So, you've seen a fantastic picture online. You want to draw it. There are some amazing pictures out there. The one you have seen has no watermark and doesn't say you can't copy it and you are going to change it a bit anyway. I am not a legal expert, but I can tell you this. DON'T DO IT. Here is something I didn't know until I researched it for myself. The copyright to all photos online belongs to the photographer who took the photo. It does not matter that they have not watermarked it or visibly copyrighted it. You cannot use ANY photo without the express consent of the photographer. To do so, is to put it simply, theft. Legal action could be brought against you. If you stop and think about this, it is only fair. If you drew a beautiful picture, posted it online and someone else started selling prints from it, would you be very happy? Yes, but, I hear some people say, I am going to change it a bit so that makes it ok? Well, no it doesn't. If what you produce is in any way identifiable as the image from which you stole (yes, stole) it, you could face legal action. You might think that no one would ever find out, but really don't rely on that. I have seen plenty of artwork online where I recognise the photo from which it has been taken, and I know it was not a copyright free photo. So if you think the owner of the photo won't ever come across it, you are probably wrong. So, how do you find a great reference photo. The good news is that there are many sites where photographers very generously share their photos for artists to use. You do need to check the fine print if you want to sell your work. I use these three sites which all provide royalty free photos for artists to use. All three have photos of anything you might want to draw. https://pixabay.com/ https://www.morguefile.com/ http://pmp-art.com/
For those of you who love nature art there is the excellent wildlifereferencephotos. You can pay a small sum per photo, or better still take out a 'subscription', it actually isn't a subscription, I have no idea why they call it that, it is actually a mini package deal. Five photos for $10 or the UK equivalent. You have a month to download your five pictures. They have started to add landscapes and flowers etc. as well as animals now. These pictures tend to be of a much higher resolution than many you find on the free sites. http://www.wildlifereferencephotos.com/
If you still want to draw a photo you have seen online you always have the option to contact the owner of the photo and ask for their permission to use it. But remember, it is their photo. Don't be offended if they say no. And if you don't hear back from them, that means no too.
While all this may seem difficult, remember that the same laws protect us as artists too. Even if we sell an original artwork, we remain holder of the copyright. The buyer of that artwork is not allowed to sell prints or use it for commercial gain without OUR permission. And of course, no one is allowed to make or sell prints of artwork that we post online.
So, if you want to create stunning work to share or sell, cover yourself and make sure that you are allowed to use your reference photo.