Lesley Harrison photographing subjects to paint.
I’m often asked if I use photography as reference for my paintings.

The shortened answer to this question ( I could go on and on about this subject! ) is that photography and art are both passions of mine. And because I choose to paint in a very realistic style, the photography is invaluable. I have never found an animal that can pose in one position for as long as it takes me to paint him or her!

I use digital photography these days and have a camera that shoots 10 frames per second. I use that when I’m interested in moving animals and it allows me to capture moments that might go unnoticed by the naked eye. I usually shoot between one and two thousand photos of, say, a horse that I want to paint.

Clients fly me to their ranches all over the U.S. so I can paint portraits of their animals or children and I always use my photographs as reference material.

In my studio, again, I edit them down to the ones that interest me and I rarely paint from just one photograph. I combine things I like from different shots and then usually put in a different background entirely.

Lesley Harrison on the use of reference photographs.

As I teach and talk to other artists, I find that so many of you are constantly needing and looking for good reference photographs to paint from… without them costing you a fortune. I used to pay $300-$400 for one time usage and then have to go back and get permission (and pay more fees) each time I wanted to use the resulting painting on or for anything new. And that was if the photographer was even willing to work with an artist… some just won’t.

So for years I have photographed my own reference material and have gotten better and better at it… well, maybe it’s because I can afford better cameras these days!! I travel and photograph. No matter where I am, I have a camera in hand. Seems I have a passion for most things visual so of course that includes photography. I just got back from shooting 25,000 photographs in Africa and it occurs to me :-) that I will never be able to paint all of them in this lifetime! And there are tens of thousands of other great photographs just sitting in my portable hard drives, begging to be used. Why not share them for a price that is reasonable and affordable so you don’t have to go through what I did?

All my images that you will find on SmugMug are copyright free and are LARGE files (jpegs, not RAW). You may use them in any way that you would like. There will not be any other fees. And the files are so large that you will be able to crop down to the part of the photograph that you especially like and still have a good, clear image.

I will be posting new images constantly so keep checking back. SmugMug makes it very easy for me to upload them and for you to download them.

So here are some bullet points:

  • All Images copyright free
  • Large files you can download anytime
  • Good, clear images…..easy to paint from
  • More new animals and backgrounds added constantly
  • Each downloaded photograph will cost $50.00
  • Copyright free, non exclusive…any one can buy the same image


Images: (L) Older photo of Lesley taking photographs of swans with film camera. (R) Lesley in full cold weather gear photographing wolves in the snow.

5 Responses to Photos

  1. If I had a special wish . . . .it would be that Lesley would part with just a few of her stunning photographs for her artist students, like me : ) I believe it is on a ‘to-do’ list. I am so excited to see what photos she may offer for compensation?

    I’ll be patient, but will remain ever excited at the chance to paint again from a famed Lesley Harrison photograph : )

  2. Janis,

    I so DON’T want to hire a personal assistant again (after that last experience of finding out she was stealing from me)…but I so NEED one! I am working on it and you will LOVE some of the photos going into the folder for that site from Africa…so thank you for you patience. And please, PLEASE keep reminding me because I forget that the things I so take for granted would be such gifts for some of you out there to have as tools.

    You should see the photos I just got yesterday morning… woo-hoo! STUNNING!! Drove all day to get home and then sat up half the night scrolling through to see what I got.

    I’ll call Marianne right now and see if she can start setting up the site and we could at least get the ones up that I’ve chosen so far and then keep adding to them… THANK YOU for writing with a nudge. I need them, my days are overrun with “stuff”!!

  3. WOOHOO!!! I can hardly wait!!!

    I’m so sorry you had such a bad experience with a thieving assistant. If I were closer I would gladly volunteer : ) I know Marianne will help get this rolling for you. Happy for you, and especially happy for me!!

    Yes, this will be a fantastic GIFT to have access to gorgeous photography. Thank you a million times over for sharing!


  4. Hey Janis… guess what Lesley and I did today?! 🙂 I think you’re going to be pleased!

  5. admin says:

    Lesley’s photos are now for sale on SmugMug at She’ll be adding new photos so check back often. I hope you all enjoy this new treat that Lesley is providing at a very reasonable price. 🙂 … Marianne

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