Painterly Photography: Contrast, Color and Grain

I've always wanted to paint, but never really had the time or dedication to pursue the craft.  Paintings have always influenced how I select and compose imagery. Lately I have been experimenting with some pre- and post- processing techniques that can achieve painterly effects in photographs. Adding grain to a photo is a way to achieve a pointillistic effect.  Here i'll detail how I got this pointillistic and painterly effect...

using standard tools on Capture One Pro, which is the post processing software that I use daily.

This was a fun little project which came together quickly.  The photo of the southern terminus of the Rocky Mountains, near Jemez, New Mexico, was taken the day before Christmas 2018, and it had snowed a few inches the night before.  The composition itself was pleasing to my eye: lots of complimentary curving lines, a variety of textures ranging from the sandy badlands in the foreground, to Juniper studded hills, the distant high and snowy Rocky Mountains, capped off with a brilliant blue sky and some gauzy low clouds hugging the high mountains.

Here is the original photo, taken in RAW format and unedited:

painterly original

I imported the RAW images into Capture One Pro where I post-process. I always shoot in RAW format as it gives a better dynamic range of light to work with in post-processing, than does the other photo format option: JPEG. The tradeoff is file size. RAW is much larger.

My first step was to increase the contrast a but to bring out shadow and light. Contrast was brought up from none to about 1/3.

Next, I wanted to exaggerate the colors so increased saturation. Doing so is a fine line: saturation, if overdone ,can look really un-natural. But at the same time I wanted to emulate paint colors which can be much more pure colored than what we naturally see.  I upped saturation also by about 1/3.

A few colors still did not seem quite right, notably the green juniper trees and the sky. Whites were ok as my camera does a good job setting a neutral white balance.  I selected just the green of the junipers and darkened it a bit.  In the distance Junipers tend to go blue black on cold clear days. I also altered the hue of the sky, warming it a bit from the natural cold blue of a winter day. I used masking to darken a few things, like the bottoms of the clouds.

Focus can be used to make a photograph look more like a painting.  Exaggerated blur or sharpning both are effective.  I chose to exaggerate both sharpness and structure to give a more a more harsh or crisp look, like a painter stabbing the canvas with a bristle brush. I also boosted lights and darks and de-emphasized colors in the middle of the visual spectrum.

I finalized by adding a very harsh grain pattern with the maximum granularity I could add. As you add grain the photo will become more pointillistic. Different types of grain are available are result in different effects. Experiment!

Output was to a JPEG file with no compression. This is adequate for web presentation but not print. If I were to print I would have output to a high-resolution TIFF format.