I take a lot of photos. I mean a LOT. I currently have 6,914 photos on my iPhone. Of course, I photograph family life and other activities, but most of my photos are of flowers, or plants, or trees and I use them as reference photos and inspiration for my art.
I do paint outside, but the weather in Michigan is too unreliable so most of my work is done in my studio. There I have all the supplies, I am comfortable, and I don’t have to worry about the wind, rain, or snow. Plus, it is much easier to get a photo of a tiny wildflower, than it is to kneel in the weeds with your sketchbook and paints. 
Photo references help us remember a scene or a landscape that we can later use in our art. It is also great for remembering the shapes and forms of things, like plants and flowers, when it's inconvenient to have a live specimen to study. Photos are equally great for exploring cropped or zoomed-in compositions. Of course, you could take macro photos (super closeups of things), which would be equally fun. 
The best thing about your own reference photos is that you can use any camera, they don’t have to be “good” photographic work, and they can even be blurry! Because you are translating one media to another you have all sorts of artistic license to interpret what you see.
Here are some zoomed-in photos of leaves and one cropped image of a vine wrapped around a tree. All of these images are from plants in the tropical conservatory at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens. Look at all those fabulous textures and organic patterns. I use photos like this to make studies in my sketchbook. Sometimes it’s just an ink wash and sometimes I add color. I don’t get crazy serious about details because I am looking for the feel and the movement.
This also works in interesting ways for painting flowers. I photographed an azalea bloom on a bonsai tree, then cropped it before painting a watercolor study.
Back to Top