Photoshop Your Work, Why Not?

See a Photo Turn Into a Painting

I have been asked to tell how I do both my photos and Photoshop paintings.  I will try to explain both here by talking about the use of Photoshop.

Not being a photographer and not being all that patient about my photos, I rarely rely on Photoshop to make an image substantially better.  The above image is an unretouched image of tulips, taken with my little Nikon point and shoot on Automatic. Nothing special.

The small images with dark red captions are photos with filters applied, available in Photoshop. Usually, they are used in combination with other techniques like you will see below to help get a finished result. Click to make larger.

Rough Pastels

Paint Dabs

I have been entering the Gardening Gone Wild Contest, never really expecting to compete with all the wonderful work that gets submitted monthly. I have been refraining from using Photoshop and trying to have better images right from the get go.


I know that Photoshop is a mere tool at the photographer’s disposal, just as is a filter you might use on the lens. Or the lenses themselves for that matter. I can pop on a macro lens, wide angle, or perspective lens and they will distort my image in a way to enhance and better what I capture.  My Nikon cameras themselves have many settings which will correct for any inadequacy I may have as a photographer. I now shoot many exposures to get a good shot, rather than relying on Landscape, Program or Automatic settings. I never use the macro setting though. I like more control for that kind of shot.

Colored Pencil and Dark Strokes

The image below has one big difference from the unretouched image.  See the hot spot in the upper right of the unretouched photo? I used a tool in Photoshop called Content Aware. It is kinda like it sounds. It takes a portion of the image that you may want to replace with a portion of the image better suited to the final shot.

Content Aware has roughly removed the hot spot and replaced it with more of the fencing. If this was to be a photograph, I would have made that so much better. You would not have known that it was changed. I left it off a bit, so you could see how the tool works. It looked around my selected area and determined what it needed to replace. I love this tool. I rarely clone anymore.

Sharpening and Contrast

When I was in college I did darkroom work that now Photoshop can do for me. I did studio work with lighting and reflective shades that I can also simulate with Photoshop. If I want a lens flare, that can be done. I feel that photography is an art like all others and your tools are your trade.

I have been making an effort to shoot either in the morning or late afternoon, but I do prefer cloudy days, especially after a rain.  Unfortunately, my job does not always cooperate with the free time to take photos.

I have no problem sharpening my image and adding contrast if needed. I almost always do that now because I found many of my photos flat right out of the camera. The above image has been sharpened, cropped  and the contrast increased. I am doing that for making a base to create a painting. There is not a great difference, but the blacks are sharper.

Accented Edges

This image, I used a filter called Accented Edges. It applies a brush like stroke to bring out the edges it detects in the image. See the subtle dark lines outlining the forms?

Next I add a watercolor filter. It could have easily been Fresco or Palette Knife if I wanted a slightly different base image. Either one will break up the color into smaller ‘brushstrokes’. This is a great time saver.

Water Color Added to Accented Edges Filter

Below I am starting to actually paint the image with the Mixer Brushes. I use a tablet, not a mouse. The tablet has a stylus pen.

What the Mixer Brush does is it senses the photo as paint is laid down on the surface of the ‘paper’ or ‘canvas’. And all the pixels are like paint drops. The brushes will mix them and basically drag pixels to where I want them.

It is a long process to really get a good painting. It requires a lot of laying down new ‘paint’ and blending, creating shadows and highlights, like you would do with traditional painting. The advantage here is you have the image to start with. When I would finish a painting, most likely, no pixel would be left untouched.

I often will add leaves or petals to make a better composition. Below I painted a leaf from scratch and added a second leaf with a little depth of field blur. This painting has a long way to go as I would add brush strokes to appear more prominently. I will show this step by step with screen shots if you would like in a future post.

Painted with Brushes

But you can see how in a short time, I can go from the original image, to the beginning of a painting. I would do much more work before simulating canvas like below, but I think you get the process.

Here is something else I added to show some artistic license to a photo, some fake water drops. I did it on a duplicate of the original image to the right most petals of the far right tulip. Here is the closeup view. It looks a little more realistic further away, but I wanted you to see the detail. This is a process I think you could even do in PS Elements, if Elements has Render – Clouds, that is. It has been a long time since I had Elements loaded on any of my computers.

Water Drops Created Using Many Steps

I have a painting I am doing of a lily for the Lewiston GardenFest poster. I did spend many hours on it and it is really quite nice. When the poster is approved by all the committee members next week, I will be a step closer to showing you what they are doing for their walk. Plus, I started the website. I guess I should say we, because I am now a happy member of the Lewiston Garden Club.

I am also a member of the Garden Club of Niagara. I have shown you some of the fun activities that we do in that club too. We have some exciting things planned.

If you like me explaining tricks and tips, ask anytime and I will show you how I go about making an image into a painting. I can do tutorials if you like. Or if you want to know how to improve a photo, I can show you step by step. Occasionally I will have such an image in a post.

It is rare I take the time to do more than sharpen and add contrast though. Some of my birds and squirrels were sharpened and had brightness or contrast adjusted. I adjusted exposure on some too. I will go through what I would do to a regular photo if I took the time to enhance it too. If this post proves popular, you can expect more detailing the how-tos.

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
This entry was posted in Drawings and Paintings, FLOWERS, garden, Garden Clubs, My Creative Posts, photography, Photoshop and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

51 Responses to Photoshop Your Work, Why Not?

  1. Donna says:

    I need so much help, but I have resisted Photoshop simply because of time…I may have to rethink that…I only have a small Canon SureShot point and click so it is what it is I suppose…

  2. One says:

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge. I like the watercolor effect but doesn’t Photoshop take away the joy of painting? Anyway, I haven’t found the time to read the manual of my new camera nor attempt to use Photoshop yet. So of course, I haven’t been painting either. Perhaps with Photoshop, I can have the joy of seeing the outcome of a watercolor painting without having to spend many hours on it. The joy of instant results. 🙂

    • No instant results if you actually paint in Photoshop. The watercolor filter is instant, but the results are less than desirable. The image where I painted is like real painting, each time you make a stroke of the pen, you have to reload the brush with ‘paint’. That was strange to get use to on the computer, but they made it that way to simulate real painting.

  3. Wow, how cool is this! I know nothing, nada, zilch about Photoshop. Had no idea you could do cool things like this. Amazing. Maybe someday. Right now my little pea brain has all it can handle just doing a blog! Ha! I’ll just live my “painter” dreams vicariously through you 🙂

    • Toni, it is not that hard to learn. It is a lot to remember once you learn though. There are endless combinations of techniques to try and once you find something that works great, it is sometimes hard to remember what you did to create it.

  4. Connie says:

    This post shows what a powerful tool Photoshop is! With my photos, I sharpen, correct the levels and/or color balance (my point and shoot camera tends to make things just a little bit too blue, no matter what I do to the white balance — an easy thing to correct in PS). Sometimes, I play with layers and blurs and other filters. I like it best, though, when PS helps me take an already good photo and make it POP. You know that I’m now going to have to mess with the PS painting stuff and see what I can do, don’t you? You do REALLY lovely work!

    • The key is what you said. It is having a good image from the start. I am working on that. The tulips I showed was not a very well focused shot, but it was not necessary for my transformation. You are right too that it can make a good image pop.

  5. What an interesting topic. I don’t have Photoshop, but you can get a similar (if much less sophisticated) version of some of these tools in Apple’s iPhoto Effects, and even in PowerPoint Picture Effects.
    I look forward to seeing the GardenFest poster!

  6. Cat says:

    I really enjoyed watching the process of your shot turning into a painting…it really has such a lush feel to it. I’m considering a tablet – do you have any suggestions? I’m not looking to spend a lot of money but am interested in playing a bit…I’ve seen them for as little as $100 but I’m wondering if I would be disappointed with the quality and should spend a bit more…any thoughts?

    • I use a Wacom tablet and they have different price points. You do not need the largest tablet either, unless you use it for tracing art. I am unfamiliar with any other tablet. My old tablet had a plastic see through film to lift up and place art under for tracing. I never used that function and got a smaller tablet that takes up less desk space.

  7. What a fascinating post Donna. I have tool envy – I only have Photoshop Elements 8 (no content aware healing) and a mouse. Maybe one day! Great demonstration of sharpening and contrast tweaking. I admit to using the .raw processing tool to tweak exposure when I’ve got it wrong, but am trying to get my photos better straight from the camera. Not that I am averse to processing them too, people have always “improved” photographs, but I think I will benefit from sharpening my basic skills. Am now even more impressed by the photo paintings you produce, so much work and tecnhique in every one.

    • Elements is a pretty amazing application. Over the years they have added so many functions that came from the main app. I rarely do much to an image before posting except reduce size for the web. But I will sharpen if needed and add contrast. It makes the images better for the web I found. Where an image looks wonderful on the monitor, it looks rather flat loaded to my blog. I did not make the connection at first, but then realized that they needed to have more contrast. Then my images appeared like I knew what I was doing. I would never print them this way though, I would use the one on my screen for print.

  8. Masha says:

    Thanks for the tutorial. Big software packages like this one have always intimidated me. I had a free trial of Nikon’s version of it, Nikon Capture, and I couldn’t figure out how to work it although I did get an idea of what a wonderful tool it was. I also always edit my pictures to correct for any mistakes I may have made while shooting, but I don’t have the capability for any artistic touches.

    I loved seeing the multiple transformations of your tulip picture. What fun!

  9. dona says:

    I don’t have Photoshop, but sometimes enjoy playing with Picnic. It’s easier.

  10. Marguerite says:

    Great review of photoshop techniques Donna. My husband uses the program a lot for his business photos but I’ve avoided it so far as I simply haven’t got the time. Much like you mention, I’m working hard at trying to get better photos right when I’m taking them.

  11. Yeah, I need to upgrade my Photoshop edition. And get a tablet. Your paint renderings are certainly tempting.

  12. Alistair says:

    Great post Donna, made all the more interesting due to the fact that I have a new camera and am keen to improve my skills. Like Dona, I am also using picnic for resizing and tweaking exposure, so incredibly simple to use and free. Thanks for the information on this post, I may well upgrade to photoshop at a later date.

    • As I told Dona, my friends loves it. He has encouraged me to download it, but I really don’t need one more photo editing app to learn. It is so confusing jumping apps to work already. Key strokes are different and that gets funny results sometimes.

  13. As a photoshop addict very much enjoyed this outline of all the artsy effects. You can do more with your later version than mine and look forward to obtaining a copy to try out some of the other effects. Content Aware must be a godsend as never got the hang of the clone tool. By the way, your original red tulips are well shot too – you’ve captured the colour so well and now I know what a hot spot is 😉
    p.s. how do you have time Donna to do so much?

    • Thanks Laura. I am really fast at the apps I use. I have been using them from as far back as 1994. Really further back to 1990, but I was working in an architecture firm then and we had a graphics guy do most of the presentation work. He taught me the basics and go me interested in the computer rendering. All my work was hand rendered before that, like when I did fashion illustrating. Now, all that is done by computer too.

  14. lifeshighway says:

    Donna, I have been wanting a tablet for some time. You have completely convinced me to get one. Now if I can find the time.

  15. I’ve been an avid PS user for years, although I don’t play with the filters very much these days, they can be a lot of fun. I was recently looking for some artwork for one of our walls, and frustrated that I couldn’t find something I liked, I started playing around in PS with a California Poppy shot I had from last summer. The thing I love is if you have a shot you like, enhanced in PS or not, it’s easy to have it reproduced on canvas these days, and have instant and affordable art! Love your instructions by the way. Only recently upgraded my Photoshop and it appears there are a couple of newer options I need to go and play with 🙂

    • I have never printed my art to canvas, because I paint with both oil and watercolor. It is a great way to make make copies of original hand painted work too. I have a good friend who manages such a print shop.

  16. What an amazing post and so helpful to us all. I feel like I am still in Blog 101. After that I should figure out how to use all the features on my camera. Photoshop will be way in the future.

  17. Jess says:

    Wow, yeah, I vote show us. I do have a bit of photoshop experience myself, but I have to admit, on my garden blog I basically make it smaller and go. I’m much more of a writer than a photographer as it relates to botany!

    That said, I do a lot of travel related photography and would love to here some of your tips!

  18. debsgarden says:

    Excellent post! I use photoshop for composing collages, and I always knew there was so much more. I do use sharpen and contrast in IPhoto, but I am going to have to do some studying with photoshop! My very old computer has become slow and arthritic and it balks at most anything beyond the basics. I am upgrading in a couple of months and look forward to all the possibilities. My son is an Apple engineer, so it will be a new Mac.

    • Oh you touched my Apple loving heart. You will not be disappointed. I am a proud fangirl and also a member of the National Association of Photoshop Professionals. I wear my fan hats boldly.

  19. Holley says:

    Great tutorial! I am just now learning to ‘shoot and click’, but hopefully one day I’ll be able to graduate to Photoshop!

    • Start with PS Elements. Often it is a free app bundles with scanners, printers or even new computers. You may have a friend that owns a disk and will never install. Ask around for anyone that purchased new hardware. A great app for beginners.

  20. Jennifer says:

    I was curious as to the reaction you would get and so I read quickly through the comments. It seems Photoshop seems to intimidate many bloggers.
    I think that when you start playing around with filters etc., you move from a “document” to an “artwork”. There is an extra level of artist expression that is added to a raw image. It is certainly fun to play around with adding texture etc. every now and then.

    • Well, artwork happens when you use the filters creatively. I look at them as a means to an end. I see so many bloggers who are using them from free online services and that is great, but it is a one click result. The fun is in combining them to get truly unique results. I would show this but it is so involved that anyone intimidated by by simple demo would not likely be back. Even my rain drops has so many steps, but at least they are pretty simple.

  21. Wow, what fun! I can see how it could be addicting. Very nice work!

  22. Andrea says:

    Oh how nice of you to have the patience to do all those things. I want to do PS too but i can’t seem to learn fast so i just dont meddle with it again. I just try my best to get the nice composition, so i can upload photos directly. Sometimes, i crop or saturate a bit but that’s all. Maybe that’s the reason my photos are not as great, haha! At least my camera has some pop-up filters to choose from, and i have a CPL too. However, i only have lens kits and am wondering when i can have a better lens for my flowers for the better DOF.

    • It is not too hard to learn if you start with PS Elements. I started with Photoshop myself, but got Elements free a long while ago and installed it to see what it had. I was surprised at how much the app included.

  23. lula says:

    You are a master on transforming nature into art! I have not the patience nor the vision to see what art lies behind a photo. I am looking forward to seeng the poster.

    • You are so kind. I just did a hand marker sketch this morning of a gazebo that is like their logo. The gazebo is in a small park-like setting and they have community functions there. I will probably use it in the brochure. I got asked to do the brochure too. I am really going to be busy.

  24. Helen says:

    I agree – Photoshop is a great tool. I use this with some of my artistic creations but not on my technical/horticultural pictures. 🙂 Great post!

  25. Greenearth says:

    What exciting images.

  26. Laurrie says:

    I have a lot of fun playing with photos in my editor, not for any competition or artistic end, but just because. I like how you used one basic photo here to show us how several filters and effects work. Especially with a vibrant deep red subject, which I find hard to photograph well or true to what I see. This was great to follow!

  27. That tulip photograph is superb Donna.

    I love my photoshop cs5 though I’m not a big fan of the content aware tool unless it is a small section – but I love that clone tool. I do alot of painterly photographs though don’t have them on the leavesnbloom blog. Sometimes I use the plugin filters from Topaz adjust or the pixel blender oil painting filter (pixel blender for photoshop is free). Normally my sooc shots for LnB are opened up in adobe camera raw and an adjustment made to the white balance and a little contrast pop is all that is needed along with some sharpening but sometimes I have fun and add an action (totally rad’s ones are great).

Comments are closed.