Why Using Photos In Paintings Isn’t Cheating

As an artist who loves and respects well-executed realistic paintings, where you can actually feel yourself inside the landscape or actually looking at a concept piece in real life, I really feel there’s a need to bring this topic up and settle the deal with photos in paintings.

There are artists who believe that using pictures or renderings in your paintings means that you’re kind of cheating – that you’re not actually painting. Even using textures from paintings is sometimes also believed isn’t proper painting.

Nonsense! Using photos as a ground to paint from, utilizing existing colors, textures, morphing photos to achieve a certain mood to start your real designing and painting on top of them is an incredible time saver and it’s a solid technique to get out of a creative block (stay on a watch for an upcoming article on how to get out of creative blocks), a way to get ideas for your paintings, and even the occasional happy accidents that we all love.

There’s an entire field of artistry called matte painting – paintings that look photo-real and are used as backdrops in movies and games – that relies heavily on photo manipulation, photo textures and photo plate bases. If you want to learn more about matte painting, check out the Matte Painting section of our website.

Just remember to not use any photos that you don’t have the permission to use (always ask the photographers!) or take the photos yourself. There are great websites out there that supply free and amazing photos that you can use without asking – even commercially. Here’s a list of 17 such pages (I love and use Unsplash myself):


Now go and use all sorts of photos in your paintings! It’s fine, it’s fun and creative and it gives you a bunch of inspiration and ideas – and it looks super cool, impressive and realistic when you blend it together with your painting.

Until next time, folks!

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