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Understanding the subject

From: Digital Painting: Street Scene

Video: Understanding the subject

The heart of a photograph, as well as a painting, is its subject. A common mistake when photographing the subject is to make it too small within the overall image. I am going to go over a few things that show you how you can enhance an image and make it the center of your painting in a few short steps. And all of these are preparatory elements that we do still while dealing with the photograph prior to taking it into the painting process. Now this is a photograph I shot with my iPhone camera, so it's no great camera.

Understanding the subject

The heart of a photograph, as well as a painting, is its subject. A common mistake when photographing the subject is to make it too small within the overall image. I am going to go over a few things that show you how you can enhance an image and make it the center of your painting in a few short steps. And all of these are preparatory elements that we do still while dealing with the photograph prior to taking it into the painting process. Now this is a photograph I shot with my iPhone camera, so it's no great camera.

It does record images nicely, I'd have to admit that, but it's not the same as a DSLR. However, when you're translating a photograph into a painting you don't need a high-end camera by any means to do this kind of interpretation. So even a iPhone camera is an appropriate acquisition device for elements that you're going to use for the subject of a painting. Now, the first thing I did here when I photographed--and it's got a few mistakes. Let's look at them. The subject, which is this little birdhouse, is a bit small in the scene.

There is a lot of noise around it, a lot of detail that is attracting the eye and distracting from the subject. We've also got that house in the background, which is totally inappropriate for this. It's harder for your eye to decide whether it should be looking at the house in the background or this little birdhouse hanging from the tree. So there's a lot of noise here that has to be removed. Well, the first thing I did is I cropped the image. So here it is cropped so that now our subject is much more central in the image.

It's taking up at least 50% of the width and the height of it, and that's good. You want your image to be large. The larger it is the more it's going to be considered the element to focus on. I then went in and I added much more foliage around it, because I want to get rid of that house in the background. That was the main thing I did in adding all of this foliage. I slightly color- corrected it as well. Once I did that, I realized I want to tell a little bit more of a story here. Even though I couldn't photograph them, because every time I got close they went back inside, I could fake it.

So I ended up finding some elements on the web of just birds with their mouths open, and I was able to put them into here. I actually enlarged them a little bit which is another thing you can do. There is no reason you unnecessarily have to stay in the correct scale. In order for this to read and have the eye go up to that particular element, enlarging it a bit is a way to exaggerate, in a subtle way, your subject matter. So while the main subject is this birdhouse, the secondary subject is the fact that these little birds are in there with their mouths open.

Obviously, it's time to eat. Where is our food? So now I've got a story going on, but I still have all of this noise to deal with. So here's where we go to next. Next I took that imagery and I simplified it. There is a number of ways to do this. The way I happen to do it here is with Topaz Lab's Simplify 3 plug-in for Photoshop, and it just has a number of controls that allow you to take imagery and simplify it down. And if we zoom into this a little bit, and I'll go back to the original and zoom in the same amount, I can go back and forth.

So you can see the detail and even some of the detail in the iPhone photo isn't that great, plus I've enlarged it up to a larger resolution so that I'll be able to work on this with my brushes. You can see the difference between the two. There is a lot of what I call high-frequency noise in this image that the eye just wants to look around and see all this detail. But when you simplify it a bit, it's the beginning of starting to take away from the vocabulary of photography to the vocabulary of painting. Now, this is just a first step.

Then I went to this. So now I've used the photograph and the special cloning layers that are included with this course to go in and paint over all of that detail. I've done it in such a way, you still get the read that this is foliage in the background, some kind of foliage with some sky peeking through, but you're not having to deal with every leaf of all this foliage. It's pushed back in such a way that now our subject is much more central to the image.

And while we may see this as a stage, the actors are basically our little birdhouse and then the birds in the little hole in the birdhouse. So that's the next step we went through. Then I went to here. Now I am starting to restore some detail. The background without anything going on is rather plain and is boring. So by starting to reintroduce some of the detail back into the image, I've been able to provide a little more interest overall and balance the rest areas, the areas in the background that don't have much contrast or changes going on, with areas that are higher contrast and more detail.

To have that combination of both rest areas in your image as well as contrasting areas adds an overall visual interest to the painting. Finally, this is the final layer. I am going to zoom up here, and we'll do the same thing as we did before. Let's zoom up so we can see the differences between these two. You'll see that in this image it's basically done, but if you watch in this dark area when I switch, you see how there is some sort of surface effect going on here. I'll do it again because it's pretty subtle.

I think you see it pretty good right there. Let's turn it off, and now I'll switch it to that next layer. What that is is a virtual varnish that I apply to the image to even add a greater sense of this being an actual painting. So that as I move around on this, this begins to look very, very much like what a photographed painting will look like. We are seeing all the detail of the canvas weave. We are getting some of these marks from brushstrokes.

We're getting a sense of an irregular varnished-surface topcoat on this. So all of these elements then come together to give us the sense of this being a painting, and that's the idea here. We started with a photograph, but going through the steps I've shown you, we're able to increase focus on the subject, we are deleting elements that aren't important and are distracting, and we're adding elements in this case to help reinforce a little storyline that not only is this a cute little camper that is a birdhouse, but it also has some birds actually in that area of the window that seem to be asking mom for some food.

So the combination of all this is what leads to a successful painting, and throughout this title we are going to be looking at all of these various elements in great detail.

Show transcript

This video is part of

Image for Digital Painting: Street Scene
Digital Painting: Street Scene

45 video lessons · 15027 viewers

John Derry
Author

 
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  1. 8m 50s
    1. Welcome
      1m 11s
    2. Using the exercise files
      39s
    3. Installing custom brushes
      7m 0s
  2. 22m 3s
    1. Understanding the visual vocabulary
      4m 46s
    2. Using the vocabulary of photography
      6m 41s
    3. Using the vocabulary of painting
      7m 1s
    4. Looking at reality through a mental painting filter
      3m 35s
  3. 10m 22s
    1. Understanding that resolution is in the brush strokes
      3m 6s
    2. Understanding the subject
      7m 16s
  4. 16m 1s
    1. Removing lens distortions
      2m 33s
    2. Using the Free Transform tool
      4m 42s
    3. Using the Lens Correction filter
      4m 36s
    4. Understanding the ACR lens correction profiles
      4m 10s
  5. 12m 23s
    1. Working with Vibrance
      3m 14s
    2. Using the Match Color command
      2m 59s
    3. Understanding the traditional paint color swatch set
      6m 10s
  6. 16m 6s
    1. The eye has a bettor sensor than a camera
      3m 16s
    2. Using the Shadow/Highlight filter
      3m 17s
    3. Using the HDR Toning filter
      5m 23s
    4. Understanding how RAW files provide malleability
      4m 10s
  7. 14m 42s
    1. Working with the Reduce Noise filter
      2m 50s
    2. Working with the Surface Blur filter
      3m 6s
    3. Using Smart Blur for simplification
      2m 51s
    4. Working with the Topaz Simplify plug-in
      5m 55s
  8. 31m 10s
    1. NDLP: A creative safety net
      5m 1s
    2. Using custom actions
      9m 41s
    3. Using the reference layer
      5m 29s
    4. Cloning layers
      6m 5s
    5. Working with the Hue/Saturation adjustment layer
      4m 54s
  9. 17m 28s
    1. Brush categorization
      10m 1s
    2. Working with canvas texture
      3m 41s
    3. Using Sample All Layers
      3m 46s
  10. 12m 48s
    1. Being willing to destroy detail
      7m 21s
    2. Establishing the painting style
      5m 27s
  11. 25m 1s
    1. Simplified indication
      9m 3s
    2. Understanding color
      4m 10s
    3. Introducing texture
      11m 48s
  12. 17m 36s
    1. Providing rest areas for the eye
      6m 55s
    2. Focusing on the subject through detail
      10m 41s
  13. 24m 20s
    1. Being willing to depart from the original
      6m 48s
    2. Creating detail to enhance the artwork
      8m 36s
    3. Creating physical surface texture effects
      8m 56s
  14. 10m 33s
    1. Waiting a day
      4m 14s
    2. Examining your importance hierarchy
      6m 19s
  15. 57s
    1. Goodbye
      57s

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