Where to Find Reference Photographs for Oil Painting

Although many artists prefer to paint directly from real life, it is also common to paint using photographs as reference, both in conjunction with models and exclusively.

However, many artists have issues with finding reference photographs to use for their paintings.

Take your own photographs

If you have a good digital camera, then the best place to find reference photographs is by taking them yourself.

This means that you don’t have to worry about copyright issues, as well as being able to take as many photographs as you desire, from different angles, distances and using different lighting. If you’re not sure about your photographing skills, take some basic lessons, or get a knowledgeable and skilled friend to teach you and give you some tips on oil painting.

Remember that absolutely anything can be a subject for a painting, so go wild and take photos of everything, from an old broken light bulb to the stop sign outside.

Go to the library

Public libraries are often more than happy to allow you to make photocopies of photographs in books, although you will often have to pay a small fee. Good books to scour for pictures include encyclopedias, books on nature (birds, snakes, etc), books on biology (useful for learning about the skeletal and muscular structures of the human body), books about art (which are often filled with images and excellent for inspiration) and more. Spend a day browsing the shelves - you never know what you may find.

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Explore old photo albums

If you have photo albums lying around the house, or old photos piled in stacks in a plastic bag somewhere, then go through them often. Ask family members if they have old photos that you could look through and make copies of. Look for interesting faces, beautiful scenery, pictures of crowds, pictures of sunsets and thunderstorms, pictures of old pets and redecorated houses.

If some of the photos have been stained by water, or smudged with mold, don’t disregard them. Think about how you could use these imperfections in your paintings, to create a sense of time, or of distortion. Everything can be used, anything can bring inspiration.

Browse the internet

The internet has more images than any library, and is easily accessible to almost everybody. There are also many sites that are dedicated specifically to artists and their need for reference photos, and the photos on these sites are usually not copyrighted, or have terms and conditions allowing the photos to be painted and then for those paintings to be exhibited and sold, provided the photographer is credited.

Be aware of copyright issues

If you are ever unsure as to whether a photograph is copyrighted or not, it is better not to use it. If you are able to, always contact the person who owns the copyright for the photograph and ask for permission to use it in your painting. Get the permission in writing, and keep it safe. It is courteous to acknowledge the photographer if the painting is ever seen in the public eye, especially if it is exhibited or sold. Read this article for a detailed look on copyright issues in using reference photos and pictures.

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