Painting a Realistic Portrait | 09 |Adding Details

how to paint better portraits finished painting

This series on how to paint better portraits is almost finished. Here’s what the portrait looks like at the end of this lesson.

painting portraits in photoshop finished piece

A Quick Rule for Shadow Values

When learning how to paint better portraits, never let any area in the shadow become lighter than the darkest area in the light. And never let any area in the light become darker than the lightest area in the shadow.

To bring out some of the forms in the shadows you can use reflected light, but remember that the reflected light shouldn’t be as bright as the areas in direct light.

digital portrait painting reference photos

What’s the Difference between Painting from a Real Model and a Photograph?


A Photograph can be practically free, while a live model is likely going to cost you some money. If you’re really lucky you may have someone that is willing to pose for you for free.

Visual Reference

The main benefit to having a live model is that you can get a much better sense of the forms you are trying to draw. You can reposition your head and get a better view of the model to understand it as a three dimensional object. This is impossible with a photograph.

Color and Value Distortion

The cameras that we have today do a pretty good job at capturing real life, but when you really begin to scrutinize a photo you can start to see how it doesn’t compare to the details that you are able to see with the naked eye. When studying how to paint better portraits, note that the subtle details in the lightest and darkest parts of a photograph will almost always be lost.

Holding a Pose

When you take a photo, you’ve captured and frozen that image, so it’s very ideal to work from, being that the pose, lighting etc. will never change. This is not true when working with a real person. The pose will change, and if you are using natural lighting, that can also change during the course of your painting.

Personal Connection

Depending on how intimate you want to get with the person you are painting a live model will allow you as an artist to capture a lot more than the photograph.

Seeing someone in person will give you the opportunity to make all kinds of additional (and arguably more accurate) assumptions about the model, even if you have never met them before.

portrait painting photoshop tutorial detailed color values

And that’s it for this series on how to paint better portraits. I hope you’ve learned a lot from the experience!

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