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Monday, April 7, 2014

The Painterly Portrait

Re-create classic paintings for a fun, artistic spin on portraiture

This Article Features Photo Zoom


My guess is that most readers of Digital Photo don't rent a studio for thousands of dollars a month and don't have thousands of dollars invested in studio lighting equipment. Me, neither!

That, however, doesn't stop me, and shouldn't stop you from making studio-quality images. All you need is basic lighting equipment, an understanding of light and some digital darkroom skills. Here's what I'm talking about.

I made all of the portraits in this article in my home office, which measures about 10x15 feet. The idea was to try to re-create, or emulate, if you will, works by master painters.

The Renoir painting "Young Girl Combing Her Hair" was the inspiration for this portrait. While studying the painting, I observed the shadow and highlight areas of the painting, as well as the highlights on the girl's hair and arms. The overall lighting in the painting was relatively even, so the first step was to set up my lights to re-create that. I used two Westcott Spiderlites, which are daylight-balanced fluorescent lights in softboxes that have recessed diffusion panels. The recessed diffusion panels are important because they let you shape and mold the light rather than spreading the light like non-recessed diffusion panel softboxes.

You'll notice that the softboxes are relatively close to the subject. Here's why: the larger the light, the softer the light; the closer the light, the softer the light. I wanted soft light. Both lights are the same power. Because I wanted to light the model's face more than her hair, I moved the light on camera-left closer to the model.

My picture was soft and pleasing, but it didn't have highlights on the girl's face, arms and hair, as you see in the painting. I added those highlights using the Dodge tool in Photoshop. I also used the Burn tool to darken some areas of my photograph.

Then, as a final step, I applied the Oil Painting filter in Topaz Simplify to create a more painterly-like image.

YOUNG GIRL COMBING HER HAIR

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