To Answer the Question “Do You Work From a Photo?”

by Susan Stillman May 23, 2018

Over the years, many people have asked me if I work from a photo to paint my Home Portraits. My answer is no! I work with at least a hundred photos to piece together an idealized portrait of each property. I revisit the house as needed to see it both with and without foliage, and in different light conditions. There is always information that can’t be seen from one point of view, and shots from multiple viewpoints are needed.

Take a look at the three examples below.

1- As you can see from the photo, the house atop this hill is totally obscured by foliage. Also, when viewing from below, the bottom of the structure is never visible. I have to take multiple shots of the house from close in to be able to describe what’s really there.

By strategically editing and moving trees, I am able to reveal a true portrait of the house high on the hill. I also had to tame the landscape to focus on the glacial bedrock that is unique to upper Manhattan and this spectacular site. The flowering spring shrubs punctuate the green and direct us up the hill to focus on the house.

2- Notice here that the tree in the middle is hiding the front door and much of the house’s important details. Also, the garden on the right makes it impossible to see the wonderful walkway up to the front door from the driveway. My client, a talented gardener, guided me in the process to identify all her favorite flowers and shrubs.

Here you see I have trimmed the middle tree and the garden to allow a view of the front door and walkway, along with the rock garden and favorite mailbox down by the driveway. Everything is thrown into bloom at once for a grand effect!

3- More often than not, the property is too complex to be photographed as is. It needs to be shot in pieces and put together in the sketch. You can see how the trees obstruct the view, and have to be rearranged in order to frame the house and not conceal it.

Here we’ve included the majestic trees but moved them to reveal the house. I also straightened the horizontals of the architecture to correct the distortions of the photographs.