How We Create Professional Artwork from Digital Photos– Four Free Basic Photoshop Video Lessons From ArtonDisk

Tuesday, August 1, 2006 by Richard Nichols

Your photographs can quickly evolve into drawings and paintings if you learn the basics of using image-editing software, filters (plug-ins) and image layers.? In this weblog article I combine video tutorials and images to show you a few of our preferred methods of producing photo illustrations and sketches from digital pictures.

These four web-based Flash lessons are not about complicated procedures.? My goal for this first attempt is to get people who are vaguely familiar with image editing “off the ground” and into the fascinating world of crafting expressive illustrations using Adobe Photoshop or Photoshop Elements.? Experienced Photoshop users might enjoy seeing how we work, even if they left us behind years ago.

You will need to have your speakers turned on.? Your web browser might need its Flashplayer capabilities updated to version 9 — your computer will let you know if there is an issue.? Because this is “streaming media,” please allow time for the lessons to load (usually 10 to 45 seconds) after you click the links in order for them to begin playing. We used Camtasia Studio 3.1 screen recording software published by Techsmith to create these lessons.

The webcasts are indexed so you can watch small parts, then come back later to pick up where you left off.? Let’s start at the beginning:


1. Backgrounds & Making Selections 34:56

2. Using Photoshop Layers 24:17


3. Mending Defects & Using Plugins 17:16

4. Resources, PhotoBlogs & OnLine Training 21:35

Lesson 4 ends with an 85 image slideshow of illustrations we have made using the methods we describe here.? I have tried to keep these first screencasts uncomplicated because we need a foundation to build upon.? There’s no better place than here, and no better time than now.

I cover some useful procedures and secrets that I use every day in my work.? Photoshop isn’t difficult to learn but it has so many options that an aspiring digital image maker may easily feel overwhelmed.? You should find a simple system that works and stick with it.? Don’t try to learn everything, just focus on the tools and commands you need to achieve your desire.

Please bear with me because these are my very first screencast tutorials.? Any constructive feedback you wish to give by leaving your comments will be appreciated. Please report any technical issues you encounter.

Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly until you learn how to do it well.
— Steve Brown

Here at the world headquarters of Art on Disk Corporation we use Adobe Photoshop CS2.? All the effects illustrated can be achieved using Photoshop 6 or above (or Photoshop Elements) with additional plugins and actions.? There are, of course, a number of other software programs that have similar toolsets including Paintshop Pro, Microsoft Digital Image 2006, Corel Photo-Paint or others.? It is important to find a user-friendly image editing program that includes the ability to separate parts of images onto layers as well as make precise selections of objects and areas.? You must learn how to bring all parts of your image under control.


Original Portrait Photo

Xero Lineart Filter & Screen Blending Mode

On Thursday, June 1st, Norma and I gave a presentation to attending members of the Sweetwater Camera Club in Lithia Springs here in Douglas County, GA.? Our objective was to show our workflow processes from start to finish: how we use digital cameras, professional flash equipment and computers to create usable illustrations; how we use image editing software such as Adobe Photoshop, Alienskin EyeCandy, Gertrudis Pro, Irfanview and special Photoshop filters, actions and commands to enhance, modify, distort, re-create and synthesize images.? Since we only had a little over an hour to present this, consider this article as a record and continuation of our presentation.

A PDF handout that describes our presentation agenda and methods as well as links to more information can be downloaded here.


Photoshop’s Charcoal Filter

BuzzPro Watercolor Filter

Using portraiture as a vehicle for demonstration, we set up a posing stool in front of a white slide screen.? For lighting, we arranged 3 Dynalite 1000 flash units– 2 with white umbrellas to light the person, and one flash unit behind and below the subject, shining upwards onto the slide screen to burn out the background.? This facilitated the image editing process, allowing us to add any background we wanted later in “post-production.”? The camera used was a Konica Minolta 8-megapixel “prosumer” camera with a fixed 28-200mm zoom lens.


Lighting Diagram for John’s Portrait

Select the Background with the Magic Wand

Douglasville resident John Fuller agreed to be our supermodel.? He has been a member of the Sweetwater Camera Club for about 11 years and enjoys making photos of flowers and nature.? He is a young 77 years old, and is very technology and crafts-oriented.? He retired from Southern Railway in 1990 after spending 30 years as a communications specialist.? His various jobs and hobbies over the years have included television technologies, HAM radio operations, custom knife-making, flying, deep-sea fishing and of course, photography and computers.

As you can see from the diagram above, the keylight (or main light) was closer to the subject than the fill light, lighting the right side of his face.? The fill light was to the right of the camera, at least twice as far away.? It illuminated both sides of John’s face to produce modeling and fill in the shadows (more perceptual depth, instead of a flat even light).? Umbrellas were used on both the key and fill lights to bounce soft wrap-around lighting onto the model.

Using two lights in this way will put two catchlights in the model’s eyes.? Depending upon the final picture, this may or may not be an acceptable outcome– it’s up to you and your model as to whether this is good or bad.? You can edit out one of the catchlights in each eye by using simple retouching or you can position your lights differently to show only one.? Nature gives us the sun, and the sun gives us one catchlight.? I have retouched the fill-light catchlight out of several of the illustrations, but not out of the original photo.


DigiDoodle3 Action with EyeCandy Impact Glass

Color Chalk Action, Mike Finn’s Paint Tools

In making a portrait, it often helps for the photographer to strike up a conversation with the subject, develop some rapport, put the person at ease, and capture something about the person that reveals more than a snapshot would.? Striving to capture character and personality, “mood and aura” is the essence of good portraiture.

Because we were in front of a live audience, we worked quickly to stay “focused.”? When time is limited, set up your lighting the best you can and get someone to stand in place (a proxy) so you can make a test photo.? Then, bring in your subject.? Let your model strike a pose which feels and looks comfortable.? Make just a few adjustments in clothing, hair, positioning and posture so that the picture works.? If you try too hard to “pose” your subject, all subtle or immediate spontaneity (the essence of good portraiture) will be lost.

Pay close attention to the feedback you get by reviewing your very first shot, because it will show you if something is amiss.? Be especially alert to whether the subject’s eyes are in focus or not.? The subject may not be in exactly the same place as your proxy was, so RE-FOCUS THE CAMERA.

Now, you must slow yourself down and focus your mind as well as your lens to get it right.? You are trying to “portray” the subject, not just make a recording of his or her physical surface.? Use your own personality to amplify things within the subject. Talk to them about their interests, their appearance, or their concerns.

If you can’t get your model to open up, you might tell them what you find interesting about them and why you would want to portray them.? Sometimes having a person who knows your model better than you can help you find that exacting moment to snap the shutter.? You want to evoke an authentic emotional expression, even if it is quite reserved. A portrait must have life and a level of energy that emanates from it.? This will then reverberate in the eyes and minds of future viewers of your portrait image.? Let’s return to our model:

From the very beginning of our session, John (who served in the Navy for two years back around 1947) smiled gently for the camera and for the audience, posed himself confidently and displayed his sailor tattoos.


BuzzPro Watercolor Filter, Multiply Layer Mode

Reversed Watercolor creates Glowing Outlines

John’s arms and tattoos provide interesting subjects in and of themselves.? Many different images with a variety of colors, techniques and moods can be constructed from this one picture element.? Not every attempt is successful, of course.

It is important for you as an image maker to develop a growing collection of ideas and techniques that you can apply to a variety of people, places and situations lurking in your future.? Simultaneously, you must learn how to critique your own work impassionately.? At first others will enjoy doing it for you, but eventually you must coax yourself to put things away and come back to them later to discover whether your creation is worthy of publishing or perhaps just a practice session.

As a working photographer, your mission is to record and manipulate the subjects, themes and events that you are strongly attracted to.? Your goal is to become better every day, always looking towards your next project. As long as you use your tools and talents, you will continue to learn.? Don’t stop investigating and expressing your experiences using art and technology, but if you do, come back alive and start again.? Your art requires that you exercise to maintain and improve your skills and judgment.

An aspiring photographer-artist-image maker is a person with imagination, who sees with strength and responds with passion to create an intelligent and emotional statement expressing and communicating his or her unique perceptions.? In doing so, he or she must also communicate across a spectrum of wavelengths to set up reverberations in the minds and emotions of a diverse audience.

When the visual message you send pushes the boundaries of your craftsmanship hard enough that you produce overtones and receive echoes, you have crossed over into the realm and majesty of art.

One of the recurring questions throughout human experience is, “what is art?”? There are many answers. One is, “I don’t know, but I know what isn’t art.”? Here’s another:

Art is making something out of nothing and selling it.
— Frank Zappa

The End

7 Responses to “How We Create Professional Artwork from Digital Photos– Four Free Basic Photoshop Video Lessons From ArtonDisk”

  1. John Fuller Says:

    Great job Richard. It’s mind boggling and very interesting.??Looks like I’m going to have to trade in my PSP for Photoshop. Thanks for sharing this how-to with us all.? John

  2. Judy Bruner Says:

    Wow! Wow!! and Wow!!!

  3. Kathryn Callahan Says:

    Keep up the good work. Great technique!

  4. Susan Davidson Says:

    Richard – Took a brief look at one of your web based training modules last night. Very impressive! Even subtitles for those of us who don’t understand your spoken English!

    I’m trying to think of possible future applications for my business. It looks like your technology and process have some very promising possibilities. Congratulations, Photoshop Wizards of Ahhhhhs!

  5. Richard Nichols Says:

    Thanks for your feedback, Susan,

    The subtitles only appear on the first module for about 3 minutes or so, as just an experiment to see how subtitles work. That is a good idea for presentations that come to people who don’t have speakers attached to their computers, or maybe for wayward foreigners, it could be foreign language subtitles for an English speaker.

    Glad you liked it. It appears that you were able to access the multimedia content OK, so that means the Flash-based streaming media (which is technically called a “progressive download” works on more than just my computer.

    The content of such a presentation can be set up to require authentication with a username and password, such as the subscription service we talked about– you could essentially set up a plan that allows a viewer to purchase a subscription via credit card that would allow them in for a period of time, then expire their username and password once their subscription ran out if they didn’t renew.

    We are working on a complex site right now that will take Donations for a non-profit called American Fire & Rescue and EMS Organization. It will have a number of these features–


  6. Kathryn Nichols Says:

    That is fabulous Richard! You are a natural teacher – logical and intriguing, always making it too interesting to stop. This is a great thing for me to play with during vacation, especially when it is too hot outside even to kayak. Thanks! You are amazing!


    Editor’s note– By the way, the word is p-lyg-inal, not polly-gonal – Thanks Kathryn for pointing this out. I will pronounce it correctly in the future, but for now, it’s kind of embedded deep into this set of tutorials. Richard

  7. Richard & Lois Moore Says:

    Thanks for sharing your expertise. I will have to come back and review this several times to absorb all the meat and potatoes on this plate! Great service.

Please leave us your comments.

To view all of our posts, click Home