Portraits are a classic piece of art. We’ve seen them in everything from official portraits of leaders to the muses of artists and even self-portraits. Today, the portrait painting game has been changed up a bit, though. An artist working on an oil painting portrait doesn’t necessarily have to find someone to sit for them for hours worth of sessions. 

Instead, today’s painters can create from a reference picture. Some even buy paintings online of themselves to commission and order something one of a kind. To have a stunning photo to art transformation, though, you need to know how to choose the right photo for the job. 

Choose Something Interesting

If you want a stunning painting, you need to have an interesting subject. So, the photo you choose has to have something about it stand out. Luckily, when it comes to reproducing something living, there’s usually always something to find striking. An expression or distinct facial feature are a couple of things to keep an eye out for. 

The idea really gets difficult when you’re talking about a “boring” position. For instance, many painters avoid head-on, flat facial expression, mugshot-style photos for their inspiration. A photo to painting rendition of this pose will usually focus on something striking like the look in the subjects eye or a striking feature. But, these are a great way to capture the likeness of the subject if nothing else. 

A more unique choice is to choose a photo that shows emotion or character. A still of someone laughing or even with tears running down their face will capture something raw and real. 

Consider the Style 

When you’re choosing a photo for a portrait, you’ll also want to thing about the style of portrait you want. There are plenty of different portrait styles to choose from too. 

First, there’s the obvious: a portrait with basic likeness. These are the portraits that want to capture exactly what someone looks like. They can sometimes be so realistic that it seems like you can reach out and touch them. 

On the other hand, you can choose something more stylistic. This is where things branch out a bit. 

For one, you can choose something that still retains your likeness but doesn’t go for a completely realistic touch. For example, Vincent van Gogh’s portraits kept the appearance of his subjects but the end result didn’t look like a realistic, detailed rendering of the person in front of him. The focus on unique color and expression was much greater than the idea of getting the perfect shading so that the portrait looked realistic. 

And then there are completely abstract options. These are the paintings that it’s best to choose a highly emotive photo for. The end painting may not look exactly like the subject or it could even be fairly far removed from the original subject. Instead, the focus of these portraits is to capture a feeling or atmosphere. 

Good Quality

This is a more technical aspect that’s very important. The photo you choose for a portrait has to be a good photograph. This is especially true if you want a hyper-realistic rendering of the subject but it’s a critical factor for any style of portrait. 

The fact of the matter is that if you’re painting something from a realistic image, you have to see what that image is. If you can tell the way your subject looks because a photo is grainy or has too much motion blur, you’re going to struggle. 

It’s also going to be difficult if the coloring in a photo is off. If it’s too dark or too light, you aren’t going to be able to see the subject realistically and properly. Intentional color changes might be okay but it’s generally a good idea to find a picture where the subject is plain to see. 

Use a Good Camera

This goes back to the quality of the photo. If you want something painted, it’s a good idea to bust out a camera that’s going to take a good photo. Luckily, this isn’t too difficult anymore. While a dedicated camera is best, most phones have a camera built-in to them that has a high enough quality to give you the image you need. 


Painting from a photo isn’t as frowned upon today as it once was. It’s also a great way to take your muse with you wherever you go. Now, you can paint someone in another part of the world without limiting yourself to the time they’re directly with you. Even for nearby muses it’s much easier to snap a photo of what you want to paint than scheduling in time for both of you sit down face-to-face for hours. Just make sure you use these tips to ensure that the photo you use for a portrait is good enough to get that portrait done well.