© Article and photography by William Manning
As a graphic design and art history major in college I studied and worked with lots of mediums. Watercolor painting was one of my favorite mediums but over the years I’ve had to put my brushes aside so I could devote my time to my profession of photography. With the advances in technology my old love of painting has found me once again but instead brushes I’m creating my work with pixels.
There are several ways to create painting effects from photography and I’m going to share with you one using a few Photoshop plug-ins that many photographers already own. If you have been following me for a while you know I like to create composites from two or more photos and this project is no different.
Creating a Watercolor Painting
As I often do, I browse my photo library for inspiration, ideas and experimentation. I came across this photo of a roadside cigarette stand, not a strong photo but one that I shot over the summer knowing someday it might be fun to use in one of my photo illustrations. After studying the photo for a few minutes I knew I was going to need something to balance the right side and I knew I needed something that fit the environment. A street rod was one of the first thing that came to mind, so it was.
Step 1: Before I begin any project I make sure I have a strong foundation to build on. I always make sure my base photo is clean, properly exposed and all the elements are in place giving me a strong composition. If you are following along with your own photo go ahead and dust spot any imperfections, use curves or better, use Nik Viveza to fix any questionable exposure issues and in my case I added a car into my composition to strengthen it. If you don’t fix these issues before hand they can come back later in your workflow to ruin or at the very least create a headache.
Step 2: Use the quick selection tool, pen tool or any tool you wish to cut out elements for your composite. I like the pen tool to cut objects out especially when the background is complex such as this one.
Step 3: Once your composition is complete flatten the image and the fun begins. Duplicate your background layer, this additional layer becomes your insurance layer in the case of a major screw-up in the creative process. Run this duplicate layer through an HDR program, I used Nik HDR and the Granny’s Attic preset, and played with the tonality sliders.
Step 4: Duplicate your HDR layer and open this layer into a black and white conversion program, I used Topaz BW Effects and the Traditional Collection and Classic with Grain. I like using grain as it gives my work some texture.
Step 5: Duplicate your black and white layer and deactivate the top BW layer. This extra layer is only there in case you mess up this next step. Activate the bottom BW layer and create a layer mask by clicking on the second icon at the bottom of your layers pallet. Make sure your foreground color is set to black and select the paint brush tool. Once the paintbrush tool is selected then set the opacity to 40% and start brushing over areas you want to bring some color back into. In my case I brushed over the entire image because I wanted color throughout.
Step 6: If you are happy up to this point then it is time to Save before proceeding.
Step 7: This step is where life starts to creep back into your work. Activate the HDR layer and select Hue/Saturation from the Image and Adjustment pull down menu. Select each color individually and boost the saturation as desired. I like to exaggerate the colors a bit for an eye popping watercolor painting.
Step 8: Save your work once again. If all the layers are becoming confusing at this point you can “Save As” to create a duplicate copy of the work, as soon as you create a second copy go ahead and flatten your image and you should have only one layer titled background layer. Duplicate this layer. Open this layer up into Nik Color Efex Pro 4 and select Darken/Lighten Center and play with the center and border luminosity sliders. I bring my center luminosity slider all the way up to about 95%. Make sure the transition is barely noticeable. This step will give your work a nice touch.
Step 9: Open this new layer up once again in Nik Color Efex Pro 4 and select Soft Focus. Play with sliders to your desired look.
Step 10: Duplicate the Soft Focus layer and open it up in Topaz Simplify 4 and choose Line and Ink and select the Line and Ink IV preset and save. Make a layer mask, (this is where the watercolor effect happens) and paint over the entire image with the paint brush. Play with different opacity settings to get your desired look.
Step 11: Watercolors should have a border as many watercolorists will mask down their paper on a surface to work. Open your work into Nik Color Efex Pro 4 and under the Travel presets choose Image borders and play with the border of your choice.
Step 12: The final touch, if you are working in 16 bit you need to switch over to 8 bit simply by going under the Image pull down menu and then Mode and select 8 bit. This step won’t work if you are in 16 bit. Go to Filter in Photoshop select Texture then Texturizer, Sandstone and play with the scaling and relief sliders to your desired effect. Both the border and texture steps is what really brings life into your painting.
Note: The texture effect is difficult to see on most computer screens. I hope this enlarged view will illustrate a little better what this effect will do for your work.
I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and always feel free to drop questions or comments.
© Article and photography by William Manning