Since the pandemic started, and my photography business was forced to slow down, I decided to try something that has always been fascinating to me. I’ve been working on creating fine art painterly images. Using many tutorials, looking at examples and talking to other photographers, I feel I have created something of a unique style. Using some photos from many photo sessions over the past years, I've studied and practiced for many hours.
When I first attempted the painterly look, I felt inclined to add textures to many of my images. I have also seen people use actions that resemble brush strokes. And though I may use texture from time to time, I think that achieving the painterly look does not require a huge amount of texture.
Look at the masters in Art History. What is it about their art makes it so powerful? Brush strokes, texture? Yes, these things do add richness to artwork. But I would submit that even more powerful is the richness of light and shadow and the art of the focal point.
With light and shadow I use two ways to achieve good light and shadow depth in my images. First, getting the most depth in-camera is important. This is best achieved when shooting in manual mode. I will usually stop my images down from what a light meter would suggest. This really captures the best gradient light on my subjects. I don’t necessarily underexpose, but I do expose for the light, trying to keep most of my highlights from blowing out.
Second, I have been recently experimenting with exposure blending in post processing. Though I don’t shoot my images in multiple exposures (this would be difficult since most of my subjects are children!), I do adjust the exposures in the RAW files when editing. This has given me great control over brightening and accentuating the light as well as enriching the shadows.
I feel that good art draws the viewer in and keeps them coming back. So what does the artist do to keep the viewer looking? Composition and focal point. This does not require anything flashy, just careful attention to what is going on in the photograph.
I plan to write a post in the near future on composition. But for starters, a good photograph keeps your eye within the frame. Again, light can be a wonderful source for composition. Does your eye move from the light source to the subject matter and back again? This is composition, the leading of the viewer’s eye. Keep it within the frame.
Focus is also something that seems to be key in fine art painterly images. I don’t always shoot my images wide open, but they are usually pretty close to wide open. This compresses my background and gives it a more “dreamlike” appearance also known as Bokeh, that blurry background that everyone loves. It also really makes my subjects “pop”.
I often laugh when I hear the compliment, “Your photograph looks like a painting!”. Paintings are frequently praised, “That painting looks like a photograph!”. Depth, richness, and story are common threads in both.
I am learning that creating fine art painterly images is just that, an art. It’s not something that can merely be achieved through a Photoshop action. It takes an eye to foresee the outcome.
Cathy & Jenn of CatsMac Photography, Peterborough, Ontario.