Photo sharing websites, photography blogs, and Facebook have been buzzing about art that looks like photos, but which are actually paintings and even pencil drawings. Then photographers with digital cameras and maybe some fancy DSLR lenses fired back with photos that look like drawings and paintings. If you’ve seen these pictures online, you may be wondering how to blur the lines and make amazing art like these photographers.
The most common way photographers manipulate their photos to make them look more like drawings are with post-production editing effects. Instead of just doing simple color and exposure correction to improve shots with fine-tuning, they make artistic, creative changes that result in a new form of art. Simple things like increasing saturation and polarizing a shot, then increasing the contrast in areas of highlight are enough to give your photos an ethereal, oil painting feel. Experiment with settings to discover the arty effect that appeals to you.
You can achieve some of these effects before you get to post processing with the right equipment, including lens filters and an advanced understanding of your camera’s settings. Polarizing lens filters are inexpensive and create highly saturated shots bursting with colors more vibrant than reality. Many digital cameras with interchangeable lenses give you the option to open the aperture up to f/1.4 or f/2, which lets in soft, ethereal light. Some cameras also have internal options that process the photos as you shoot, emphasizing specific colors. These can make your photos look less realistic and more like drawings or paintings.
Another option is to use lighting and camera settings to reduce depth and contrast, and then degrade image fidelity so it acquires a scratchy texture. Instead of artificially adding color where there is none naturally, these techniques work with ambient ingredients. If you look at pencil drawings that could be photos, you can see the aesthetic you’re trying to achieve with this technique. Beyond knowing how to use your camera to push exposures to unrealistic extremes, the most important thing is to use settings that degrade quality. Shoot in lower light and use the highest ISO possible for some distortion, for example. Try dramatically underexposing shots and then use photo-editing software to pull out the details. The right technique depends on the setting, but you’ll notice your shots look a lot more like charcoal drawings than photos.
An emerging approach is to actually paint the subject matter so it looks flatter and less three-dimensional and then photograph it. A few artists have popularized this approach online. For example, they take makeup and paint and apply them to a person as if trying to make a two-dimensional painting look three-dimensional. Then you shoot the person against a painted backdrop and you get a photo that looks like a painting. This takes a lot of practice and patient subjects but the effect is unique.
Is it a drawing, a painting, something crafted on Photoshop, or something else entirely? Try these techniques with your DSLR lenses and people who few your work will be asking the same questions.