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I am curious, how many painters, or other mediums of art, use a photograph of the subject matter, to work from.

So many painters, I have encountered, know that they cannot paint quickly enough to get all the work done, on their landscape etc, before the scene changes, light changes etc.

They realize their memory may not be perfect.

Therefore they take a photograph and paint while looking at the photo.

I have been told, this is a common practice. I know, not all are done that way. However a significant amount is.

If this is true, and so many fine art painters, sculptors etc, build from a foundation of photography, why do some painters have such disdain for the photographer and not consider photography Fine Art.

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Good question.

Hello Larry, et. al.,

Good outside-the-box comparison!  Let's also consider those painters who do paint from the actual subject: landscapes are often elevated to the point of being worthy of National Park or Wonder-of-the-World status; humans may achieve Super Model or Adonis status; architechture, also, is sometimes thought of as being included in the "other" Wonders of the World.  Soooo... if these models can be considered "Fine", why not a photograph of the same subject[s]?

--Chris Fedderson

P.s.  I, too, am a photographer, and consider many of my images to be just as "good" [whatever that means to you] as much of the painting, etc., seen at the shows I attend.


Good points.

Yes, there is fantastic art in the human form, nature, architecture etc... all around us.

Nothing wrong with capturing that. I have done the other forms, be it studio, with models etc. There is an art to that type of photography. it is just not my desire. More to this topic: I do not criticize them for doing it. I may choose not to pose anything, not to use models, not to use images of other's art work, as my subject matter. At times I feel it is copying someone else' art. however it is my feeling or way of thinking. I do NOT have disdain for them. I do NOT look down upon them. There are some fashion photogs who do amazing work. To many it is Art. I do not judge them.

Except: If a photographer bills themselves as an artist and shoots a shot of someone else' painting, sculpture, artwork, they cannot claim it is their own original art work. It is now a copy of someone else' art work.  If I take a great shot of the sculpture of Adonis, the finished print is NOT my art work. It is a copy of the great Art Work created by Antonio Corradini. He was the artist, I merely the photog - in that case.

So why do some artists have disdain and opinions of us photogs who are creating art?

My intention was not to demean painters  or other's who use photographs as their source for creation. More, it was to understand or bring understanding to the idea of us being criticized for creating those photos, yet them depending upon said photos, for the creation of their work.

For the ones who create, completely without the photo... fine, they are not included in that part of the equation. however their view of the photographer is still to be discussed and perhaps modified.

Often, customers have thought some of my photographs were paintings. Interesting to see their reactions when explained.

Tweaking the question a bit, but I (as a painter) hold a negative view of photographers who try to emulate paintings by having their prints made on stretched canvas or framed in plein air frames. Why do they try to sell their photographs as paintings? Signing their photographs, etc. It appears they are trying to sell in the painting market without doing the years of technical work to actually wield paint on a brush. Clicking a button is not ever going to be given the same status (nor should it). Photographers need to develop their own art, rather than trying to be painterly without the paint. JMHO

Laurie Carlson,

With all due respect...Art is Art, it comes from the soul, not the medium. I'm not just pushing a button, educate yourself and open your mind.  Focus on Art being Art and not how something is done. 

It has become quite common. It goes as far back as the "Camera obscura" of the 16th century. I'm not sure that is true of fine artists at all.  The artists I know believe photography can be a fine art.  That discussion was resolved longs ago I believe. Are we revisiting that discussion?

I think the rub comes in the more common use of photography for, "commercial art."  Then it becomes a finer line between what is, "FINE" art and what could be defined as, "commercial" art often quite different although it is possible for it to be both, it usually is not.  Before photography there was commercial art and fine art primarily by the issues being addressed in the art.  Commercial in the act of promoting products, "fine" in the exploration of visual expressions of emotion or the interpretations and responses to nature or inner emotive issues and visual communication.

That said, from my perspective, there are a great many, "painters" who use photographs as reference but can not easily draw or paint (inexperienced at painting), from life and find it very difficult. For those photographs can become a crutch possibly.

Things get even more sticky when folks start playing verbal games with what is and what is not, "art" whether referring to painting, photographic art or not. Art is hard to define.  Especially when so many want to proclaim, "It's art if I say it's art." Everyone has opinions.

Working from photography will likely not go away.  It's often easier, quicker and more practical for certain things, especially if you are trying to sell your work.   Do you wish to pose for a portrait for the next two weeks?  Probably not. It's also aggravated by the fact that virtually everyone today has a camera in their pocket.

Years ago learning to draw was part of what was believed to be a good education.  Many folks could draw. Few would have called it, "fine art" possibly.

All of the babble will filter out with time.

I think maybe some of the disdain from using photos might be if you are using someone else's photo.  A photographer is an artist, who puts their creativity into composing their shot.  If you then create a painting from that shot without adding anything new to it, then it is not wholly your work.  And, of course, there could be copyright issues with doing this.  However, I do work from photos and I either take the photos myself or work from photographers who have granted me permission to use their work.  If it is a photo you took yourself, I see nothing wrong in using it as a reference since you have composed the shot.  And also, if you use another photographer's work, but only as reference and then change or add something significant to the composition, I think that is fine, too - just get their permission first!


In my opinion, I might disagree with the idea when it gets to the later point..."I either take the photos myself or work from photographers who have granted me permission..."

Your own photos, fine. You shot it, you printed it, you made a painting referencing it, it is your work and you are the artist.

When you are painting off someone else' photos then it is either collaborative work or it is a form of copy of their work.

If I take a photo of your painting and then manipulate the image, it is not my creation. It is a combination of your work and mine. 

If I were to take a photo of the Mona Lisa and then manipulate it by putting a different background or perhaps change the face, it would not be my art nor my creation. I also doubt any respectable show would allow me to market it as my work.. If they did allow it, I would avoid a show like that.

If I license someone to use one of my shots. They then set up at a fine art show, selling that shot, they are in violation of the rules.

Yes, legally they might sell that shot, if I authorized it, however they cannot claim  it is their creation. 

Therefore not a matter of legalities or permission but rather principle and rules.

Hello Larry [directly],

I get a feeling from your follow-up that you're thinking I'm disagreeing with your original post... not in the least.  I agree wholeheartedly!

Perhaps there is a tendancy among all of us to [subconciously] think our processes, methodologies, and artistic creation-traumas are harder / more talent-ful / more unique than others' MO's, and this might tend to make us downgrade our assessments of other work... possibly?...

Just something to consider when appreciating --or not-- someone's art.

David... Yes, I agree. Also, "Fine Art" is a category, not an assessment. There is good Fine Art and also bad Fine Art; just as there are also some very dramatic, artsy catalog shots.

And Laurie... as for:

"Why do they try to sell their photographs as paintings? Signing their photographs, etc. It appears they are trying to sell in the painting market without doing the years of technical work to actually wield paint on a brush."

You obviously have zero idea what it is to make photographic art! We don't just point and shoot! We spend years honing our mind's eyes, developing our visions, learning to express our emotions and feelings in a visual art form. Then we spend years more learning how to work our equipment, how to tweak our technique to deliver a result different from what the equipment wants to deliver.

If we're going to discount all photographers since they [allegedly] are trying to appear to be painters, then we must also discount as frauds all those artists who paint work which so closely resembles a photograph that we're fooled without a very close inspection.  I'm guessing none of us wants to do that.

Now, I cannot paint, can't even draw a decent stick-figure, but I'm not pretending to. I'll bet when we look in your phone-camera we're not going to see any photographic Fine Art.  Wouldn't expect to -- it's not your skill-set.  But it is the skill-set of Fine Art Photographers, even while they might have zero drawing talent.

--Chris Fedderson

Do not discount that some painters are fully qualified as fine art photographers, skillfully taking their own photos to use as painting references. We just don't market the photos because we are painters.


The same can be said of photographers. Many might be able to do art in other medium also.

There is a HUGE difference between "skillfully taking own photos" and "Fine Art Photography".

I know some highly skillful photographers who are not Fine Artists. Perhaps that is why many of my works have sold to other professional photographers. NOT for them to copy and resell, rather for their own appreciation.

Your comment about us "...Signing their photographs, etc..." is misguided. Of course we would sign our work. Every one of my pieces is hand signed, by me. Why not? No different than what sculptors, sketchers, charcoal, metalsmiths and even painters do. As we are ALL artists, we would all sign our work.

This is the issue being discussed. Obviously you do not feel a fine art photographer should sign, their self created art work. Yet you believe a painter should.

Therefore, as no one has said painters art not artists. No one has said painters should not sign their work.

Why do you believe photographers are anything less deserved?

What I am seeing is some misunderstanding in how other mediums view photographers. 

As many just see the "click" and believe that is  all there is to it.

I think Chris expressed some of the points rather well.

There is a tremendous amount of knowledge, practice, insight, skill and creativity to creating a fine art photograph.

I wonder how many painters have as much knowledge of chemistry, in making their own paints etc, as photographers with mixing chemicals, temperatures, timing, 1/2 degree can have quite an effect between colors in printing. etc. 

How many painters have the knowledge of K range in lighting, white balance, color shifts, aperture correlation to depth of field, parallax, ASA to grain degradation,  warm emulsion to harsh, timing our breathing to get that shot without blur, creating or eliminating blur, how fast to pan, lens elements and how they can be warm or not, how the distance from the enlarger lens can cause changes as we get further from the center - in the print as we blow up larger. Transmissive VS Reflective, refraction, circular VS linear polarizers, rectilinear and the inherent distortion, synchronization with leaf VS focal plane shutters,  I could go on.

None of this is to say other mediums do not have a lot to understand. They may have more or less to know.

It is fascinating that we photogs have to justify our knowledge because others only think of us as "clickers". 

That is one of our problems, almost everyone with a cell phone thinks they are a photographer - fine.

Well I have a paint brush, easel, paints, palette, canvas, creativity, plenty of subject matter... But I will NOT call myself a painter. Nor will I express disdain for the great Fine Art so many others create. 

They are artists.

Why can't they understand we are also.

The amount time one sees of us "clicking" that shutter is but a grain of sand in the time and effort it takes to create that finished work of art.

Again - I've never met a photographer who stated that painting or the myriad other forms of art are not Fine Art.

Therefore - Why do painters express the negatives of photographers.

Just because photogs, don't criticize painters should not be seen as justification of what painters seem to state.


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