Pros and Cons of Using Photos As References For Portrait Paintings

Commissioning a portrait painting by having the artist use photos as references can be very cost-effective and convenient compared to the alternative of going to the artist’s studio and sitting as a live model. Using photos allows you to work with any artist world-wide. Having access to that hugely expanded talent-pool usually lets you find better value for money than working with artists only confined to your geographic area. What are some other pros and cons of using photos instead of live sittings?

Pro: You don’t need to get everyone together into a room. Instead, the artist can mix and match people from different photos. For example, that makes it possible to paint portraits including deceased family members.

Pro: You can pick and choose your best expressions. It might be hard to replicate your desired mood and facial expression when sitting in a studio. Instead, just pick out your favorite Kodak moment and ask the artist to reference it.

Con: Working based on still photos can tempt the artist to only copy the photo, missing out on opportunities to make the subjects look better and add more energy and a human touch to the portrait. This depends on the skill and experience of the artist. Before choosing an artist, look through their portfolio and decide yourself if their work looks like a bland photo or more like the subjects are connecting with the audience.

Con: Since the artist is working remotely you have fewer chances to see the work in progress and give feedback. Mitigate this by asking the artist to share a pencil drawing first before starting to paint in oil. This allows you to confirm the overall composition is as you’ve imagined. Also, even once the artist has finished painting the first draft, it’s easy to make chances to oil paintings — the artist can simply paint on top (unlike with other media like watercolors).

For more and more people the pros outweigh the cons here, and they choose to have their portrait painted by an artist working remotely and using pictures. It allows them to buy museum-quality commissioned fine art, sometimes at a fraction of the cost of working with an artist in a studio nearby.