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Advice on Photograph Referencing

I need advice for a piece I recently made for the Anthrocon art show. (I won't be going personally, I have an agent.)

I used a photo I found on the web for a reference, and it didn't really occur to me until I was done with the piece that I wasn't sure if it would be okay to sell it. My first thought was to ask the photographer, but I've not been able to locate the source. (Reverse Google search gave me 10,000 pintrest and tumblrs.) It's coming down to crunch time and I might not have time to make a whole new piece for the show, but I want to make sure it's okay to sell the one I have completed. Of course, I fully intend to mention using a photo reference when I upload a scan after the show, whether or not I sell it or not.


Referencing is a grey area, so I was hoping the good folks here could give me some advice.
Thanks in advance!

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( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 1st, 2014 09:13 am (UTC)
I wouldn't say there's an issue there tbh. It looks referenced, not like a copy of the photo, and does not look at all traced. I'd say it's 100% fine to sell it.
Jun. 1st, 2014 01:01 pm (UTC)
I am really not sure why referencing is a gray area?
I mean, every kind of art class I have attended from figure drawing to 3d texture creation will teach you to reference and use references. I'm really not sure where this stigma comes from?
I have personally be taught that all art should have used a reference to be created. Weather its just what you remember seeing real life in front of you or images online.

I think you are in the clear? I don't personally see why you wouldn't be.
Jun. 1st, 2014 03:01 pm (UTC)
I think it comes from people tracing and calling it "referencing". It happens A LOT.
Jun. 1st, 2014 03:19 pm (UTC)
I mean it must come from that.
But I more wonder why people who don't do that think other wise?
Just it seems like people are scared to say they referenced something for there work when they really shouldn't?
Jun. 1st, 2014 03:21 pm (UTC)
It's sort of self-replicated around the community, so that there's this idea that people who reference are tracing other things, whether in part or in whole. A lot of folks don't really know what referencing actually *is*, so they see that someone who has traced stuff and called it "referencing" and they assume that's what it means.
Jun. 1st, 2014 03:51 pm (UTC)
I think part of it as well is that people think that they are cheating someway since they didn't come up with absolutely everything out of their head. People have this notion that artists have picture perfect memories and can draw absolutely anything on the spot. Especially younger/newer artists who haven't been taught HOW to reference.
Jun. 1st, 2014 06:15 pm (UTC)
This honestly makes no sense though.
Do people expect, for example, pokemon fan artist to know exactly how ever single one of the 700 and something pokemon look?
Jun. 1st, 2014 09:02 pm (UTC)
Sometimes people say they "referenced" a picture when they actually mean they redrew it. That may be fine for art class, but it's arguably a copyright violation, especially when it comes to photographs (where the composition of the scene is the primary artistic element).

Pokemon trainers have pokedexes, so an artist could use one, too. But if I commissioned such an artist for a picture, I'd expect to get more than the picture in their pokedex drawn in their style.
Jun. 1st, 2014 09:31 pm (UTC)
"Sometimes people say they "referenced" a picture when they actually mean they redrew it."

Actually, that's called a "master copy".
Jun. 1st, 2014 11:48 pm (UTC)
I don't think people have issues with someone looking up a photo of a Houndoom to see what a Houndoom looks like. Because they want their favorite character to look correct and nobody is expecting the person to directly base their drawing on that image. The problem is though is that people don't think of photo reference in the same way.

I think a lot of it is that people don't know how to reference. People feel they have to plan their compositions around their single reference. I know easily for a simple image, such as a portrait of a girl holding a teddy bear, I had ten different images I went off of. For one of my other very large pieces that I'm still working on, I have over 50! Another I only had four since I was very familiar with the subject I was doing.

I think if people realized that reference was another word for research, people would have much less of a problem with it. Sometimes you only need one or two. Others you need much more. But referencing of its self should be to support your image.

(Sorry for my text wall... I'm really bad at explaining things. X.x)

Edited at 2014-06-01 11:51 pm (UTC)
Jun. 1st, 2014 05:00 pm (UTC)
You tend to get attacked for it.
Jun. 1st, 2014 06:12 pm (UTC)
This is what I will never understand ever in my life. It makes no sense.
Jun. 1st, 2014 06:59 pm (UTC)
Sometimes, people deliberately hide that they referenced or just don't want to say that they did because they don't want to 'share credit', so to speak. They WANT people to believe they did it all on their own, without any help or references. I feel like I see this more than people being scared to say they referenced.

There's nothing wrong with references, but it's also true that a lot of people trace and then try to call it referencing, so some people probably assume that's what's actually happening. It's a shame.
Jun. 1st, 2014 09:31 pm (UTC)
Sometimes people come really close to the original when referencing art, and it could be argued (by lawyers etc.) to be a derivative product, which means you need permission and/or possibly pay the original artist (in this case a photographer).

That said, the OP's piece looks pretty different, I don't think they'd get into trouble. But I'm also not a lawyer :3
Jun. 1st, 2014 02:28 pm (UTC)
I think you may be confusing referencing with tracing. Tracing is a grey area, referencing is not. Referencing is a tool to help an artist to better their work, tracing is often used as a cop out (some have used it to learn to good effect but it is not a method I would personally recommend). It is never a bad thing to reference. It should be noted too that referencing =/= copying.
Jun. 1st, 2014 03:02 pm (UTC)
If the picture was traced, I would say don't sell it without the photographer's permission (and, probably, paying a fee to the photographer). This is clearly referenced, though, not traced. I think you're fine.
Jun. 1st, 2014 03:36 pm (UTC)
I see a lot of folks suggesting that referencing is okay as long as it's not traced.
This is true, but not the end of the story!

Referencing is indeed sometimes a grey area because it matters how MUCH one DIRECTLY references any given, copyrighted image.

One need not trace a photo in order to create a copyright violation. If a piece of art is substantially similar "as judged by a group of peers" to an existing, copyrighted artwork (one must remember that photos are artworks!), then it may be infringing.

If I may use an example:
Here is a photograph by the original photographer:

Now, these artists are NOT in the wrong as they got permission to use the photograph, but please note the "substantial similarity" of these artworks. One can very easily look at the photo, then at the artwork, and know that the photograph was used directly to paint the ocelot (and background):

Substantial similarity is the part that is indeed a 'grey area' and has to be a judgement call. In your case, I would say your referenced art is NOT substantially similar; indeed it looks as if you simply referenced the pose and did not copy the photo verbatim! Which is great! Indeed, referencing is a powerful tool, and it is not something to be looked down upon. There is a method to the madness, though. For example, I am using a photographic reference currently for a painting I am working on. The end result MIGHT be quite similar to the photograph, so in my case I obtained written permission from the photographer before I started, to make sure I am not infringing should my finished artwork look like his photograph too similarly.

I hope this explanation helps! As someone that has dealt with this issue on a professional level, I can say that I believe you are in the clear and you have used your reference in a way that does not infringe upon the rights of the photographer. :)
Jun. 1st, 2014 09:01 pm (UTC)
Yes, that's where people get confused. Random dumb example: if you want to reference a photo of a woman laying on a bed with red sheets on a carved bed with yellow walls in the background and you replicate all of that or most of it, that's not okay, you've copied the photo. If you eyeball the laying pose the woman is in to make a wolflady laying in the forest, no issue.

But because the fandom has notions of "pose theft", which is a rather questionable thing, it doesn't quite "get" the differences at times.
Jun. 2nd, 2014 06:53 am (UTC)
Thank you, this actually answered all of my concerns. :)
I wasn't confusing referencing and tracing when I said it was a grey area. Many folks forget that photography is an art that is protected by copyright too!

Thank you for your help, it's appreciated, Nambroth!
Jun. 1st, 2014 04:05 pm (UTC)
Nambroth hit it spot on. Especially that if it's too close to the original photo, you can still run into issues. (ie: That Obama poster...) I agree that this isn't the case with your drawing.

Also though, I think another way to go about it is to use many references of the subject instead of just a single photo. Or better yet, if you have the ability/resources to, take your own references then you can get the exact pose/lighting/etc you want, and the reference will do the work for you.

This way you aren't tied to making your whole composition around a single image you find on the internet. Also if you have the time to make some quick sketches of your multiple references, will leave you with a better understanding of your subject and how they work.

Edited at 2014-06-01 04:06 pm (UTC)
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )


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