Or at least get them closer to right!
Drawing from a photo reference without tracing can be a bit of a challenge. The main problem most people face, is getting the proportions wrong. Eyes too far apart, nose too far down, ears too big ect.
There are several techniques to getting closer to the right proportions, and I know of two but will mainly be focusing on one.
Step 1: The Grid Method
This is not the method I use myself for several reasons, but I think its worth mentioning anyway, because it might be useful for some people. Especially people who are not so skilled yet, and need to practice how their brain view an image when using it as a reference.
First off, no; I didn't forget to rotate the image. It's supposed to be upside down :) We will get to that in a bit!
Using photoshop you can add a grid to any photo, dividing it into several squares. If you make the same number of squares on your paper, it will be easier to copy the image square by square.
The reason the photo is upside down, is to keep your brain from being too fixated on whatever the motif of the photo is (in this case a fox). You're brain has a very clear idea on how a fox looks, what its ears looks like, and how its nose looks like proportionally to the eyes and so on. However, what the brain sees and what the hand draws, is not always the same. If you turn the photo upside down and ONLY focus on one single square at a time, you are copying an undefined shape. If you ignore the rest of the photo and only look at the square (it might help if you take a piece of paper and cut out a square, equal the size of the squares on the photo, so you can cover the rest of the photo) your brain doesn't really know what its drawing, and therefore is completely reliant on coping exactly what it sees, not what it think it sees.
Step 2: The Measuring Method
This is the method I use, and will be focusing on. There can be several reasons not to use the grid method, however I highly recommend it for beginners. But you might not choose it for other reasons, such as not wanting a grid on your final drawing, or simply not being able to make a grid on your reference photo (if its an original paper photo, and you don't want to ruin it for obvious reasons).
For this method you'll need something to measure with. What it is, doesn't really matter. As long as its straight and have the length you need.
It can be anything! A popsicle stick, a lighter, a random piece of plastic or even your pencil itself (however, you also need that to draw with, so maybe not..), and if you want to be REALLY precise, an actual measuring tape or ruler.
Step 3: Measure and Find Your Center
I chose the random piece of plastic, because I felt like it had a convenient length. Not too long, not too short.
I was lucky that the size of the motif on the photo matched pretty well with the size of my paper. If this is not the case for you, you can either re-size it on the computer (if you are viewing it directly on the computer in a browser window, you can re-size it by holding Ctrl down whole scrolling either up or down on your mouse, or pressing + and -). If thats not an option, add or subtract 'imaginary' length on your measuring stick, depending if your reference is smaller or larger than the drawing need to be. Like for example, if the drawing need to be twice as big as the photo reference, add twice the length on all you're measurements, or the other way around if it needs to be half the size. You get the idea :)
Figure out where the center of your photo is, and place it according to where you want the center of your motif in the drawing.
Fortunately my fox was exactly 3 pieces of plastic high, making measurements really simple.
Add some faint dots marking your measurements. This is also how you make sure that the entire motif actually fits the size of your paper, or you need to re-size it a bit.
Step 4: Begin Somewhere
Some people have different preferences when it comes to where to start in a drawing, but I love to draw animals and for some reason I always begin with the nose. I guess its because its somewhat center of the most interesting part of any creature - the face :)
But where you like to start and feel most comfortable begging with, is up to you. But in my case, we begin with the nose.
Make some more measurements, and even more measurements relative to the measurements you just made.
To make it a little easier for myself, I first wanted to locate where the face is just as wide as the length of my plastic stick, and then figuring out how far between that measurement and the top of the head (a measurement I already had). Then I need to know how far up the nose is compared to the next mark of the vertical measurements regarding the fox' height. When I know that, I need to know how wide the nose is, and how high it is.
Ever time I figure this out, I make some faint dots to mark on my drawing. When I know width, height, and most importantly, placement of the nose, I can start actually drawing it.
And now measurements and markings expand from this point of view. But still, make sure it corresponds the previous measurements you made elsewhere.
Step 5: Keep on Doing the Right Thing!
Really.. Just keep on doing it!
The challenging part can be to remember to measure all the distances relative to what you need to draw. It can be tricky to take all the directions into account! A good rule of thumb is always to measure up, down, right and left to your starting mark (for example an eye you already did) to mark other things nearby, such as the edge of the head, the beginning of the ear, the other eye, and the mouth.
NOTE: As you might have noticed, although the measurements between the eyes and other things relative to the eyes are right, I didn't quite get the angle of the eyes right, making the fox look rather stoned.
I could have gotten the angle closer to right by measuring the point from where the eye is lowest and where the eye is highest, besides of course the width of the eye.
Later on I also get this wrong with one of the legs, because I was a bit too quick and figured I could do this without the measurements for just a moment..... guess I was wrong :P
Step 6: Connect the Dots
When you have the right amount of marks, connect them.
As you can see, I made some kind of error with one of the ears, making it slightly bigger than the other. Oh well, mistakes happen...
If I hadn't used a ball point pen, I would also be able to correct it. (But whatever, its just a quick drawing, no need for getting upset because such things)
Step 7: Larger Measurements
You might get to a point where your measuring stick isn't quite long enough. At this point, you just need to add a little extra based on imagination and memory. Or you can simply measure two times.
It does however mean you might have to make more marking dots in the middle of the motif, even though there aren't really anything of specific detail, but it can be a help to divide some of the drawing this way.
Keep on going until you got all your main lines done, and then add the details or shadows as needed :)