Fine Art Painterly Images
For the past couple of years, I’ve been working on creating fine art painterly images. Sometimes my style has deviated from this objective, but I keep coming back to it. In 2014, I set out to emulate famous paintings. Now, two years later, I can say I have learned a lot more about both photography and photo editing. In this article I will share a few of these pointers.
When approaching fine art painterly images, there are different ways to achieve this. 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 either actions or overlays.
Look at the masters in Art History. (I am currently drawn to the works of William-Adolphe Bouguereau as my inspiration.) 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 focal point.
Light and Shadow
I want to explain the two ways I try to achieve good light and shadow depth in my images. First, I set out to get the most depth in-camera. 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.
My husband works with oil paints and is often telling me that good art draws the viewer in and keeps him coming back. I am noticing more and more photography on social media that contains the “Wow Factor”: bright colors, surreal story, unbelievable skies. (I only say this because I have created similar images myself.) But I feel that a lot of it is like a flash in the pan. After the initial, “Wow!”, the viewer moves on.
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. It also really makes my subjects “pop”.
This can be helped in post processing too. When I edit my images, I will often darken my backgrounds and warm up my subjects, just a touch. I have recently been experimenting with very subtle motion blur in my backgrounds as well. This really helps to draw the eye to my subject matter, while making the world around them “stop”, so to speak. A little ironic, no?
I often chuckle to myself 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. Never set out to create a masterpiece, just learn. Use every piece as another stepping stone to learning and forming your craft. You will be thrilled as you watch your progress!
Sonya Adcock is a fine art photographer based in the beautiful state of Pennsylvania. She specializes in artistic child photography. Sonya’s artwork has been featured in Photography Monthly Magazine, Bella Grace Magazine, and Redbook Magazine. In the hectic pace of a digital era, her artwork encourages you to slow down and remember the joys and magic of childhood.
For the photographer, Sonya will be releasing photo editing tutorials, actions, and overlays. Please join our Mailing List to be notified of future release dates. Or you can subscribe to her weekly Blog for tips on photography and art.
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