Sometimes I use photo reference when I work. I didn't for a long time, because using photo reference made my stuff look flat and lifeless. More like a chalk outline, really.
This week in particular, I've been using photo reference for my warmup sketches, to get some practice at using photo reference without losing vitality in the artwork.
I find the main thing about using photo reference and making it work is to not actually copy the photo. I use the photo to help figure out a pose, but I do the drawing as if there were a live model in front of me.
1. I do a light loose drawing of the line of action and the main body shapes. I'll spend maybe five minutes on this stage of the drawing. On this copy, I've highlighted the first line in yellow, this was to get the main direction of the pose. I indicated the center line for upper and lower body, and made a construction line to help get the position of the forward and back knees in the right spots.
2. Once the main shapes are blocked in, I spend some time refining the figure.This is where I start to show things like gender and a few expression lines. I also start to hint at the hair and the costume, but I don't go into detail at this point. I don't look at the details, or the edges of the photo image, just at the main thrust of the pose, and the positive and negative space involved.
Finally, I refine the drawing with the details. How much time I spend on that depends on what the drawing is. If I was planning to do a more polished piece of work, the same principles apply, I'd just be slower and more deliberate in my linework, and I'd add some information about shading and light direction. Because this one was just intended to be a warmup sketch and not a major masterpiece, I did as much as I could in fifteen minutes and put down the brush after that.
So there you have it. How to use photo reference without it looking like a chalk outline.
I've linked here to the original photo reference I used. Just a heads-up, there's a little nudity in it. I thought about doing a PG-13 edit to use here, but the original photographer is very anti-censorship so out of respect to him, if you want to see it you'll have to see it all.