Category Archives: painting

Painting for Photographers

The title is a double meaning, one is the obvious meaning, how can a photographer “paint” their images. The second is a reference to a book by Karen Sperling called “Painting for Photographers” which has been a guide for me while I explore how to use Corel Painter and Photoshop CS5 to change images into paintings.

I am a photographer, I am not a painter or at least I’m not in the classic sense of the word. But, as a portrait photographer, I use light and shadow just like a painter does to add texture and depth to my subject. Karen’s book really helps with understanding what makes a painting work and why it is different at times than a picture. I will say that while she is mostly oriented to the user of PainterX or Painter 11, she does not leave out the CS5 users who have the new bristle brushes and blending modes. Much of what she teaches crosses over to both. For example, when painting in the background, things like transitions, blending of hair, using different brush textures are not specific to one application but can be used by many different applications.

Karen shows alot of information on different styles of images using “chalk”, “watercolor”, “sponge” and more plus what makes each work for a particular style of image. You would not want to try to take a dark dramatic image and try to make it a watercolor. It would not look or feel right. Oils can lend a sense of formal stature to a portrait and sponge can really make a landscape pop with texture. Karen has all of this and much more in a relatively thin book.

What does all this mean to a photographer? Another revenue stream is what it means. Seeing a “painting” that is on canvas and LARGE is impressive to clients.  Most people really do not understand what a painting is all about, they are used to seeing pictures and snapshots. When they see a large portrait with the drama of blending and texture, they “get it”. And it’s unique enough that clients who really want that something “special” that few others have will be very interested.

So what can you paint? Portraits of all kinds, wedding shots are common because they lend themselves to a painted style of image. Landscapes are another type of image that works really well as a painting. Virtually any type of image can work with the right kind of technique.

I have a small gallery of a current project that shows the transition from a nice normal portrait to a painting that looks really nice. I’m still working on it and learning some of the fine points. I will say that you need to get used to using layers. I have several layers of painting so I can try different things and not ruin work already completed that I’m happy with. One of the big differences between the un-retouched and the painting is that I was able to really clean up the eyes and catchlights by painting. A second huge improvement was made to the overall image by the removal of the background to a more artistic painted background. One thing to remember with a painting is that you paint out alot of small details and use large details to carry the painting. This is true for most paintings and one of the hardest things for a photographer who has spent a fair amount of money to get megapixels of detail to turn around and paint out all the tiny detail. Why? Because it would never show in a real painting and since you are making a painting, you need to work like a painter. I personally find I like to blend the two where I keep some fine detail and lose other detail. But that is just a style of painting that I find myself falling into. Everybody has their own style or will have their own style just like their photography.

Digital Wedding Painting Bride

So what do you need to start painting your photographs? You need some type of software, normally Corel Painter or Photoshop CS5. You can do this with a mouse but I can not too strongly suggest a tablet like a Wacom tablet and pen. The control you get from using a tablet/pen is unparalleled compared to a mouse. With the pressure sensitivity of the pen, it gives you the feel and touch of using a real paint brush. So now that you have software and a tablet, what else? Find a picture you want to make into a painting. I did forgot one important item, you need to read Karen’s book FIRST and then use it as a reference as you start your painting. I will say this, while painting with Corel Painter is well documented, painting with CS5 bristle brushes is not nearly as well supported at this time.

To the end of trying to find some help for those with CS5 and not Painter, here are some links to help explain how to use CS5’s blend modes and bristle brushes.

Peachpit Press #86 Using the Mixer Brush

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Final Westcott Competition Entries

Some of you know that the photographic lighting supplier, Westcott,  did a pretty crazy cool thing at Photoshop World this year in Vegas. They set up four shooting sets and had live models, lights, props and watchers on hand and then let the public go nuts shooting the models. The payoff if that IF you enter their contest and IF you win, your image will be the Westcott catalog and you get some lighting equipment. And let me tell you that after shooting with their spiderlights, I’m lusting after a set of those lights! Cool, nicely balanced and bright, they are easier than strobes when shooting something like this where a subtle change in position or expression can have a profound impact in the image. Since the lights are continuous, you can shoot as fast as you can click the shutter without worry of the strobe not keeping up. In my studio here in Orange, this type of shooting works really well. I shoot strobes alot but after working with “hot lights” twice now, I really can see the value of them, especially the new cool “hot” lights.

Here are my entries for the contest. I’m also including a few shots of the sets so you can see the environment we had to work in. I used several different techniques with my entries. I worked only with the props and set given, I replaced the background in one, I flipped one to a “painting” using CS5’s new bristle brushes and I worked the tones. In all case though, the overriding concerns were sharpness, content, composition and overall impact of the image. I feel that without a sharp image and good solid composition, all the post work in the world will not push a bad image up the ladder.

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Why edit snapshots?

I get teased alot for taking the time to edit my snapshots. I tend not to hand out any images that I have not make a quick pass for color adjustments, cropping and minor clean up. Sometimes though, my cleaning up can pay off nicely. In the following example, my six year old was jumping on a air powered rocket that would trail bubbles. But the bad news was she had her back to me for a good bubble shot. But then as I kept shooting, she flipped sides and now she was facing me but the bubbles did not have a nice look. Can’t win huh?  Not exactly!  Through the magic of Photoshop, I was able to make a decent snap in just a few minutes of work.

The trick is to pick the keeper image and then swap out the subject for a better version. Portrait shooters do this all the time in swapping out heads, eyes, smiles and more to get that perfect portrait. I just wanted a nice snapshot of a fun moment so I swapped out Sara’s back side shot to the one of her facing me and put it on the good bubble shot. The magic in this type of swap job is in how to use masks and the pain brush. This tip is pretty much effortless since we do not have the cut out the subject, just get around the subject.

Here are my  two original shots.

Bubble rocket Backside

Bubble Rocket Back View

Bubble Rocket Jump

Bubble Rocket Jump Front View

You can see that the front shot is more interesting since it shows her face but the bubbles are more fun on the back shot. Here is the final product after I used CS4 to paint in the correct version of Sara on the right bubble background.

Final version after painting

FInal version after painting

So how did I get there from the two originals?  Easy..

Photoshop Masks

Photoshop Masks

I made two layers, each with one version of the image and each with a mask. The first image is my subject or the subject I want to see and the second is my background I want to keep. First, we need to put the two images into alignment and to do that, you can use auto-align to line up the images or you can do it manually. I used auto-align and painted (blended) manually. You can find the auto- align tool at EditAuto align layers and choose automatic. Do not blend, you need to do that part by hand

The subject I want

The subject I want

Here is the second layer with my background.

The wanted background

The wanted background

With the two layers in place, I paint in my top subject layer at 100% on the subject and then fade in the borders at 50% and 25%. I also use a Wacom which lets me blend with pressure which gives me considerably more control over the blending. Once I have a good blend job, I then apply global adjustments for color/contrast etc. And whammo!  I have a nice snapshot of my daughter launching her bubble rocket with good bubbles AND her face showing. Total time was about 10 minutes in Photoshop.

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Further Development Using Corel Painter

So I’ve been on a high key kick of late with Lightroom and Photoshop. I mean, EVERYONE does black backgrounds or vignettes and it’s old.. very old. I stumbled over something of a Hybrid High Key look while working on a junk image several weeks ago. I even posted an entry here on it and how I made it from junk to art. That just got my interest up as a new business angle. So for the past weeks, I have gone from fooling around with it to writing a Lightroom preset called “White out” to working in Photoshop to “paint” the final image.

Now I’ve extended it further with the use of Corel Painter 11 or you could use Corel Painter Essentials 4 which is considerably cheaper to get started with. I love digital painting. I love taking a sharp and detailed photograph and turning it into a painting or close to a painting that lacks the sharp details but has a wonderful texture and feel to it that a photograph is lacking. I will also add that a Wacom or other graphics tablet is pretty much required to do this well. A mouse is painful to use when you want to paint and you will get frustrated with it. In my case, I did try painting without the tablet and then I bought a used tablet for a cheap price to see if I really wanted to stay with it. I just bought a new medium Intuos 4 Wacom so I have committed myself to this style of post processing.

Photoshop CS5 has some basic painting elements now built in but I find them more of a play toy than anything ready for serious painting. But, they will get you by on the cheap if you already have CS5 and would not rather not sprint for Corel’s software OR you would rather not learn a new software package. I also feel that these basic brushes in CS5 are just the opening move for CS5 to move into Corel’s space. I think if Corel were smart, they would offer plugs for CS5 that extend CS5 more into the Corel way of painting. At least the 800lb gorilla is not quite as ready to step on you if you are a partner of theirs.  Just my opinion and I dont know diddly about what goes on in the backroom of Adobe or Corel.

White out conversion

White out conversion

So here is a picture that shows my original image plus the basic reworked image that has the background replaced with white and the levels reworked using my Whiteout action plus some manual tuning. I also used Portraiture to smooth out the skin.

I took this image, added about two inches around it in white and saved it as an eight bit TIFF file and brought it into Painter. I cloned the image and added a layer to the clone. Then I used the basic blender brush called “grainy watercolor” and painted out the edges. Then I used the same brush in various sizes to brush out fine details and to blend tones. I did add some color to places like the nose and lips which had blown out to white in the processing. I used black to add some lines to other blown areas, just a touch of a line, a hint as it were. I might add some color background but that defeats the point of a high key look in white.. but I might do it anyways. I also did some heavy retouching on the reflections in the glasses. Since I wanted the black dots on the hat and the black glasses to provide a counter point to all the white, I needed the glasses to be almost solid black with just a bit of reflection to provide the texture. Smooth black in my mind would be too much.

white out then painted

Whiteout when painted

You can see that while the painting looks good, there is still some room for improvements here and there. That is the trouble with this style of post reworking, you can get so caught up in refining things, you never finish it. I love to paint and I have several ideas for my business revolving around using painting as a tool. But like the basic art of photography, this will require a fair amount of practice on my part or yours if you want to try it also. I would warn you not to get too discouraged at first. Painter is not intuitive or at least I dont find it that way. Some of my Photoshop commands transfer but by in large, it’s a completely new set of skills and commands to learn. This is the attraction of trying to see how far I can push the new bristle brushes in Photoshop CS5 where I already feel comfortable.

Tools used in this article:

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