Digital Imaging: Unleash Your Creativity

By Hans Weichselbaum –

Nowadays we get bombarded with pictures and quite often we seem to get dulled by too much seeing. When last did you stop and enjoy an image like a piece of art? How about turning your favourite shots into a painting, a pencil sketch or a jigsaw puzzle?

For demonstration, I use an old favourite of mine, an image taken on a tiny Indian Ocean island, some 30 years ago. That was long before the advent of digital imaging, but a good film scanner will bring the memory into the digital world in no time.

Bird Island - Seychelles.

Bird Island – Seychelles.

(1) Painted Edges

In this technique you paint your photo back over a white background. It is a simple, but quite effective way of presenting your landscape and portrait images:

  • Open your image and set Background colour to white
  • Go to Select > All (shortcut: Ctrl A)
  • Press the Delete button and the canvas will turn white
  • Now we can paint the image back with the History Brush.

By default, the History Brush will revert to the first snapshot taken when opening the image. Why not use a fine art brush: click on the little triangle on top of the Brush Palette, then go to Load Brushes and look for Thick Heavy Brushes. Then click on the Append button to add them to your default set. Some of these brushes are excellent in simulating a real painted look coming from a dry brush.

Digital-Imaging_2---Oil-Painting(2) Oil Painting

Photoshop always had a great selection of artistic filters. I have come across examples where a single filter, e.g. the Watercolour filter, gave stunning results. Sometimes a combination of filters does a better job and Photoshop’s Filter Gallery is ideal for trying out new recipes.

Go to Filter > Filter Gallery and you will get a large preview of your image on the left. The list of available filters is in the middle with thumbnail images of what to expect, and on the right side are the controls for the individual filters.

After applying a filter, and instead of pressing OK, we can select the New Effect Layer icon at the bottom right (next to the trash can). This allows us to add another filter effect. Needless to say, the combinations and variations are endless.

It is difficult to come up with fixed recipes – every image needs individual fine-tuning for maximum impact. To create the oil painting effect I used the following steps (taken from Scott Kelby’s book Photoshop CS Down & Dirty Tricks, New Riders Publishing):

  • Increase Colour Saturation to +50
  • Under the Filter Gallery apply the following four filters:
    • Glass filter (Distort set): Distortion 3, Smoothness 3, Texture: Canvas, Scaling 79%
    • Paint Daubs filter (Artistic set): Brush size 4, Sharpness 1, simple Brush Type
    • Angled Stroke filter (Brush Strokes set): Direction Balance 46, Stroke Length 3, Sharpness 1
    •  Texturizer filter (Texture set): Canvas, 65% Scaling, Relief 2, Top Left light
  • Click OK to apply all four filters
  • Duplicate the layer, desaturate (Shift-Ctrl-U) and change the Blending Mode to Overlay
  • Go to Filter > Stylize > Emboss: Angle 135, Height 1, Amount 500%
  • Lower Opacity of this layer to 40%.

(3) Colour Sketch

Example #3 was done through the Colour Dodge blending mode. This technique is normally described as a method to create a black and white sketch. I found it often to be quite effective in colour as well:Digital-Imaging_3-6

  • We start by duplicating the image layer
  • Invert the duplicated layer (Ctrl-I) to get a negative
  • Change the blending mode to Colour Dodge – This will turn the canvas completely white
  • Go to Gaussian Blur (Filter > Blur)
  • Increase the Radius for the desired effect.

(4) Pencil Sketch

One way of creating a black and white sketch is by using the above steps on a greyscale image. However, the example shown here was done with the Smart Blur filter (Filter > Blur > Smart Blur): Set the mode to Edge only, then adjust Radius and Threshold sliders to get the desired effect.

The Radius slider lets you decide how far the filter searches for dissimilar pixels to blur (or trace). Reducing the Radius value simplifies the edges. The Threshold setting determines how different the pixels’ values should be before they are eliminated. Higher settings will simplify the edges. Finally, turn the white lines into black lines on white background with the Invert command.

(5) Impressionistic

There are some excellent programs out there which take digital art to new levels. Corel Painter IX comes to mind, but for the impressionistic example I used a much simpler program called PhotoArtist, which also allows for combining of various artistic effects by painting them back onto the canvas.

(6) Jigsaw Effect

The easiest way of creating eye-catching effects is to use other people’s actions. An internet search will give you hundreds of artistic effects, free to download. Start with This is also where this great puzzle effect action, written by Panos Efstathiadis, comes from.

In conclusion, you can turn your images into great pieces of art, even if your painting skills are those of the average preschooler. Remember – only crime scene photography needs to be 100% accurate!

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