Saturday, November 30, 2013

Getting the Shot

-By Dan dos Santos

Helping my model get a more dynamic pose.

For me, one of the most important parts of any job is the photo shoot. Fortunately, I think it's also the most fun!

When I work digitally, revisions and experimentation are so easy that I often find myself making up most things. But oil paints are a bit different. Revisions are really time consuming, and when a tight deadline looms overhead, experimentation is a luxury I usually can not afford.

Because of this, I tend to place a lot of emphasis on my photo shoots. Getting a killer photograph makes the painting process SO much easier, and so much faster. Instead of playing an anatomical guessing game the whole time, I can just look at my reference, and improvise as needed. Why spend days repainting the light source in your painting, when you can move an actual light in just a few seconds and see what it really looks like before you even start?

Typically, I'll spend a full day prepping and shooting reference. Sometimes it's really simple, and just a few snapshots will do. Other times, I build elaborate models, costumes and dioramas... whatever it takes to get the shot I need. For me, much of the design phase of my painting happens in the photo shoot. The lighting, the costume details, the silhouette... all these things are carefully designed in 'real time' through the lens.


(Above: The model shoot for Kalimpura, and the supplemental reference I took to make a more convincing environment.)

A lot of young artists view a dependence on photo reference to be an artistic weakness, and that just is not so. If you constantly rely on your imagination, you are always pulling from the same limited visual vocabulary that you did the last time. Acquiring reference lets you learn about things, and expand your understanding of the way your model and light truly interact. Further more, great accidents happen! I can't tell you how many times something cool happened in a photo shoot (be it an unusual pose, or an interesting shadow), that I NEVER would have thought of otherwise. Sometimes, it's those happy accidents that end up really making the painting great!

Drapery is one of those things that really makes the shoots worth it for me. I've seen many a great painting go awry because of poorly rendered drapery. Conversely, good drapery can really sell an image, especially when it comes to action shots.


(Above: Punching, and getting punched... My friend helps me get some great action shots!)

Get creative with your reference! You don't need to buy the exact stuff you're trying to imitate. You can achieve some spectacular results with common stuff you can find around your house. I've made surprisingly convincing birds from aluminum foil and spray paint, and even leather outfits from black garbage bags. Or, if you have the time, hit up a Thrift store, and buy some old clothes and accessories to cut up and repurpose.


(Above: Don't own a wolf? It's amazing what you can make out of a fleece blanket and some craft paper!)


(Above: Here, a cheap floor lamp stands in for a magic flute)


(Above: Sometimes the reference shoots go SO well, that the painting practically paints itself.)

So the next time you start an intimidating composition, give yourself a fighting chance. Spend the time to do some research, go to the fabric shop, take some preliminary poses yourself, build a model, and see what happens! You'd be really surprised at the subtle, and unexpected, things you fall in love with along the way.

14 comments:

  1. Great post Dan, but how about showing us the actual paintings that resulted from these photo shoots, so we can see how you use & adapt your photography.

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    1. They're all on my site, Staz. I figured it'd be more fun to let you figure it out.

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  2. As indeed I did eventually. Brilliant stuff as always & matching up the covers with the refs would make a cool party game this Christmas... so long as everyone is drunk enough!! Though I'm not quite sure how you managed to get away with severed limbs flying through the air on a mainstream book cover (Alien In The Family) :-)

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  3. Wow! Beautiful lighting, it's awesome to see how you achieve this. All the changes made from the reference to the final work really make it come alive. I think my favorite painting is the Piper, though a close second is the Asian woman walking with the babies on the beach.

    I've never seen so many women in belly shirts though...do people commission that specifically?

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  4. Hello Dan! I'm doing some book covers and it's getting serious. I want to ask you, regarding your models, do you have them sign a rights release or some sort of contract?

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    1. Most of my clients require a model release, so in those cases, yes. But if they don;t ask, I don't bother. Though, it's probably a good habit to be in.

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  5. It's great to see the references turned into the covers. The only one I couldn't easily match with a finished painting is the first reference you posted here. Did it eventually become "Alien in the family"?

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    1. Actually, I am painting that one now, so it's the only one not on my site.

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  6. Great post Dan! I am reprimanding my students at SVA for not spending enough time acquiring references. You post sounds the note perfectly!

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  7. Another great post, Dan. I sometimes fall into the trap of feeling inferior using reference, as if it makes me 'less' of an artist. I had fun matching up your photos to the final pieces by the way :)

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  8. Be careful, Dan, I'll start hiring you as a photographer! these are amazing!

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    1. I'd be down. Give me a good excuse to buy the camera I really want!

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  9. This is actually a great insight into the thinking process, that goes on in your mind. Loved how you even help the model to get a more dynamic pose. I never even would've come up with that. Good thinking there, carry on soldier ;)

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  10. Oh, thank you for posting this!! I posted a question on another blog entry of yours, asking how you used references, you don't have to reply, because I found this post. :)

    I use reference photos all the time, and spend lots of time researching numerous references for one painting. I'm so glad to see your suggestions here! I too feel "less of an artist" sometimes because I need references for paintings, but I love the realistic style, which is what I have naturally, so references are needed.

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