When I take photos as references for later paintings I often use my artist’s eye to create a composition close to what I will eventually paint. This is just something that happens naturally as I spend my time screening everything I see as a potential painting subject! I scan scenes looking for pleasing squares, portrait , landscape or panorama shaped snippets from the landscape. In effect I “crop” the landscape before I click the shutter.
I find it helps starting with a good composition and then later I’ll crop again looking for compositions within the composition. In this way a single photo might provide references for a whole series of paintings.
The original photo above has many of the elements I look for in a painting reference:
- complimentary colours ( blue and yellow)
- areas of strong contrast ( the shadows on the sand) ,
- good leading lines ( the diagonal of the beach, the vertical tree trunks and the horizontal water plane)
- roughly follows the rule of thirds
Here is my first painting using the uncropped photo.
Here I take that original and crop a new series that focuses on the shadows on the beach and the cliff reflections. My favourite is the square format and I plan to use this as a pastel demonstration for reflections very soon (stay tuned).
Next I try a different series where I leave out the beach entirely and look in more detail at sections of the cliff. Here the tall thin composition is a portrait of the large gumtree but I would move the boat off to the left a little. I prefer the square reflection crop and this helps confirm that what really interests me about this subject are the reflections.
So now I zero right in on the reflections and take a look at some more abstract crops. These crops retain the basic elements of complimentary colours, leading lines and areas of strong contrast so will work equally well as a painting.
So that’s why cropping is my friend!