While tremendously helpful, a photograph also has serious limitations. It distorts and flattens the subject. The shadows lose light and color. It captures a level of detail that is far beyond what the human eye can naturally perceive. Colors can either lose their luster or go the other way and look artificial. When using photography, it is important to be aware of these inaccuracies and adjust for them. The knowledge of how to do so is gained from working from life. Proportions, color, and the subtlety of light are gained from critical observation. This is why working from the live model, studying anatomy and movement, learning atmospheric and linear perspective and painting on location are so important to us. In this way, life is our primary reference. Photography is supplemental information.
I am not what you would call a photo-realist painter. I want to capture the impression or essence of a scene or subject rather than a photographic depiction. When working with photographs, I do a great deal of editing in order to serve the intention of the painting. Lots of extraneous information is left on the cutting room floor. Then the key elements of the photo are rearranged and re-scaled. Edges are blurred and colors are adjusted. As artist David Hockney says, “Optical devices certainly don’t paint paintings. ” It is the painter’s hand that can bring a different essence to the spirit of an image.