Tips for Tip-Top Reference Photos: Stuffed Animal Edition!

The quality of the reference photos that I draw + paint from has a huge impact on the final product! While a great reference photo is important - you don't need an expensive camera or lighting set up to make it work. Follow these simple tips for taking great reference photos!

It all comes down to Lighting, Framing, and Angles!

1. Lighting

Natural light is always best - so take photos in a room with lots of windows if possible. It is also great to have some highlights and shadows in the image. This contrast creates a beautiful painting/drawing. See the examples below:

These were both taken with a smart phone camera. In the first photo, no extra light was used. The subjects are dark and it is difficult to see the shapes. In the second photo, there is greater contrast between light and dark, which means I can make out more details and understand the forms better. The only difference was turning on this simple desk lamp:

I like to set up the light from the side, as shown above - rather than straight on - as this helps me show form/light/shadow in the painting.

2. Framing

Make sure the entire subject is in the photograph. It sounds simple, but it is easy to accidentally crop out a part of the subject. The photos below show examples of incomplete subjects.

Watch out for cropping out limbs/ears/tails:

3. Angles

The angle you view your subject from has a huge effect on the feel of the image. If I take the photo looking down on the stuffed animals:

It looks like how we might normally see them if we were walking through the house. To use some fancy art language - it "invokes the gaze of the viewer" - we see it as an adult might see it - objects on the table.

However, if we get down on their level and take the photo from straight ahead, they look right at us and feel more alive. From the side, they might look slightly more "distinguished". Play around with angles until you get the vibe you are looking for!

So that's all you need to consider to get started! Lighting, framing, and angles! Have fun photographing your subjects!


PS: It always helps to take a few "detail shots" to help me understand the texture, color, or clarify an area that was hard to see in the original photo. Here are some examples: