Creating Painterly Images


I often get messaged or asked when I do presentation as to how I get my images to look so painterly? This happened recently again when I was contacted by an artist in Brazil who creates wonderful surreal images. I have since updated what I sent to him, so I thought it might be helpful to others to share my thoughts on how I create images that look painterly.

I love to create an older vintage mood to my images. Creating images that are painterly, helps to achieve this vintage mood. My mission is that by creating images in a world from a different and older time, one far more whimsical and fairytale than our own, the emotions conveyed are easier to bear.

There are a few things that I feel work for me in creating images that are more painterly. Firstly, there are a few things to keep in mind when you capture the images in camera:

  • When I capture my images in camera, I do not strive to get them to be very sharp. Obviously they need to be in focus, but they just do not need to be particularly sharp. I know this must be a strange thing to say, but it really seems to make a difference if you are wanting to achieve a painterly feel to an image. I do not think I have ever in my photographic journey of over 20 years of capturing images, ever captured a particularly perfectly sharp image. It has just never been what I strive for when I capture images, nor has it been necessary for the genres of photography that I have enjoyed capturing over the years. It certainly is not the mood I want to achieve in my work currently. So no stressing about not having the fanciest equipment or sharpest lens! Create with whatever you have.

  • Embrace the imperfections. Embrace blur and grain. Experiment with capturing images at different ISO and shutter speeds. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone and what is considered the “proper” or “correct” way to capture images.

  • I only ever work in natural flat light when I capture images for my fine art portfolio. No strong contrasting lighting, or artificial light. I create in natural flat light both when I create images outdoors, or in my little home studio. I love the softness and mood creating images in this way creates. Strong contrasting light can be a wonderful tool to create for many genres and moods, but it is not what I want to achieve for my work.

Then in post, there are a few things that also add to creating painterly images:

  • I have always found that making various colour changes makes a huge difference to the overall look of my images. I do all my colour changes using “Curves” and when adjusting colours I take note of whether I change the colours in the “Highlights” or “Shadows”. Rarely do I ever change colours in the “Midtones”. I feel that this gives the colours within my images an overall and holistic glow.

  • Another great way to create a painterly image is to use textures. I use textures on all my images, although I tend to use them very subtly. I always add them as a separate layer in Photoshop as the last step before finishing an image. I adjust the “Blending Mode” mode of the layer, as well as also adjusting the “Opacity” of the texture layer. Typically I do so by adding the texture using the “Soft Light” blending mode and usually adjust the opacity to between 30 to 40%. This does vary sometimes and I have used various other combinations, so you need to experiment and find what works for a specific image and mood you wish to achieve.

Having said all this, creating a painterly image might not suite your style, the mood you want to achieve, or the match your concept. Remember to stay true to your style and story. I create this way as it helps me to achieve the mood I want overall in my portfolio and it furthers the story I want to share.

If your work has a very distinctive look and feel, that is what makes it special. Build and develop that. It would be a shame to lose that feeling, so find what makes your work YOU. Finding your own true style is a journey. It can be frustrating at times, but pure bliss when you find what speaks to your soul. The journey is a valuable one, so enjoy the process.

As always, please let me know if you have any further questions on this or any other subject :)

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