How to draw a realistic portrait from a photo

How to draw a realistic portrait from a photo
How to draw a realistic portrait from a photo

It is difficult to draw with a live model and it usually takes a lot of patience and practice, but with time and persistence it is possible to achieve a beautiful portrait. With the right techniques and tools and good observation skills, you can draw a real masterpiece!


Draw a Realistic Portrait from a Photograph Step 1

Step 1. Choose an image

Choose a template suited to your level of drawing. If you are just starting out, avoid using a photo with too many strange shadows, taken from an unusual angle, etc. Keep it simple. If you have more portrait shooting experience, you can try something more complicated to challenge yourself.

  • Decide if you want to draw a man or a woman. Male portraits tend to have more strong shadows, which you may find more or less easy or difficult to portray. Female portraits usually have long hair and some people find it boring and / or difficult to draw a lot of hair.
  • Choose the subject's age. The faces of older people can be more interesting, but also more difficult, because they contain more lines and wrinkles and can be more expressive. Very young children are generally easier to draw, but you may find them difficult if you are used to drawing adults.
Draw a Realistic Portrait from a Photograph Step 2

Step 2. Draw the outlines

Outline the basic contours of the face and head. Use a clear pencil like a 2H. If you don't have several pencils with different leads, use a criterium. It will allow you to draw thin and clear lines that you can easily erase if you need to modify them.

Then outline the main features such as the eyes, some features of the nose, the inside of the ears and the lips, but do not fill in anything

Draw a Realistic Portrait from a Photograph Step 3

Step 3. Don't make it up

Draw only what you see. If there are no dark circles under the eyes, do not draw any. If you only see two or three strokes around the nose, don't add more to try and define it further. It is strongly recommended not to draw strokes based on supposed or imagined elements, as you could make a mistake and spoil the drawing.

You can add details that are not present in the photo later if you don't want your design to look exactly like the model

Draw a Realistic Portrait from a Photograph Step 4

Step 4. Add shadows

This is the most difficult part of making a portrait, but it is also the part that brings life to the subject.

Locate the darker and lightest parts of the face in the model. If you want to add a lot of relief to the portrait, make the light parts as white as possible (use your hardest or thinnest pencil) and the darkest parts as black as possible (with your softest or thickest pencil)

Draw a Realistic Portrait from a Photograph Step 5

Step 5. Be observant

To make the shadows and strokes look realistic and look like the model, constantly look at the photo and compare it to your drawing. You don't have to obsessively do this. Your portrait will never look exactly like the photo, especially if you are new to drawing.

Remember that in order to achieve a good portrait, you must succeed in conveying the expression and the unique quality of the subject. If he has a larger than average nose, don't try to make him smaller. If he has scattered eyebrows, don't try to darken them. A portrait should look like a real person, not an idealized version

Draw a Realistic Portrait from a Photograph Step 6

Step 6. Be patient

Take your time. If you hurry too much to make the portrait, it will be less well done.


  • If you need to draw a portrait for your work or a school project, it is advisable to study the anatomy of the human face and body to better understand how muscles and bones work together.
  • If you are going to color the portrait, try to make a copy beforehand so that you still have the original black and white version (and in case the colored version doesn't appeal to you).
  • You won't get it right the first time. If you haven't drawn portraits for a long time, you will need to practice a lot to improve your technique.

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