Photography as a Tool for Portrait Artists and Portrait Painters

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Sitting for a formal portrait is a tradition that dates back to the beginning of recorded art forms. In prosperous and noble families portrait painters were retained on a regular basis to create permanent images of family members. The portraits were painted during long and tedious sittings or, when the subject was unavailable, from drawings, quick sketches, busts, and earlier paintings. Details of clothing and draperies were literally traced to achieve accurate representations and subjects were carefully measured to ensure a faithful painted resemblance. Wire mesh grids and tracings paper drawings were also used to achieve accurate perspective and proportions.

Portrait painters were delighted when the camera obscura, an optical device that was a precursor to the development of the camera, was first invented. The "black box" was originally intended as a painter's tool to aid in painting subjects in the most accurate manner possible. Its use as a drawing aid may have been familiar to artists as early as the 15th century. The principle was described by Leonardo de Vinci.

The Dutch masters, notably Johannes Vermeer in the 17th century, were famed for their accuracy of proportion and detail, and there is evidence to support the belief that Vermeer used the camera obscura. By the 18th century it was well known that other famous painters used the device, the most notable being Canaletto, whose personal camera obscura can be seen on display in the Correr Museum in Venice. English portrait painter Sir Joshua Reynolds owned a camera; and various forms of photography were widely used by both profession and landscape artists up until the invention of chemical photography in the 1830s.

It was not until much later with the development of a commercial process for printing the image viewed through the camera obscura that portrait artists began to perceive the camera as a threat to their livelihood. Art critics and the art establishment did their utmost to discredit photography as a secondary or inferior art form.

The technical advances in photography and printing during the 20th century have lifted the craft of photography to new heights of artistic achievement. Sophisticated, yet easy-to-use, digital cameras make it simple for casual and amateur photographers to take photographs that can compete with professional photographers.

And…to come full circle…professional online photo to canvas art galleries such as Paint Your Life ( ) employ digital technology and professional portrait artists to create genuine oil paintings from photos which are excellent in quality and accuracy and are very reasonable in cost.

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