How to Find Painting Reference Photos Without Breaking the Law

I don’t know about you, but whenever I’m out and about, especially when travelling abroad or in the countryside, I’ve always got one eye on my surroundings, looking for potential scenes to photograph for use as painting reference.

I’ve got quite a backlog of image files just waiting to be painted.

But sometimes, the photos don’t inspire me, and I want to paint something that I don’t have a reference for.

You might think a Google image search would be a safe bet.

Not so fast! Haven’t you ever heard of copyright law?

If you find a random image online and use it as reference for a painting, you could end up being sued for copyright infringement by the owner of the photograph.

It may not be likely, but it could happen, and besides, it’s important to respect the copyright of other people’s images.

So what are we artists to do? Must we go through life only painting things that we see with our own eyes/camera?

The solution – Paint My Photo

I recently discovered a fantastic online community called Paint My Photo, described as the place “where artists and photographers meet.”

It was set up by Roy Simmons, and the concept is simple – photographers can upload their photos to the site, and in doing so, they grant permission for artists to use the photos as painting reference, without any copyright worries.

Four of the paintings I made last week used reference photos from Paint My Photo:

You can see these images on my Paint My Photo profile page (you’ll need to create an account or sign in with Facebook/Google first) and each image description contains a link for you to see the original photo.

Many of the photos on the site are submitted by professional photographers, and are exceptional quality, so whatever you’re interested in painting – animals, flowers, people, landscapes, still life – you’re sure to find plenty of photos you can work from.

Have you used Paint My Photo? Leave a comment and let me know what you think!





  1. Lori Avatar

    Hey Dan..I’ve been a member of paint photo for a few years now and have found fantastic source photos there! In addition to the great photos the artists and photographers are a great bunch of people!!

    I thought I recognized that giraffe!! Lol

    Happy painting!

    1. Erwin Bongalos Avatar
      Erwin Bongalos

      Wow thanks. This is very helpful.

  2. Chris Goldberg Avatar
    Chris Goldberg

    I too have been using it for a number of years, a valuable source of reference material

  3. Sue Avatar

    Sorry to bother you, but I’ve a question. If I use a reference photo from PmP, paint it and then try and sell it, is that legal?

    1. Dan Avatar

      Yes, I believe that’s fine, as long as it’s not digital artwork. Their terms and conditions state: “You can make non-digital artwork based on Photos shared in the PMP Image galleries. You can exhibit, reproduce and/or sell your artwork.”

      Hope that helps!

      1. Sue Bruton Avatar
        Sue Bruton

        Thank you so much for your prompt reply. You’ve put my mind at rest. All I need to work out now, uploading my finished work and thank the photographer! It’s appears rather difficult to navigate – I shall ask my son! ?

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