How to Trace a Photograph

By Carl Hose

Tracing photographs is something many of us have done at one time or another, especially if we don't consider ourselves artistically inclined. If you have an inclination to draw but lack the skills of an artist, tracing is a great way to fulfill your artistic urges. There are two ways to trace a photograph. One is by hand, the other is with a computer.

Trace by Hand

Choose a suitable photo to trace. Almost any photograph will work, but pay attention to the overall contrast. A dark photo without much contrasting bright parts may be harder to see and may make tracing details difficult. The same is true with a photo that is very light without much contrasting dark areas. Test the photo you want to trace by placing your tracing paper over it and making sure that you can see the details that you wish to trace.

Tape your photo to your work surface using removable tape, so as not to damage the photo. Place the tracing paper over the photograph and tape it down as well, to avoid slipping. As you trace, occasionally run the side of your hand over the tracing paper, smoothing it over the photo. This keeps the paper close to the photograph and makes it easier to see the details you're tracing.

Use a pencil to trace the outlines of the photograph, then go back and begin adding in details. You can trace as many or as few of the details as you want; you might even consider adding your own details after you're finished with the initial tracing.

Vary the pressure with your pencil to shade and color the tracing, or use colored pencils to make a full-color tracing.

Trace with a Computer

Download and install ArtRage (see Resources). Open the program and click on the circle palette at the bottom center of the screen. Choose the "Tracing" option. The program prompts you to load a photograph to trace.

Browse to find the photograph you want to trace on your computer. This will either be a scan of a printed photo or a digital photo file. Open the photo in ArtRage. It will appear very light, as if covered by a piece of tracing paper. Select the tool of your choice. ArtRage comes with many types of artistic paint and sketch tools. Try the pencil tool.

Use your mouse to trace the photograph in the same way you would trace a photograph by hand. Trace the outline, then add details a little at a time.

Clear the photograph away, and you will be left with your tracing. Use the artistic tools in ArtRage, which include pen, oil paint, watercolors, chalk and others, to bring your traced image to life in full color.

About the Author

Carl Hose is the author of the anthology "Dead Horizon" and the the zombie novella "Dead Rising." His work has appeared in "Cold Storage," "Butcher Knives and Body Counts," "Writer's Journal," and "Lighthouse Digest.". He is editor of the "Dark Light" anthology to benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities.