“So…you want me to…?”
“Are you sure? This feels pretty weird.”
“I’m sure. Seriously just…”
Reference doesn’t have to be followed exactly, but the information it gives can be invaluable, especially painting things that we are very familiar seeing–hands and faces. If something is off on a human face, we might not be able to tell exactly what is wrong, but is sure bothers us. Lots of practice may enable an artist to draw something ‘from their head’ but there’s no shame in having a little extra help filling in the gaps of where exactly a shadow would fall, or how cloth would fold–things a photo can help solve.
Photo reference is a tool, just like anything else. It can be neglected, or overused, but usually there’s a nice sweet spot in between where you learn a lot, and your image ends up being much better than you could have pulled ‘from your head’ no matter how much practice you’ve had. Plus: shooting your own reference is fun, and gives a bit more of a social aspect to a process that is normally pretty solitary.