A student asked me, this week, if she could use a photo "from the internet" to make her drawing. Leaving aside the interesting questions of intellectual property, there are still some problems with that. Here's what I said.
As for your question about whether you can work from a photograph... I wouldn't be surprised if more than one student uses photographs (from the internet, from books and magazines, or by posing a friend and snapping their own) as reference for the drawing. I will expect all of them to cite their sources. However, I'll also warn you that there are at least three ways that can contribute to making weak drawings.
- The first problem can be avoided by exercising good judgment. The internet is full of cheesy cliches and you want to avoid picking a sentimental seen-it-a-million-times greeting-card type image as a source. By definition, the images that float to the top of a Google Images search are commonplace and widely referenced, so there's a real danger of getting only the most stereotypical pictures. Dig deeper. Use some off-the-wall search terms.
- The second problem is a serious one of originality. This is a fine art course and we are artists. Our interests (and our livelihood) lie in creating original work from a personalized viewpoint. While that may sometimes reference the work of other creators, there's no call--in this course--for outright appropriation. On this assignment, I do not want to see a drawing that is a flat-out copy of a photograph, especially not someone else's photograph. I'm expecting a much higher level of originality and observation than that. If you must work from someone else's photograph, use more than one reference image and set yourself the objective of combining them in non-trivial ways to create an image that is truly your own. (And then cite all your sources.)
- Finally, there is a practical problem with working from photographs. A photo gives you less information than you'd have if you had the scene in front of you. As a result, drawings from photographs are sometimes inaccurate and often disappointingly flat. When artists work from reference photographs, we usually make an effort to emphasize depth in the drawing as a way of compensating for that.
Cameras and photography are so cheap and ubiquitous these days that I encourage you to get in the habit of setting up your own reference photographs. Then your only limits are in your own imagination.