“If You Must…”, My methods in working with photos

So often I have been asked if I utilize photography in my painting process. The short answer is “yes”, but I always add the qualifier, “If I must paint from a photograph, I find it absolutely ESSENTIAL to have done a color study from life”.


 Color Study, “Last Kiss of Sunlight”  24″ x 12″

Implicit in this answer is the fact that I will try my hardest to develop the piece from life, but sometimes, it is just about impossible to do that.  Whether it is working with moving animals or very small children, using a photograph adds sureness to find the drawing in the complicated forms. Another exception is working with very late or early light that has a working period of about 10 minutes before the whole tonal range has shifted to another key. Again, I will often try to make this work by making multiple visits, but this too has its practical limitations.


(Thanks for the photo Terry!)

Recently, we hosted a painting workshop in which I had the opportunity to share my methods of developing a study and then working up a finished studio painting from it.  We discussed what was beneficial in the photo and what not to trust. (Basically, I used the Field Study for the color and value reads and relied on the photo for most of the drawing, adjusting the foreshortened figure, etc…)  I would encourage you to implement this method in your own work. The extra time chasing the light in the study will pay dividends in your final work!  Not only will the physical study be necessary in completing the finished painting as you make value and color judgements, but you will also have the opportunity to fill your senses with the ambience of the experience which ALWAYS seem to work their way into the final work.  I wish you joy and success in your efforts!



“Last Kiss of Sunlight”  36 x 24      Framed by  http://jsgildedframes.com

For those interested in further explanation, I have taken the time to extensively describe what I look for in the subject when working from life in our DVD’s.  Click image to see more… Enjoy!


Instructional Resources wp

 Thank You!


5 responses to ““If You Must…”, My methods in working with photos

  • Shirley Quaid

    Appropriately timed😊. Thanks for the reminder.

    Sent from my iPhone


  • Michele Greene

    Thank you for sharing……It was helpful. I have admired your work for many years since I stumbled upon it searching through the list of OPA’s. I’ve enjoyed renting some of your videos and studying your website pics of your work. 😊 it’s very inspiring and has helped my work improve.
    I have your book also, keep up the good work!

    Lord bless

  • Anne Marshall

    The closer we are to God and his magnificent creation as we work, the more inspired will our own creations always be. To remind myself that using God’s gifts is a form of worship, I’ve paraphrased Psalm 33:1-3, replacing singing with painting, and read it before I begin to paint.

    Psalm 33:1-3 for the painter:
    Paint for joy in the Lord, O you righteous ones; praise is becoming to the upright. Give thanks to the Lord with your brushes; praise him with your palette of colors. Create for the Lord a new canvas, paint skillfully with bold strokes of joy!

  • craig carlson

    Dan, your study from life is very similar to JC Leyendecker’s technique -found in an old letter he had written to a student in James Gurney’s blog.

  • Dan beeman

    Enjoy it all I’ve watched your videos and have seen your work ( and Steves’ also in a gallery in door county this past summer) although I ‘m a hobbist I love en plein air. I’m going to set aside some of the next few checks for one of your books. Love the talent you boys have , and appreciate your faith. Thanks for coming back home. I have daughter that lives just outside of kewaskum. beautiful area. I’m from Elroy just had my 50th class reunion; would love to go back and paint some of the memorable places I remember. God bless

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