Take better photos

Painting from a photo

Imagine a landscape, a few buildings, some trees and perhaps a few farm animals. Now imagine looking down on them from above on a sunny day at midday. Now what can you see? All of the above of course but are those trees really bushes, are those animals horses, goats, sheep? Now imagine the same view but it's now late afternoon and you can see long shadows. Now you can distinguish the height of the objects now you can differentiate between horses and sheep.

The Photo

I can work from most photographs but the better the photograph the better the portrait is likely to be.

Please remember all I have to work from is the photograph, so photographs that show the facial features are a necessity. When I work I transfer the photograph to an iPad alongside my easel and I print a copy of the photograph which I also have alongside my easel. 

The photograph shows me the overall composition but the image on the iPad I can expand to show the detail that I need to work from.


Please be aware of how copyright laws may affect you. The rights to a photographic image belongs to the person who took the photograph. So if you did not take the photograph yourself you will need to get permission from the person who did. Normally this is not a problem and can be sorted with a quick phone call.


That is why it is so important to have the face, where possible, side lit. When I paint a face it is like discovering a new land. I need to be able to judge the size and shape of ever feature on the face. it is the way that shadows contour themselves to the face that allows me to do this.

There are basically 5 lighting methods used by photographers, Broad, Short, Split Portrait, Butterfly and Rembrandt. All have their merits but my personal preference is the Rembrandt method, chiefly because it is simple for anyone to do.


Photographs of the face and upper body are probably going to be OK. But photographs showing the full length may not have sufficient definition when I crop the body and expand the face and so this often produces a very fuzzy image which is not easy to work from.

Ideal photographs are quality portraits, often something like school photographs are excellent.

I can combine in a single painting  2 or 3 faces even when they appear in 2 or 3 separate photographs. Before I begin a full colour painting like this I will send you the layout I intend to use for your approval.

It’s also worth remembering that the photograph does not have to be a formal pose. In fact just about any position or attitude is good as long as the face is clearly shown. 


You can always get in touch with me and send me the photograph if you are unsure.

Any photographs sent to me will be treated with the greatest care and returned to you.

Rembrandt Lighting


If you aim for a small triangle of light beneath one eye, you have it!

Rembrandt the Master

This lighting help distinguish the facial features

Not posing for a passport

Ideally the body should be turned slightly away, perhaps with the eyes looking at the viewer or body front on with the head turned away. This adds enormously to a portrait and gets away from the dreaded passport pose.

Rembrandt Lighting

Finding the shadows

This work in progress (WIP) shows how the shadows on the face describe the contours

Developing the shadows

Another WIP with the tell-tale triangle of light beneath the left eye. So, although face on, it is not a passport photo!

Not a pose

I like it when the subject pays no attention to the camera. Children's photos in particular are better when not posed. This pencil sketch WIP will be developed around the light and shadow on the face.