How Taking Your Own Photography Can Enhance Your Art Practise

Lets talk photography. Again. Pixels + Paint. A realism painters perfect palette. A few months ago I wrote about where you can legally find photographs to use as reference for your art and painting. You can read that post here. Being inspired by other peoples photography is one can lead to some pretty fabulous paintings, but the use of your own photos, can take your art to another level. I LOVE photography. It's in my blood, having been around cameras since I was a little girl. My grandfather, Peter St Barbe Connor, amongst his many talents as a master wrought iron specialist in Western Australia, was an incredible film photographer and won many awards in the 1950s and 60s, at the Perth Royal Agricultural Show and the Cottesloe and Fremantle photography clubs.
blackandwhitefil.1956.peterstabarbeconnor Trick photography by my Grandfather, Peter St Barbe Connor. He made this photograph using a small palm sized trinket box, small rocks, beach sand, a toy spade he made himself and a print of an old oil painting.
With my Grandfather's passion running through my veins, I've become a little obsessive over the years with my love of good equipment (sadly my Grandfather's cameras all were sold after his death) and as the Mumographer of my gang, I cannot count how many cameras I've had over the years. I always upgrade around the 4 year mark of owning any camera (quicker if its been broken...which with boat life has happened a few too many times. Oops. ) I've noticed though, over the last two years, with my art getting busier, that my photography has been quietly slipping to the background. I'm playing with it less, only capturing happy snaps on my iPhone and not spending enough time editing and enjoying the process as I used to. In 2014 I spent an entire year doing a photo a day project, photographing my wooden art mannequins creating "The Adventures of Monet, Manet and Minet Quin". In 2012 I did a similar project, capturing my daily life for a year...and I have painted MANY of those photos since. Believe me, if you want to enhance your art practise, by making photography a daily enjoyment, you will definitely see the benefits.
mialaing-art-photography 'Life Is A Bowl Of Cherries' from The adventures of Monet, Manet and Minet Quin 2014 by Mia Laing
So, in a quest to bring the spark back to my photography, I bought a new camera (Ha...again!) and thought I'd talk (mostly to myself...a reminder of sorts) about how to bring photography into a daily art practise.

You Do NOT need the latest equipment to take good photos (Says she who has a camera fetish)

You do not need to have the latest equipment. You do NOT need a $3000 state of the art camera to take good photos. A decent point and shoot digital camera or a newer model iPhone will give the clarity and resolution needed to work from for sure. I have a DSLR Canon I haven't touched in 5 years, it’s super dated and a real dinosaur; I also have an Olympus OMD I use only about once a month. I have an recent model iPhone 8 Plus, that I use daily for happy snaps of my dog and kids and works in progress. It's always in my pocket on my daily walks and is mostly sufficient for my daily needs. But, if you want greater resolution and many more features to bring out the skill in your photography, even the latest Iphone is not the best choice. The camera I use the most is my little point and shoot. It's still pocket sized but offering a way better photo than my iPhone can (though far less than a decent DSLR, but unless you are planning to create bill board sized canvas’, the sharpness and clarity of a point and shoot will do to paint from.) I am not sponsored btw and have no affiliation with any companies, but I can personally vouch for the capabilities of the Panasonic Lumix TZ80/90 range. I'm on my second TZ model (we dropped our first one whilst sailing in Greece) and I’ve replaced it this week, with the current model, The TZ90. Its a little powerhouse, with a zoom that will blow you away. It costs around $450 Aussie dollars for the newer model (shop around, I got mine for $400, and it’s around $350 for the older model, the TZ80...Cheap compared to a DSLR or new iPhone.
zoom-tz90-lumix-panasonic-mialaing The Incredible zoom capabilities of the Lumix TZ90
My other favourite camera is my Olympus Tough TG 860 underwater point and shoot. Again, not an overly expensive purchase, but it takes all my reference material for my underwater paintings. mialaing-artist-oilpainting-olympustough

Capture The Moment - always have a camera ready to go.

Original photo for Cleared for Landing
copyright Mia Laing 2016 'Cleared for Landing'
oil on canvas 2016
24x30' / 61x76cm SOLD
This is key. Batteries charged, space your pocket or bag. Many of my narrative art pieces have been captured because I’ve had a camera ready to go...the best moments are not choreographed. Its also important to understand your camera to capture spontaneous moments - down load that boring manual and read it like you would a latest bestseller. There are many 'AhHah' moments to be had whilst learning your cameras settings and capabilities.

Lighting is Key

copyright 2013 Mia Laing 'Sunny Girl'
Oil on Canvas - 2013
Perth Royal Agricultural Show Entry 2013
Lighting...oh my. My favourite. Look for the light...where it is, how its affecting the overall look of your shot. Chase ‘golden hour light’, the warm glorious light of dawn or late afternoon, such as shown in the photo above. Natural light is always the best light, but setting up lamps and torches can also add depth to many still-life or portrait subjects. Ive been known to hold a torch in one hand whilst balancing my camera in the other to intensify the shot I am wanting to capture. Remember, we are taking photos to paint from, not necessarily to display as a photo. The lighting that makes a painting is often harsher and more contrived than in a perfect photograph.

Composition - Rule Of Thirds

Composition is painting and photography. It can make or break your art. If there’s one area I would advise you to learn as carefully as your paint techniques, it’s composition. Even completely novice art buyers will turn down a painting because something about it bugs them...and it’s usually the composition. Creative Market have done a great blog explaining the basics of the Rule Of that here.

Read, Learn, Be Inspired

There is a massive amount of information online for every level of expertise when it comes to photography. Plug a few keywords into google or head onto Pinterest to learn everything you will need to ever know about taking great photos...then practise, practise, practise. Keep Pinterest boards with your favourite images and spent time studying how they are taken, what appeals to you, the light and composition. You can follow my boards on Pinterest...I’ve got some excellent photography inspiration ones.

Got an Okay Photo? Edit to make it better!

Editing has become as simple as downloading an app these days. I use Lightroom for my DSLR holiday photos, shooting them as RAW and on manual, but I mostly rely on various apps on my iPad for my iPhone or point and shoot photos. ‘Photoshop Fix’ is a personal favourite on my iPad, but have a look around and find one that feels comfortable for your skill level. Even the basic editing function on a smart phone is good enough.

Paint Your Photos - Add/Subtract/Reinvent Swan Song by Mia Laing 2018
Unless you are taking photos for display as traditional photography, remember that you can add, subtract or completely reinvent your images in paint or whatever medium you use. This takes the pressure off getting each photo perfect...I’ve seen an artist, inspired by a blurry beach photo, paint an entire series blurred! How cool is That? With my new whimsical animal series, I am taking my imagination and letting it go wild.

Don't Be Frugal With Your Shots

Digital photography is the hoarders best friend...I must say, I often keep way too many of my dodgy photos just incase I might find a reason to use them in a future painting. When I’m setting up a stilllife or taking images for a narrative idea, I will take photos from every possible angle and lighting style. Though this may give me 50 photos for just one painting, it means I can go back to a popular painting years later and get reinspired with a similar image, without having to paint the exact image I’ve used before.

Enjoy and Share your Photography

Social media is your best friend when it comes to hobbies and passions...You will find a whole tribe when you share what you love. Love flat lay photography? Share it. Narrative? Landscapes? There are hundreds of people that will happily cheer you on via facebook or instagram because they love it too! Though painting is my number one account (mialaing_artist which I hope you will follow!) I have an Instagram account for my photography - prettyasapixel and of course for my beloved dog goldengirl.gracie...both of which have their own cheering squad....hey, join these too! Hope this helps...make photography a fun and inspiring side to your art. How Your Own Photography can Enhance Your Art Practise. Please Pin to Pinterest!
Get in touch with any questions and make sure you follow my monthly newsletter for more tips like these. Mia x
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