volume within the two-dimensional plane, will allow them to analyze the colour in each area of the picture and be able to transfer it to paper.

The photo can be obtained in those conditions that are not at all suitable for working from nature. It is impossible to draw on the top of a mountain or on a busy highway, in severe frost, in a thunderstorm. And only the photo will save these images for drawing.

The photo will allow you to capture the transience of nature – in cases when the model of nature cannot pose for the photographer. We are talking about an animal in motion, a bird in flight, the lightning, even the freshness of flowers – only the photo can preserve all these moments.

Despite the fact that a photo incorrectly conveys the colour of nature, it allows certain colour experiments. The colour in the photo can become more saturated; you can change its shades. Here everything depends on the tasks of the artist and his/her motives: any unimpressive landscape can acquire such qualities as mysticism, conviviality, brightness, mystery when the colour tone is changed.

And what about such an argument – drawing from a photo is not only possible, but also necessary. An artist cannot draw using images only from his/her head. Even the most brilliant artist does not know how the costumes of a certain era looked like, cannot visit every corner of the planet. In order to get such data, he/she will need photos, a lot of photos to get all the necessary information about the depicted object.

Now let’s turn to the disadvantages of working from a photo.

Undoubtedly, the drawings from nature turn out to be more lively and three-dimensional, and this is due to the peculiarities of human vision. Let’s explain this: a photo is a flat image. Working from nature, we see the depicted object in three-dimensional measurement. However, there is a way out – with sufficient experience working with nature and having mastered a certain theoretical basis, you can get a picture that cannot be distinguished from a picture obtained from nature.

A serious disadvantage is that the colour is distorted in the photo; you won’t have such a problem when drawing from nature.

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Working with nature, the artist feels special mood – all his/her senses are connected with the process. All the sounds, aromas, the feeling of air and wind – all these things will be felt by the artist, working with nature, like many other generations of artists. The result will definitely be filled with these feelings. And in the work from a photo, the master deals only with a picture, feels lack of volume and the drawing may turn out to be “devoid of life”. While drawing from nature, the artist can see the object from all sides, this is felt in the final work, and the picture turns out to be meaningful. When working from a photo, the artist tries to draw lines, exaggerating the volumes, in this area the artist often makes mistakes. If an artist is too busy drawing from a photo, then he/she gets used to it and stops thinking about such concepts as volume, liveliness, multidimensionality. The works of such an artist never become better, because the acquired habit already hardly passes into another quality, his/her drawing turns into copying photos. Only those artists who have excellent skills of working from nature, who are able to understand the difference between a photo and how it would look live, can draw well from a photo. After all, there is a well known fact when a portrait drawn from a photo is completely different from the person himself/herself. There is nothing secret about it – a photo will never replace the person, it is just a reflection of that person.

It is much worse to draw a landscape from a photo than from nature, since objects of the middle plan are lost, shrinking in height. High mountains can look just like hills, and the path that the eye can distinguish can simply disappear in the photo.

Therefore, despite the fact that a photo is a useful aid for a novice artist, you should not stop at this stage. It is much better to draw both from a photo and from nature, and understand how this experience differs.

A photo is not able to convey the finest colour shades, it changes colour, mixes tones, a photo is illuminated against the light. It is difficult to take a picture that matches the colour completely with reality.

As you can see, a photo, as a source for a picture, has many advantages. Modern art is unlikely to completely do without a photo. And what for the restrictions should be imposed? After all, it is important not only how you draw, but what you get as a result. The artist, working from a photo, inevitably faces a number of issues of a certain nature. We will also bring up this topic.

First of all, the issue is of legal nature: thanks to the Internet and its universal accessibility, we often do not think about the authorship of the pictures. The way out of this situation can be the use of images from the web as one option from a variety, as a reference material, as an auxiliary source for inspiration. An artist is better to work with several photos, and pay attention, first of all, to the picture not as an example to copy, but to the features of its composition, style, colour mass, details. The main thing should still be your imagination and skills.

Ethical issues are not uncommon. They tend to torment an artist who does not find ideas for creativity in the head. Well, there is only one way out here – to develop oneself, get knowledge, and even the analysis of photos from artistic positions can become an educational starting point for the master.

A rather sensitive aspect is a technical issue. Novice artists think that it is enough to completely copy a successful photo to get a good image. But, it only seems to be a simple task. Even complete copying makes the resulting image comical, not consistent with reality. You definitely won’t be able to surprise anyone with such a picture.

We have conducted an analysis focusing only on the positive and negative aspects of using a photo when drawing. This allowed us to reach certain conclusions. Let ‘s briefly describe them.

An artist must think before deciding how to draw – from nature or from a photo.

The artist should develop his/her own imagination. Since, the idea is not to copy other person’s works. An artist can and should use these tools, but it is necessary to fill any idea with his/her own authentic details.

The artist must be educated and have full knowledge of composition, anatomy, perspective drawing, light and shadow, colour harmony.

The artist must develop his/her skills precisely when drawing from nature, to get the experience of live sketches.

Author Bio

Nazym Rakhimberdiyeva is an artist who portrays the spirit of freedom of the nomadical people. Her works have been repeatedly exhibited in international solo and group exhibitions and are now present in private collections in Russia, Kazakhstan, France, the USA, Ukraine and the UK. The leading motive of Nazym Rakhimberdiyeva’s works is the history and culture of her motherland. The artist created a series of paintings dedicated to the outlook of the Kazakhs called Tengrianism. The artist’s website –

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