To set things straight once-and-for-all: using and manipulating photos for your paintings is NOT cheating. It’s just like any other tool you use. You simply want to inspire yourself and get your creativity going.
And there are fewer ways of sparking your imagination by just bashing a bunch of photos together like a madman!
Photobashing is the process of taking photos that look interesting in terms of color scheme, texture, shapes and atmosphere and just warping them through the abyss and back.
Flip them upside down, invert them, stretch using the transform tools, erase and paint over, and just completely bash the photos together in ways that make sense. The more you know what you’re trying to pull off, the better.
Perhaps you can take a photo of some desert and just stretch it out horizontally, pull the ends so you get some perspective going, and you have yourself a cool base for a ground to start painting on.
You might take 3 or 4 different photos and have different blending modes on them, and maybe blur them, and you’ve suddenly got a great color scheme with some interesting texture going that you can continue painting on and refine a general sense of design and composition.
Photos shouldn’t be viewed as a cheating method, they should be regarded as an aid to your creativity.
Here’s a quick speedie I did with some photobashing: