Sunday, May 4, 2014

Painting from Out-of-Focus Photos

Whenever you paint from photographs, it is always best to work from photographs that are in focus. Even if your subject is in focus, the background around the subject should also be in focus. Sometimes it requires taking multiple shots of the same thing, with different things in focus for each shot.

Let me explain. The human eye never perceives any part of the world as "out of focus". Look around you and the instant you direct your eyes at something, it appears in focus. Try forcing yourself to see out of focus, or take off your glasses if you wear them. Notice how what you see is very different than an out-of-focus photograph.

This may be one of the reasons that before the age of photography, artists never painted the soft blurry effect you see in all out-of-focus photographs. Photographers often will intentionally leave the background behind the subject out of focus. A complicated or busy background can distract from your subject. But an artist has another option.

Take a look at the painting below by Ilya Repin. Notice how the artist have left the background unpolished, or even "unfinished". The subjects face has been given more attention than the background and the background has been left "rough".

crop of "Leo Tolstoy Barefoot" by Ilya Rebin

Now a look at the photograph below and notice how different the soft out-of-focus areas look when compared to the "roughed in" areas of the paintings above.

example of photo with background out of focus

So whenever you are taking photographs that you will use as a source to paint from, unless everything is in focus already, take multiple shots, refocusing as needed for the background. That way when you paint in the background you can work from an in-focus photograph.

— Mark Carder
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