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Think Like A Painter

When I give a workshop, I stress to my students the idea of thinking like a painter because painters see and paint light on canvas in a unique and artistic way. I thought—and worked—like a painter to create the opening image for this column, enhancing my original RAW file in Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop (picture below). As you can see, there’s a lot of data in a RAW file that may not be readily apparent.

In this column, I’ll share with you the enhancements I used on the opening image that illustrate some “think like a painter”

digital darkroom techniques. I’ll use Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop CS5, but these basic enhancements are found in other image-editing programs, too.


Here’s the basic “think like a painter” concept:

Decide what you want in the frame and what you don’t want in the frame. First, crop in-camera accordingly. Then, while you’re composing your picture, envision how you (and a painter) would crop the image in the digital darkroom. Also, consider how you can use the Clone Stamp tool to remove unwanted objects in a scene, or how you can use the Color Replacement tool to change the color of an object in a scene.

See the shadow and highlight areas in a scene, and then envision how a painter might represent them on canvas—perhaps letting the viewer see more into the shadows and toning down the highlights. You can do the same thing with a digital file using the Shadow/Highlight control.

See the color of light, and interpret that light in your own unique way by adjusting the color balance and tone of a photograph.

Think about sharpness. We usually see scenes totally in focus and sharp. Painters have control over sharp and soft areas of a scene, just as you do when you sharpen or soften areas of a photograph.


Compare these two screen grabs from the Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) dialog. On the left are the default settings. On the right, you’ll see how I boosted the following enhancements.

Recovery: To retain detail in the highlights
Fill Light: To open up the shadows
Blacks: To add some drama to the image
Clarity: To remove some of the softness that’s associated with all RAW files
Vibrance: To add saturation to the colors in the image that weren’t already saturated

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