A girl drawing a dog from a photo

Is Drawing from Photographs Bad?

Every artist needs to develop their basic artistic skill and style, and drawing from photos does not provide any experience or training for artists.

It will help develop limited skills like drawing lines, shapes, etc., but it will not help understand depth, perspective, color behavior, certain advanced skills, etc. An artist should find inspiration in real objects and not images.

Drawing from photos makes the artist dependent on another person’s work, eventually leading to plagiarism. You can get inspired by someone else’s drawing, but copying their work or ideas verbatim is never ok without crediting them.

If an artist can draw from photos and create photorealistic pictures, it does not mean they are good at art.

Doodling, drawing faces, etc., are things anyone can do, so copying someone else’s work will lead to nothing.

Drawing from pictures is a form of plagiarism and can lead to many potential problems in the future, so you need to take certain precautions when doing that.

Let’s debate this topic by understanding the advantages and disadvantages of drawing from photos.

Why do Artists draw from Photos, and what are their advantages?

There are certain inherent advantages of drawing from photos, and they are listed below:

Drawing for Fun and not for Promotion or Sale

There is no harm in creating art from photos if it is for fun and you do not intend to sell or promote your artwork.

For artists who are just starting and have a limited skill set, this method allows them to practice their skills without pressure to create something unique.

Using your art tool, you recreate things from a photo and do not need much thought into the concept, design, etc.

Sketching from photos helps us understand how lines are created in certain shapes and form even though it does not provide any.

Drawing from a photo is easy as you do not need to use your imagination or creativity and thus resulting in instant gratification.

Reference Photos are Motionless

Photo of Elephant walking on the road

The Objects in photos do not move, and their light and shades are permanent. Drawing or using them as reference and drawing is much easier than drawing from a live model.

You must be extremely careful when referencing a real-life person because their light and shades keep changing. The time of the day, weather conditions, environment, etc., affect them and thus make them hard to use as references.

If you are creating a figure drawing and using a model, they become tired after a long duration, and you might not be able to use them anymore for references after some time.

Creating art from photos is almost easy because artists do not need to rely on their imagination and creativity, and they pick a ready-made reference and recreate it in their style and skill set.

Once a painting is done, they can make artist prints and further create demand for the artwork.

Do not have access to the Subject or Object of your Art

There may be a situation when you want to draw an elephant, but you do not have access to one, or let’s consider that you have not seen it.

Drawing from a photo will help you understand how Elephants are and their features.

You want to draw natural scenery with hills, meadows, and streams with lush greenery. But you have always been in a city and never have been in the natural outdoors.

Under this circumstance, you can take reference photos to draw natural scenery.

Another situation is when you want to draw an underwater picture of a jellyfish in the deep blue sea. You don’t know swimming; even if you know swimming, you cannot draw underwater.

So this might also be a situation when you draw from a photo. There may be several instances where you may be required to draw from photos.

Photos Required for Drawing Large Realistic Pictures

Closeup image of a face with complete details

When artists want to create a large painting or drawing, they need reference photos.

It isn’t easy to conceptualize and draw something bigger in real life when you are not seeing it or looking at it in detail. A picture of that object or subject might help you understand how the finished artwork will look.

A photo can capture wrinkles, hairs, reflection light, and many other details, which is impossible with the naked eye.

The artist can zoom the picture, change the brightness and contrast, study the value, and make a detailed study of the picture when he has to make a bigger picture.

Facilitate Accurate Shape, Value using Tools and Techniques.

It isn’t easy to draw accurate shapes, edges, values, etc.

You can easily adopt some tools and techniques to recreate drawings.

If you want to draw a portrait, you can use a photograph and trace the picture or use carbon paper to make a mirror image.

The photo provides you with all the necessary information about a shape, edges, and value in detail.

Another method to recreate accurate shapes or sizes is using the grid method in the art.

To recreate the shades, you can use a value scale to get close to the value.

You can do all this with photos and not in still-life drawings.

Drawing from Photographs: What are the Disadvantages?

Drawing from photos can be useful in the short run to understand the basics of drawing. In the long run, it has its downside if you continue to draw using photographs.

The downside of drawing from photos is that it can lead to laziness, lack of imagination and creativity, plagiarism, and other problems in the future when you try to get a job or start your own business.

A lade drawing from photographs picture of a dog

Drawing from Photographs can result in Plagiarism.

When drawing from photos, you are not doing your work and copying someone else’s work and ideas, resulting in plagiarism.

Plagiarism is the act of using somebody else’s work or ideas without giving them credit.

You may think it is a big world that no one can find if you copy work and publish it on social media or the internet. But it is not true.

Whether drawing from a photo or life, you have copied that piece if your artwork looks the same as someone else’s.

  • If you plan on using an image for your artwork, getting permission from the owner first is important. Get a written confirmation from him to avoid any future disputes.
  • If the photograph owner has permitted you to use it for your drawing, giving due credit by giving a link if you publish online is better.

Negative Impact on Your Observation Skill

When drawing from a photo, you see only a flat surface two-dimensional picture.

Drawing skill includes observation skill.

Imagine looking at a picture of an apple vs. a real apple. There is a world of difference between them both.

The photo of an apple is static. If you look at the real apple, the closer you move, the apple size grows if you move to a different angle and see the light and shade of the apple change.

If you change the light source or light intensity, the value on the apple changes. The color of the apple will be different in sunlight and artificial light.

These are just a few tips, and there are too many such nuances that you can learn from real-life drawing.

You may lose all this education if you keep drawing using a photograph.

Photos give Incomplete Information

Photos are two-dimensional flat pictures, so they are incomplete information.

The person drawing does not have the same advantage as the photographer.

If you sketch using a photo, you may not capture the exact color, light and shade, value, dimension, and perspective in your drawing.

With the help of photos, you can only make drawings that look like real-life objects but are not accurate in all aspects.

Drawing from Life is better than Drawing from Photos

An Artist standing in front of easel and drawing a women depicting drawing from life

Drawing from real life is anytime better than drawing from photos. If you are learning to draw still lives, it is better to draw from real objects.

It helps you gain detailed knowledge of all aspects of an object, which is impossible with a photo.

Learning how to draw portraits helps you learn facial expressions and emotions of objects better in life than in photos.

Drawing them from life is easier and more fun if you want to learn how to draw landscapes or environments like rooms.

You can learn these subjects faster and easier with real-life drawings than with drawings from photos.

Painting from life gives you a better understanding of how objects interact in space and light falls on them and reflects.

It also helps you better understand color theory and value range than drawing from photos.

So it is always advisable to train your drawing skills by drawing from life rather than photos.


Drawing from photos or Real-life depends on what you want. If you are looking for instant gratification and short-term benefit and do not want to learn the intricacies of real art, drawing from photos is fine.

As mentioned above, you must take precautions with the photos you select.

If you want to learn in-depth art skills, doing a life or still-life drawing is always best. It will improve your creativity, sharpen your artistic skill and take your artistic skill to a different level.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Is it Cheating to Draw from Photographs?

    Drawing from photographs cannot be considered cheating if you use a photograph as a reference to improve your drawing skill. The only time it can be considered cheating is when you copy another artist’s work or someone else’s photograph and claim it as your own.

  2. Can I Use Any Photograph to Draw?

    You can use any photograph as a reference for drawing. You can either use your photographs or use photographs from the internet. There are a lot of websites that offer free stock photos that you can use for practice. Always check for the copyright of the photograph before you use it.

  3. What Are the Best Photographs to Use for Drawing?

    The best photographs for drawing are the ones with good lighting and contrast. The photograph should also be in focus and not blurry. It is also helpful if the photograph is a close-up of the subject.

  4. What Happens if I Use a Copyrighted Photograph?

    You could be sued for copyright infringement if you use a copyrighted photograph without the copyright holder’s permission. If you are caught using a copyrighted photograph, you could be liable for damages, which can be expensive. Always get permission from the copyright holder before using a copyrighted photograph.

  5. Can I Sell Drawings I Made from Photos?

    You can sell drawings you made from photos, but you need to get permission from the copyright holder of the photo first. You could be sued for copyright infringement if you don’t get permission. Always check the copyright of the photo before using it for commercial purposes.

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