Choosing Reference Photos


When you are considering commissioning an artist to draw a pencil portrait for you from a photo reference, how do you know you are presenting the artist with a picture that would work well for this use?
Mainly, it needs to be a clear photo.  You know what your daughter looks like, but if you are mailing or emailing the photo to the artist, the artist doesn't know your daughter personally. Therefore, all the artist has to go by is that photo.
One thing I look for as very important in a pencil portrait reference photo is the eyes. If I can see the shape of the "whites" of the eyes, then that is usually clear enough.
Another thing to look for is the angle of the photo. For instance, if you stand above a toddler or a dog and point the camera down at them, their heads are going to look larger than their bodies. The perspective will be off. Whenever possible, get on eye-level with the photo subject.

Sometimes when a person has dark hair, and the photo background is dark, the hair sort of blends into the background. This makes it difficult to see the shape of the person or pet's head, and that is an important thing to be able to see. So whenever possible, look for a photo where the whole head can be easily seen. Also look for photos that don't crop off the top or side of the subject's head.  Sometimes I can make even that work out okay, but it's best to be able to see everything well.
The size of the art reference photo is also important. E-mailed photos that are 800k-1000k or larger are often good, but what's also important is how large the person or pet appears in the photo. The photo may be 8"x10" but if the child you want drawn is only a quarter-of-an-inch wide, then the overall size of the photo wasn't a help. I really need the person or pet to be drawn to appear at
least 1-1/2 to 2 inches across in the face in the reference photo to be able to do the best job for you.

I personally prefer candid photos over professional photos. Candid photos have more interesting levels of light and dark that make the portrait far more interesting. Professional photos tend to spread and soften the light so much that the reference photo makes sort of a 'flat' photo reference. A little more contrast makes a more beautiful pencil portrait in the end.

I hope you find this helpful, and if you have any questions about your reference photo, you can contact me and I'll be glad to help. I don't mind viewing photos to let you know which will make the best pencil portraits, and asking me to do that doesn't obligate you in any way to place an order.

Darla Dixon, Artist

Darla Dixon Portrait Art & Illustration

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