Make one-of-a-kind creations
During the second pandemic winter, I began dabbling in a new hobby: photo painting. It goes by many names—digital painting, digital photo art, mixed media, etc. Rather than simply enhancing the original image using the usual settings like brightness, highlights and shadows, or color saturation, photo painting creates an entirely new piece of art.
There are apps for transforming your photos into pieces that resemble, for example, a Renaissance painting or a watercolor or a vintage illustration, but since I was only tinkering for my own pleasure one long, dark, December evening, I didn’t bother finding new software or reading up on technique. In fact, I stumbled upon this pastime by accident.
Reviewing folders of images from the fall, I opened a slightly blurry mid-October image of some dead leaves with river water rushing by in the background, a downright dull picture. For kicks, I tried the usual suspects for adding pizzaz. Surprisingly, the gray water turned a steely blue and the vegetation rustled back to life. Hmm, I thought, that’s nice, but rather subtle. I saved the image, re-opened it, and performed the same maneuvers. Voila! Color popped.
What the eye couldn’t see, the camera could; the reds, blues, and greens were hiding in the pixels, it seemed, awaiting a sleight of hand. I was hooked. I tried a few other muted photos to test my discovery; alas, my Microsoft Photos app didn’t have the necessary oomph to make pronounced manipulations in one go. So I tried my old version of Photoshop Elements and began adjusting settings. Up came the shadows, down came the highlights; I bumped up the midtones. Meh, that was ok, but… I saturated it, tweaked the hue so the leaves glowed like flames. Ah, that’s better.
I became obsessed. Forget watching the new episode of Van der Valk, I had art to make. Dinner? I’ll grab something in a minute when I’m done with this image. My soul needed color during the otherwise drab season outside. I left no editing option untouched—lightening, sharpening, high contrast, extreme hue changes, the Orton Effect for a dreamlike quality. Then I cropped for stronger design elements.
When walking or skiing or snowshoeing the rest of the winter, I carried my camera, constantly at the ready to snap even more boring photos for my evening fodder.
Many of my attempts at creating new art from bland images fell flat, but so what? That’s the beauty of a hobby. The outcome, if there is one, doesn’t have to be perfect, or even good. A hobby should hold your interest and bring joy. I’ve sold a handful of my favorite photo paintings, but more importantly, the act of creating and delving into all those colors helps me get through the monochromatic months.
Give it a try
• Whatever photo editing software you already have, use it; no need to buy anything or download an app.
• Be bold—swing those sliders left and right, up and down, and see what happens.
• Pay attention to strong design elements like lines, shapes, and patterns; they make the most abstract finals, which help differentiate them from traditional photographs.
• Whenever you create a piece you like, remember to “save as” so you can return to previous versions and branch off in a new direction.
• Above all, have fun.
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