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Here's Why Acrylic Painters Should Always Modify Their Reference Photos

May 09, 2022

Here's a quick Acrylic Painting tip. One thing I see Acrylic artists - especially new artists - do all the time is choose a reference photo then skip straight to painting. The problem with this is that a scene can often go from a 6/10 to a 9/10 with a few small tweaks to the design via thumbnail sketch. 

Reference Photo Adjustment Demonstration

Here is a picture I took two Octobers ago:

This was a beautiful scene by itself but I thought to myself 'I bet I could make it a bit more beautiful with a few small adjustments. The first thing I knew I wanted to do is get rid of the road. 

I brought the treeline down and continued the snow bank you see on the right and left. I added a bit more color to the snow to add some variety as well. 

Next I wanted to break up the line between the foreground and the background. So, I added some trees to the scene like so.

Then I thought, wouldn't it be kinda nice if there was some sun hitting the trees and snow in the front? So I added some sunlight on those trees and the snow.

Eventually I ended up with this finished design in Photoshop: 

I really liked it and think it looked better than the original reference photo. It only took me a few minutes of time and some creativity! As far as composition goes, I trying to create a flow through the painting that looked something like this: 

My thinking is that your eye would be drawn to the trees first, brought down to the highlights in the snow, led through the foreground by the break in the trees, up to the highlights on the top of the trees then finally to the mountains. I was trying to create a magical journey through my painting! 

You don't HAVE to have a fancy program like Photoshop to make tweaks to your reference photo. The easiest way to do this only requires a pencil and something to draw on. It's called a thumbnail sketch and we have a video that goes into more depth about it right here.

Programs for Modifying Reference Photos

If you do have access to a computer and want to modify your photos on the computer, you can use any of these programs:

  • Photoshop (for Windows and Mac)
  • Procreate (for Apple iPad)
  • Clip Studio Paint (For Mac or iPad)
  • Adobe Fresco (for Windows PCs)
  • Microsoft Paint (for Windows PCs)
  • Paint.NET (for Windows and Mac)
  • FireAlpaca (for Windows and Mac) 

If you found this helpful, share this with a friend who might benefit from this! Take control of your paintings and let your creativity run wild. Create the scene YOU want to paint!