Where To Find Good Reference Photos To Paint From

Copyright is a very serious thing. I'm not going to delve into the deeper legalities here, I do art, not law and have a very limited understanding of the ins and outs involved on keeping legal, but it is important to understand the basics and know what is acceptable to use as reference photos for your art. My number one piece of advice is to use your own photos as painting reference. I would say probably 95% of the references I use are my own photos. We just about all have access to a good enough camera on our phones these days; I have a lovely Digital camera, an Olympus OMD, but with the purchase recently of a new iphone (8plus), I've barely touched my 'real' camera since. I take landscape reference photos most days on my daily walks and it baffles me that I don't paint landscapes more often! I even have an instagram page specifically for my photos....Pretty as a Pixel, which I started to remind myself just how much I love everyday photography. I have hundreds of incredible photos to choose from, mostly taken over the last ten years... 2019 really should be the year of the landscape! Hmm.
landscape of cows and trees, mialaing Stand By Me, oil on canvas 2017, 76x101 From My own reference photo.
Even for still-life, I often shoot these with my phone or I get out my trusty Olympus and set up lights and a tripod to make them a little more professional. These paintings are all from my own photos.
Fine Art by Mia Laing Fine art by Mia Laing
When it comes to some of my newer wildlife paintings though, not owning camouflage cargos and a telescopic zoom lens attached to a $10,000 camera, often leaves me pondering where to find images to paint from. With a little savvy know how and some super sleuthing on the internet, there are ways and means of finding and legally using great images.
cow dressed as human by artist mia laing Chloe Hopes It's Vegan, oil on canvas, 2018, Mia Laing. Collated from two seperate Unsplash and Pixabay images, with my own embellishments.

Where to legally find artist reference photos

Wildlife Reference Photos For Artists This is my number one site for professional, stunning photos. There is a small fee involved but I think the quality of the photos are worth every cent of the $5 per image cost. Paint My Photo PMP Another good site, harder to navigate, but if you take the time to scroll through the thousands of images, there are some real beauties to be found. They don't just offer wildlife either and you can find all genre of photos, from still-life, to people, to landscape. It's free for use too, but you must login as a member. I've painted two images from this page...including my recent Fox Cub.
Fox cub oil painting by Australian artist mia Laing A Fox cub emerges from the shadows - Original Reference photo by Paul Sawford.
Pixabay Unsplash Pixabay and Unsplash are quite new to me but already, especially with my new #secretlifeofanimals series, both these sites have come in handy. With hundreds of thousands of photos to choose from, it gets very daunting, but both are quite easy to navigate around by putting in key words. Downloads are free or, as you will be prompted, the cost of a coffee donation to the photographer. There is also the ability to create folders to store images you are interested in using (or finding again!) These are stock photos, so be aware that you may find them being used on numerous other sites or by other artists. Due to my crazy imagination, I collate a number of images together to make my final painting, so they end up quite different from the original reference.
dogs in car oil painting, mia Laing Road trippin, oil painting by Mia Laing 2018 Original reference found on Unsplash. Photographer Tim Mossholder
Original reference photo used for 'Road Trippin'.
Pixabay and Unsplash (or Shutterstock, which has professional photos that you pay for) are great if you are also making Mockups for showing your paintings on virtual walls. Pinterest Pinterest is a trickier platform to find copyright free images to use. Be very, very aware that these are often NOT free for use images. Use Pinterest to source inspiration for your paintings and if you do use any images, make sure you are following copyright legalities...please research these yourself, I take no responsibilities with you and the copyright police!! I have used a couple of Pinterest images for my #secretlife series, but have made sure they fall under a parody/ fair use category and change them hugely from the original. I have also used vintage photos that are outside of copyright timelines. Please do your homework and make sure you are not stealing someone else hard work and creativity. Change it up, paint it so there is barely any similarity to your original inspiration. Facebook Get scrolling and find people who inspire you with their images. If you ask nicely, sometimes, just sometimes, photographers will allow you to use their photos as reference. NEVER take a photo from anyones site without permission and written consent to use their image and please, do the right thing and acknowledge them as the owner of the reference. Share the love. Wildlife, Pet and Bird photographers are often extremely generous if you have built a relationship with them over their page. I was lucky to paint 'Storm Terrier' through an online friendship with a favourite artist I follow, who allowed me to use her photo of her gorgeous Bull Terrier, Lulu.
Bull terrier Storm Trooper, Mia Laing artist Storm Terrier, oil on canvas, Mia Laing. Original Photo by Lix North
Find Lix North here. She's totally amazing. Bare in mind that not all photographers will share their work...expect no's and heed them. (Hypocritically, I don't like sharing my own photos..often because I still have plans to paint them myself.) I found an image many years ago that I totally wanted to paint, but after a couple of emails, it was a big No or large $$ to use it. I chose the No but its always played on my mind. Use images like these to inspire you to recreate the light or style or feel of an image with your own photo. Well, that's it for now...go forth and create...carefully and legally. What are your favourite platforms for reference material? Am I missing some?? Forever searching... Remember to sign up to my monthly newsletter for more tips, tricks and motivation for your art practise. Mia
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