There is a term in theater called going off script, when an actor begins to add lib their character and goes where his or her creativity takes them. I liken that term to my use of photographs when I paint. I generally don’t paint on location (en plein air) so I rely on my library of photographs that I've built over the years. I’ve made it a point to always have my camera with me so I can snap a photo of the things that inspire me, no matter the time of day or where I might be in the world.
But the goal of the photograph for me is to have a reference from a moment in time that made me stop and stare for a bit, to wonder if I could possibly take what moved me at that moment, and create something visually interesting for others to enjoy. Along with the photograph, I keep copious notes on the subject so I can relate to both when working on my composition. So as I begin to paint, with my reference photo near by, I find myself going off script and letting my senses take me where I need to go with the painting. Perhaps it means exaggerating color to make something pop or adjusting the location of some rocks to draw your eye into the composition.
It's not always necessary to paint every blade of grass, or every tree leaf, and we can make a path turn left instead of right. Some artists refer to this as being in the zone...that place where creativity and concentration take over and the painting begins to come to life without the tedious details of the reference photo. It's a liberating feeling and one that demonstrates the limitless possibilities of ones own creativity. The end result is a composition that gives meaning to the artist’s interpretation, and moves away from simply being a recreation of a photograph.