Hello you free artist

This is Ibrahim Lancoln and in this article I share with you my knowledge and wisdom to start to create your own Photo Reference Pack.

1) Gear

I started with my sister’s Canon reflex and when I decided to become serious about the Nomad Photo Reference project I bought my own reflex camera with a basic lens that I still use today, a Nikon D7200 with a lens of 18-105 mm more precisely.

Why this model you would ask ? Well I am not a technical expert but I was used to use a reflex camera, I wanted something with a good standard quality to begin with, no need for fancy accessories nor a super expensive camera when you don’t know shit about technical camera stuff and begin in photography.

2) Basic photography skills

I shot my first photo packs with the automatic mode of my camera.

And the tips I give you in this article can be applied to this. You don’t need to be an awesome photographer (fortunately ^^). However, you are probably an artist yourself so it should be easy for you to think like one. Ask yourself:

What makes a good reference ?

And if you don’t know where to start, here are my advice:

A) RAW or JPG ?


Use both at the highest quality possible. Your photo packs will be composed of JPGs from uncompressed RAW photos. And use the RAW images to create your promotional images with Photoshop or Lightroom. The RAW format is great for photo editing and have a lot of precise parameters to create beautiful images.


Also, I don’t advise you to edit your JPGs or RAWs (+ to convert them in JPG after edition) in your photo pack. It’s not worth it and fucking time consuming ! >_<


I did that for the packs of the Corsica series, the photos are good but it took me a week to process them

-_-” Bravo Moray.

Corsica Bonifacio old city
Corsica Bonifacio's Harbour
Corsica Hiking Volume 2
Corsica Hiking Volume 1

Besides, artists who want to edit them will prefer to have neutral photos to work with in order to make anything they want with them.


I also don’t advise to create packs with your RAW photos only. They are not super relevant to use in our industries (game and movie) as we use these images as references or sometimes as assets for photobashing for instance, and in this case you still don’t need all of the RAW parameters. Plus it breaks your workflow to drag & drop several RAW images into Photoshop for each time you will have to wait for the RAW window settings to open and then to load your image into your workspace. Doing it once is ok. But photobashing artists uses dozens of photos in their artworks, so, not a good idea.

In the GIF process bellow, imagine how frustrating it would have been for the artist to play with RAW photos each time he adds one.

To sum up:

JPGs: for your photo pack

RAWs: to edit them for your promotional images.


Keep in mind that it is not about art photography and I will explain to you bellow how to have good photos with basic photography skills without the need of editing them. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t care about doing beautiful photos, but I make a difference between beautiful (technically good) and artistic (with a vision or a story telling).

B) Framing and Composition

Here I give you three basic framing/composition to use, you can see way more than that in my packs but they are more complicated and each one for a different purpose but that will be for another article.

For now, let’s focus on simplicity and readability. If you want to show the environment, play with the lines, center the landscape.

article how to create your own photo reference pack framing wrote by Ibrahim lancoln at nomad photo reference
Environment centered, framded by the foliage, simple and the info is clear.

If you want to focus on the shape of your subject, put it in the center of your image.

And if you capture textures, make sure that your camera face the texture from an isometric view angle. If it is a ground, from an isometric top-down view angle, and if it is a wall, just face it with your camera. For the top-down view I often just extend my arm and shot multiple times and then sort out the good photos or do it again, this is a good way to shoot grounds when you don’t have any photo accessories.

Bonus: Your feet are not captured in the photos, when I tried several contorted positions I often ended up with one of my feet in the shot :/

article how to create your own photo reference pack wrote by Ibrahim lancoln at nomad photo reference
OMG Beach sand indoors O_O

C) Three Levels Of Details

You can think it like a narrative way to introduce your subject step by step . Like in a movie, a classic way to do so is:


Wide shot:

For the context and to understand the environment where the subject is, evolves and interacts.

article how to create your own photo reference pack wrote by Ibrahim lancoln at nomad photo reference

Full shot:


Capture the subject, its shape and general look.

article how to create your own photo reference pack wrote by Ibrahim lancoln at nomad photo reference


Give details, textures, materials, mechanism, the “subject view” was for “what it does” this detailed view is about “how it works

article how to create your own photo reference pack wrote by Ibrahim lancoln at nomad photo reference

D) Turn around your subject

45° angle for each photo is a great feature. This is an easy way to give more details and don’t forget about the worm and eagle view if you can.

article how to create your own photo reference pack wrote by Ibrahim lancoln at nomad photo reference

E) No flash from your camera

Mahgad it is disgusting ! Unless you are geared up with a good flash and know how to use it, don’t use the flash. It’s a “neh neh”. I will develop how to shoot photos in dark places and indoors without flash in a future article but here are the main settings to play with if you want to go further now:

  • Bigger aperture: to let more light come into your camera.

  • High ISO: but be careful and test the limit where your image starts to get too noisy.

  • Slow shutter: also be careful about the motion blur, use a tripod if possible or at least have a good stance.

    For instance, these were my settings for this photo:

  • Focale length: 3,5
  • ISO: 640
  • Shutter speed: 1/25 s

F) Bonus: Double Check system

Sometimes you will end up with 1000 photos or more ! O_O and of course probably half of them if not more will be bad. Thus you’ll end up spending a lot of time to sort everything out. One day I got tired of this process and I created my double check system. It may sound like it takes more time as the previous workflow but let me explain my point.

article how to create your own photo reference pack wrote by Ibrahim lancoln at nomad photo reference
This may take a while ...

First check: I watch every photos on my camera after each shot or series of shots. And delete right away the ones that are obviously bad. I keep the ones that I have a doubt with to double check them on my computer. This also have the benefit to give myself feedback, enhance the quality of my photos and shoot again to have a good photo. I say this because in the beginning, when I came back home and filtered all of my photos on my laptop, I had to delete bad photos about an interesting subject and it was too late to shoot it again, I lost some good references like that T_T

Second check: on your computer. This is where you save a big amount of time. The first check is a habit to include in your workflow and it only takes a few seconds to do. By the end of your shooting you will end up passing a few minutes to first check your photos. This time investment can save you hours of computer checking afterwards.

Now that I am used to this, I may have a 10% second check deletion compared to hours of more than 50% deletion. Sometimes I don’t even need to delete anything and the pack is ready to be zipped and upload right away !

Don’t forget that it is not about art photography but about giving the right information about a subject. The first layer is like a detailed description of what you want to show. Then, with your skills improving, you can add some of your artistic touch to some of your photos > if relevant ! Because it takes more time and focus to get an artistic photo.

But don’t worry too much about that if you are a beginner, I will develop this topic and share with you my own camera settings + why and how I use them in a future article.

3) The theme of the pack

I have 2 ways to work on my photo packs themes.

When I plan

I know the location and what to shoot thanks to you and your feedback. The fact that you tell me what you want helps me decide what to do in priority. It is even more important for me since I create a business around it, so I must make sure my packs will be worth my while too.


And if you still don’t told me what you want you can do it here and modify your answer over time at will if needed.

When I wander around

This one is more based on half-random tourism. I look for a few point of interests on Google map that may also interest you and I find a way to go from one to another. I look for adventure opportunities and hopefully I find interesting things to shoot and I also get new themes ideas.


I have a folder on my external hard drive where I sort these photos over time. In this folder I have dozens of sub-folders and each one has a theme. I just drop the relevant photos in there and once I feel it is complete I create it and release it. It is an efficient workflow overtime because it works like a “roulement”. After some time you will complete packs after packs like a collection of images.

This may take a while ...

4) Bonus: If you share it with other artists

Make sure to filter your photos !

Delete the bad photos and doubles. Think about the other artists, especially if you put a price on your packs. They will expect quality. One of the greatest artist skill and probably the most difficult to work on (to my eyes) is to make it simple which implies the ability to delete the unnecessary.


It is about quality, not quantity. Set your price on the quality of your pack first, not quantity. Artists would rather get 100 good photos at 5 $ than 500 photos at the same price mixed with a few good ones, average ones and unnecessary ones. It also should be easy for artists to browse your pack and find back what they want. Be careful of this beginner mistake. A mistake that I did and fortunately, no complaints so far ^^ but I see how much I progressed since then.

Delete Bad Photos

In general, a “bad photo” is when you don’t understand what it is about: blurry, overcast, too dark, bad framing.

article how to create your own photo reference pack wrote by Ibrahim lancoln at nomad photo reference

Doubles & Variations

What I call a double is when at least two photos show pretty much the same information. But do not get confused with variation. Variations are good because even if they illustrate the same kind of info, they also deliver relevant differences. It could be a different view angle of the same subject or a texture variation for instance


And for more tips about writing a product description and creating your promotional images, you can read my article “How I created 50 Photo Reference Packs in 4 month” that I wrote for Cubebrush blog.

If you had 4 things to remember

  1. Use basic art skills to have readable information into your photos.
  2. Use basic photo skills and learn step by step how to use your camera to its full potential to give an added value to your packs over time.
  3. Whether you plan or not a shooting, be a minimum organized beforehand, establish your own system, so it will be easy to create your packs afterward.
  4. If you share it, think about the other artists and focus on quality.

I hope this article was useful to you
and tell me in the comments if you want more tips to create your own photo packs.

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Corsica Bonifacio old city
Corsica Bonifacio's Harbour
Corsica Hiking Volume 2
Corsica Hiking Volume 1
Ship wrecks
Textures: Beach Sand Volume 2
Post Apocalyptic
Mountains landscapes
Seoul By night
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