Shhhh! 2 Little Secrets for better photo references!

By October 3, 2015Uncategorized

As artists we are often in need of photo references.  Good photos can definitely be the foundation for good paintings.  But many of us who want to paint, are not necessarily schooled in photography.  I love photographs, but I have no patience for the technical aspects of cameras, apertures, and F-stops.  It feels way too much like math to me.  However, over the years I’ve learned a few things about taking good photographs.  Here are a couple of my favorite techniques for capturing subjects in a way that lends itself to creating beautiful imagery.  I believe thinking about these ideas will  not only help improve your photography, but they’ll improve the paintings you create from your photo references.  Don’t get nervous now…These ideas are quick and easy to digest…no apertures or light meters, just simple suggestions for better imagery.


Secret #1 for getting a great shot when photographing on location…

The photos below are something I like to do when I see a place I want to paint:  Find a place you are drawn to, and photograph it at different times of day with different compositions… The subject is the same in each photo below.  Morning light vs afternoon light.  Which do you prefer?  Keep in mind that lighting is EVERYTHING!



Amalfi Coast in the afternoon


Same scene in the morning

Hint #2:  Try framing the shot differently…up close vs. Far away.  Here is the same location below at the same time of day, just framed a bit differently from the one above it.  Which do you prefer?


On the way to Amalfi in the morning, same scene shot from a distance.

As you can see, the photo above creates a change in the mood.  Up close can feel more intimate.  Further away creates a different feeling.  Perspective changes what kind of story your picture will convey.  The two photos below provide another example of this:

IMG_3783 (1)

Positano from afar at this angle tells a story about a beach town, with the beach front and center.



Positano from above, tells another story entirely.  The church is now the central focal point of the photo. See how the same location, from a different perspective yields a completely different focus?

Look at how orientation of the same subjects below can change the story…


Horizontal movement is peaceful and stable. These boats look like they are at rest.

Horizontal movement is peaceful and stable. These boats look like they are at rest. The lack of any complete boat in the photo also gives it an abstracted feeling to the composition.



Vertical orientation allows the central boat to act as an arrow that moves you into the photo. These boats feel more like working boats ready to move!

Vertical/diagonal orientation allows the central boat to act as an arrow that moves you into the photo. Having a complete boat in the picture also tells a more concrete and less abstract story.  These are boats, without a doubt.  Their diagonal orientation feels more dynamic.  Diagonal or oblique shapes do give a sense of movement to composition. This picture tells a story of working boats ready to move!

Keep these thoughts in mind as you photograph your favorite locations.  What story do you want to tell?  What perspective will support that story?  What composition will best suit your needs?  What time of day will illustrate the mood you want to create or support what you want to say about this place?  If you keep these ideas in mind, I predict you’ll not only take better photos, but the artwork you create from those photo references will be dramatically better.  And after all, that’s what I want to help you improve!

I’m headed for Tuscany and the beginning of my EAT PAINT COOK TOUR OF TUSCANY today!  Can’t wait to get together with my group and begin to experience my favorite area of this beautiful country.  The food, the wine, the scenery, the authenticity…all of it makes my heart so happy! Next year’s trip is scheduled for Sept 24-Oct 1, 2016.  If you’re interested you can sign up and get ready for a very special week.  In the meantime, you can travel along with us virtually by signing up for this blog.  It is so fun to take all of you along with me…and I love hearing from you along the way.  <3

Stay tuned and stay in touch!


Author Rebecca Zdybel

Artist, Instructor, Art-Travel Instructor - Spread Light, Share Love, DO Art! Rebecca Z Artist (Rebecca Zdybel) is an artist and instructor in Myrtle Beach, SC. She blogs and teaches locally and internationally. Sign up for her blog, classes, workshops, art travel tours, or see her work at

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Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • Bonnie Everhart says:

    It has been great fun tagging along-can’t wait for you to get to Tuscany! Cheers Bonnie

  • Bonnie Everhart says:

    I am enjoying tagging along-can’t wait for you to get to Tuscany!

  • Hi Bonnie! I’m currently leading my EAT PAINT COOK TOUR of Tuscany and having the best time with my group here! Days are full and not much time to blog, but I will post something soon. Thanks for checking in. ?