Photo Files: Pros and Cons

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Title: Photo Files: Pros and Cons
Creator: Heather Bruton
Date(s): March 1993
Medium: print
Fandom: fanart
External Links:
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Photo Files: Pros and Cons is a 1993 essay by Heather Bruton.

It was printed in Artistic Endeavors #9.

The topic was creating and managing fanart using photo references.

Some Topics Discussed

From the Essay

I'm reasonably certain everyone out there has a selection of photos, clipped from magazines and newspapers, of poses, faces, animals etc. These range from a stack to series of labeled file folders and are most commonly referred to as Reference Files or Photo Morgues. I have an extensive one myself with file folders for plants, people, flowers, architecture, scenery and many, many others. It's a useful thing. When I can't think of what I want to do, sometimes I flip through and always I get a couple of ideas; or when looking for a particular pose I know just where I can go to look for one, or if I want to stick in a background I can just pick one out. Along with these clipping files, I also have an extensive book collection with massive numbers of books on the natural world. If I want to draw a Sable Antelope I have plenty of references on hand. Saves time from having to go to the library or zoo when I'm in a rush — and I usually am.

Photo files have been around ever since the camera came into being and have been a boon to the artist. It's easy to start one, just keep a file folder to toss in all those clipped out photos. Use magazines of all types, ads from fashion magazines often have wonderful poses. Wildlife magazines are good for animals, pet magazines for those ever-popular winged cat paintings. Ask friends to save you their old magazines that they would normally throw out, steal pages from the magazines in the doctor's office (this is a joke, of course, though I will admit to having done it). I keep my clippings sorted to save time, necessary once you start getting too many to handle easily. Now that said, I do feel it's important to talk about the cons of photo files, namely plagiarism. Yes, photos in magazines are copyrighted and you can be sued for using them. A number of years ago, a wildlife photographer took a wildlife artist to court for having copied one of his photos. The duck in question was not even the main figure in the painting, but the photographer won his case and the artist had to pay damages. If you go around copying directly out of something like National Geographic you are breaking the law. If you copy directly off another artist's painting, you are breaking the law. There can be no doubt of that. I can't remember the number of times I've gone into art shows and seen figures and whole images taken right off another artist's work, whether the original source material was a genre artist or not. I also have an almost photographic memory when it comes to images and when going through an art show I can often pick out where the source photo has appeared. Taking a National Geographic photo of a leopard, copying it directly but sticking wings on it, is still plagiarism.

That said, there are still ways to use that photo morgue without breaking any laws. When I go to paint a hawk, for instance, I will pull out a number of reference pictures and change things around, using bits of each to create an original image. When I use a fashion photo, I change the clothes, move the pose a bit. I won't claim that I have never copied a photo directly, all of us have done this at one point or another, but I do try to stay away from that. Being inspired by a particular photo or image is not the same as copying it. There are photographers who sell photos for reference work, you can find their addresses in the back of wildlife magazines and art magazines. Most are quite reasonable.