Challenge: Getting a painted look for your photos

Hey folks! Sorry about the long wait since the last post… I’ve been too busy to do full-on figure reviews. But I’ve been active on Instagram working on my 365 project! Anyway, this weekend things finally started to wind down so I thought I’d work on some kind of project with my figures.

I had the idea some time ago of trying to make a figure photo look painted. This was inspired by Alter’s Velvet/Cornelius set, which already looks like it jumped out of a painting. So I went about experimenting with Photoshop filters to see what I could come up with.

While doing some research I came across this tutorial on Spoon Graphics. I used that as a starting point, but tweaked the steps a bit to get the final result.

A few points:

  • This effect works really well on headshots of real people, so try it out!
  • For the most painterly look, you’ll need to max out the depth of field on your source photo. Not a lot of paintings simulate bokeh.
  • This does not replicate the look of a Renaissance-style painting. It does look more digital and stylized.
  • You will need to enable GPU acceleration/OpenCL in Photoshop for the last part of this method.
  • You’ll need to tweak the filter settings relative to your image size. This post covers images around 2.5 megapixels in size. Go much larger or smaller and you’ll have to change the values.

To start with I took some photos of Max Factory’s Sheryl Nome and Max Factory’s Sorceress. I put them in front of a plain background which I then front-lit. While experimenting with this technique I found that a plain, one to two light setup works best. If you back light the subject it looks a bit too photomanipulated.

Here’s the image I started with:

Max Factory Sheryl Nome

The first step is to load this into your image editor of choice. I use Photoshop but you can probably apply the same ideas to other applications. If you exported a full-size JPEG from the raw, you’ll probably want to resize the image down. The settings I use here are best suited to an image with the long edge around 1920 pixels. With a full size image the same settings will have a much less noticeable effect, and will have to be adjusted relative to the image size (which may or may not be possible for some steps).

Create a curves adjustment layer. The idea here is to slightly increase the contrast by bringing down the dark tones and raising the light tones. Here is a sample curve:

Photoshop settings

Duplicate your background layer twice. Select the topmost duplicate and go to Filter -> Other -> High Pass and set the radius to around 2.5.

Photoshop settings

The idea is to get a layer that can highlight the edges in the photo. Now take this high pass layer and change its blending mode to Linear Light.

Photoshop settings

Merge this layer down (so you are merging the two duplicated layers now). With the merged layer selected go to Filter -> Stylize -> Diffuse, set the mode to Anisotropic, and run it.

Photoshop settings

Duplicate this layer that you just merged and ran the filter on. On the top layer, go to Filter -> Filter Gallery. First apply the Accented Edges filter (under Brush Strokes), using the settings as below (Edge Width 1, Edge Brightness 19, Smoothness 3):

Photoshop settings

Again on the top layer go to Filter -> Filter Gallery. This time apply the Paint Daubs filter (under Artistic) using Brush Size 3, Sharpness 1, Brush Type Simple.

Photoshop settings

Now run Filter -> Stylize -> Oil Paint on the top layer. You’ll need GPU acceleration and OpenCL enabled in Photoshop to use this filter. You can experiment with the sliders but the settings below give enough of an illustrated look without being too stylized.

Photoshop settings

If you find that you’ve lost too much detail running this filters, lower the layer opacity a bit so that details from the background layer show through. I typically find that fine highlights get lost, so I usually drop the top layer’s opacity to 70% or so.

The result:

Max Factory Sheryl Nome

Not too shabby! You could probably do some stuff with the background to make it look even more like a digital painting. A couple more examples:

Max Factory Sheryl Nome

Max Factory Sorceress

This technique is super convincing if you start with a photo of a person. The human face has all sorts of fine details that contribute to the end result looking painted. But when run on a figure, it’s still pretty cool. I think it’ll be worth experimenting more to see if other looks can be achieved – maybe a Renaissance style painted look or even a cel painted effect.


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