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Landscape Painting from Photo References

Updated on November 9, 2015

Start with a Photo Reference

When using a photo as a guide:

1. Try not to copy the landscape photo exactly.

2. Identify areas of interest and position them to your advantage in the composition.

3. Crop the photo to help you focus on what you are looking to put into the painting.

4. Eliminate unnecessary clutter.

5. Identify abstract shapes which would add to the unity of the painting. For example, create a grouping of trees of different heights and widths into one abstract shape. Individual trees tend to distract from the easy visual flow of the onlooker.

Here is a photo I took of a desert sunrise right after the rain. The picture was taken in a neighborhood but, I wanted the painting to be out in the desert itself.

The following are some pictures of how I changes this photo into a landscape painting.


Modifying the Photo in Corel Painter

I have a lot of allergies to paints and so I started doing all my work in Corel Painter. I am able to use all my traditional techniques or experiment with new special digital effects.

For this painting, I opened the photo in Corel Painter and did some light auto-painting to eliminate the cars, houses and other distractions. Some of the houses would become distant trees.

I also lightened the mountains and trees to give depth to the painting and help draw the eye to the center of attention, the brightest part of the sunrise..

Looking at the modified photo, I could see where I could make the puddle areas larger to fit in between what would become foliage and higher ground in the painting.

Advantages of Using Corel Painter

Opening a photo in Corel Painter has some definite advantages for planning a painting. you can modify it until you get a good visual of what you are considering as a final landscape. You just want to be sure that you save the photo under a different name before you start modifying it, so the original stays intact.

Because you work on multiple independent layers, similar to a stack of clear glass, you have the freedom to experiment with different effects.

Once you are finished with the rough modifications, you can choose to paint traditionally with the medium and surface of your choice. Or, you can continue and paint in Corel Painter using traditional techniques or not-so-traditional techniques.

I have been known to do a landscape on the computer and then decide to also do it on a large canvas. You are free to use Corel Painter however you wish.


Starting the Painting

Now that I had a good idea of what I wanted to paint, it was time to start laying out the under painting on my canvas. I chose to use water-soluble oils on a 9 x 12 canvas.

I started to apply the under painting to establish the three value areas I would be working with.

Using a value scale where "1" is white and "10" is black;

The sky would be the mid-lite values..."2" and "3"

The distant mountains and the water area would be the mid values..."4" and "5"

The land on either side of the water would be the mid dark areas..."6" and "7"

For a better understanding of these three value choices, read my hub:



Testing the Composition

After applying many layers of paint, I looked at the abstract shapes of the varying value areas and decided I wanted to change the shoreline on the right.

I also wanted to add saguaro cacti to the land areas to create a more specific feeling of the desert.

I tested placement of the cacti and changes in the shoreline by taking a photo of the painting and then going back into Corel Painter. I tested the changes out on several new layers and moved things around, especially the cacti, until I like the composition.

Once I was satisfied. I went back to the canvas and made the changes.

The Finished Landscape Painting

Here is the final version of my water-soluble oils painting on a 9 x 12 canvas. If you look back to the original photo, it is hard to believe that this came out of a street scene in a neighborhood after a rain.

Prints are available in many sizes and framing options along with my other paintings on my art website. Here is the link for this one.

Southwestern Sunrise After the Rain

After the Rain
After the Rain | Source


Here is a brief summary of the steps I followed to complete the transition from a photo to a landscape painting with some alternative suggestions for some of the steps.

  • Pick a resource photo or several that would combine to produce the image in your mind of what the completed painting will look like.
  • Eliminate unnecessary clutter by doing what I did using Corel Painter 11 or other photo editing programs, or draw several mini sketches of what you visualize.
  • Create a value sketch to help you establish the composition of the painting.
  1. You can do this by blocking in three different color values as I did on the canvas.
  2. Or, you could do a black and gray drawing.
  3. Or, you could also convert the photo into a black and white image by using the photo editing option in your software. No matter which process you use, it is very helpful in planning the painting before there is too much work done on it to change.
  • Check the value areas for interesting abstract shape and balance of composition, and make adjustments as needed.
  • Build depth into you painting to make it three dimensional by producing an atmospheric effect over areas that are in the distance.
  • Use highlights to draw the eye deep into the painting...darker areas forward in the foreground and sky and lighter areas at the horizon.


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    • Robie Benve profile image

      Robie Benve 18 months ago from Ohio

      Very nice and useful tips! I'm not sure what Corel painter is, I use classic paints. However, your suggestions would apply to any kind of medium. :)

    • SusanAston profile image

      SusanAston 4 years ago

      Lovely scenes.

    • profile image

      myamya 5 years ago

      Beautiful photos! Squidlike

    • Judy Filarecki profile image

      Judy Filarecki 5 years ago from SW Arizona and Northern New York

      @mbgphoto: I never know what painting will come out of a reference photo but it always seem to come together as I go. Thanks for the comment

    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 5 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      Great information. I love your painting!!

    • Judy Filarecki profile image

      Judy Filarecki 5 years ago from SW Arizona and Northern New York

      @JoshK47: Thanks Josh, It is definitely fun and challenging.

    • profile image

      JoshK47 5 years ago

      Great info - I'd love to take up painting sometime.