It takes a long time to become proficient with Photoshop. As an artist you probably don’t have much time for learning it. It contains a lot of features that you’ll never use and it takes time to find the relevant information. So I came up with a short list of tips and tricks to help get you started.
I frequently use the following techniques for adjusting my paintings in Photoshop. There are many different ways to accomplish the same task but I chose the methods that I thought would be simple and easy to learn. I hope they help you to save time so you can spend more time painting!
1 The Easiest Way to Straighten a Painting in Photoshop
The best practice is to align the painting so that it’s straight when you photograph it. However, this isn’t always possible. Perhaps you didn’t notice it until you viewed it on your computer. This tip will help you to correct it without having to reshoot or rotate it manually. I learned this simple trick at a Photoshop workshop I attended in 1999. It’s been saving me time ever since.
Use the ruler tool to draw a line along the edge of the painting. You’re not actually drawing a line, it’s just a guide for measuring angles.
Click on the “Image” menu at the top, select “Image Rotation” and then “Arbitrary”.
A dialog box will pop up. The angle that you measured with the ruler is already entered into the “Angle” text field. It also selects “Clockwise” or “Counter Clockwise” for you automatically. Click the “okay” button and it will rotate the amount that you measured. If you measured the angle correctly, the painting will now be perfectly straight.
This technique is much easier than drawing guides and using the transform tool to rotate the image.
2 Use the Lens Correction Filter to Remove Distortions
Sometimes the lens you’re using can distort the image slightly, especially if it’s a wide angle lens. The distortion can make the straight edges of the painting can appear to curve. This is called “Barrel Distortion.”
It’s best to start with a lens that doesn’t distort the image but sometimes that might not be possible. In those instances, use the “Lens Correction” filter.
The options that I use are below.
- Geometric Distortion: this corrects the “barrel distortion” that makes straight lines appear curved.
- Vignette: will compensate for how a photograph tends to get darker towards the edges of the picture.
- Auto Scale image: the lens correction filter will sometimes make the image extend beyond the edges, or it may even contract. This option will try to scale the image so that it fits the original document dimensions.
It should read the EXIF data that’s stored in the file to determine what type of camera and lens the picture was taken with. If not, you can select those options manually. It uses this data to determine how to correct the distortions.
Below is a before and after example. The distortion is more obvious along the bottom edge, and the lens correction straightened it out.
The lens correction tool will only work correctly on a photograph that hasn’t been cropped. Make it a habit to apply the lens correction before cropping the painting.
Visit Adobe’s page on correcting image distortion for more information.
Use the Camera Raw Filter to Make Corrections
The camera raw filter has many of the controls that you need to adjust a photograph of a painting, all in one location. It’s like having a RAW converter for jpegs. I think this is a good tool for adjusting photos of paintings. I use it for adjusting the white balance, contrast, exposure, sharpening, and more.
3 Use the Camera Raw Filter White Balance Tool to Correct Colors
When a photograph of your painting has colors that look “off” it’s usually the white balance. The white balance tool that’s found in the camera raw filter can correct this.
In this example, I purposely set the white balance to the wrong setting. The lights have a color temperature of 5000K and I set the white balance on my camera to the indoor light setting which is closer to 3000K.
Use a Gray Card for Accurate White Balance
The white balance tool works best if there’s a perfect neutral gray somewhere in the photo. I place a gray card next to the painting when I take the picture. A gray card is a plastic or cardboard card that’s a specific shade of neutral gray. Setting the exposure and white balance is more accurate with the gray card.
I also painted the background where I photograph my paintings a neutral gray. The local hardware store was able to color match it. I tested it against the card and it seems to work the same.
How to Use the White Balance Tool in the Camera Raw Filter
The camera raw filter can be found under the “Filter” menu at the top of the screen.
To correct the colors click on the white balance tool and then click on a neutral gray. A white sheet of paper will work too, as long as the photograph isn’t overexposed. There are many shades of “white” paper so the accuracy depends upon how neutral the paper is. Use a gray card if you’re looking for precision.
Hover the mouse over the gray card and check the RGB values at the top right. They’re right below the histogram which is the diagram with the colorful spikes. The gray card is neutral and the values should be equal. This image has a strong yellow cast over it so the values are far apart. Use the white balance tool to click on the gray card. It will adjust the photo so that the RGB values where you click are all equal.
This technique will take a lot of the guesswork out of color correcting the photographs of your paintings. The image still needs a few adjustments, but this one step has dramatically increased the quality of the photo.
4 Use the Camera Raw Presets to Save Time
Previous Conversions Function
If you photograph your paintings under the same lighting conditions, you may be able to apply the same conversion settings to multiple photos. Adobe Lightroom may be better suited for batch processing large groups of photos. However, artists typically photograph a few paintings at a time and this feature will save time.
This feature is useful when you photograph a couple of paintings at once. You can make all of the adjustments to one painting and then use the same settings for the remaining images. Perhaps the paintings require slightly different adjustments, but these presets can be a good starting point.
The “Previous Conversion” is hidden under “hamburger button” (three horizontal lines) at the top right of the camera raw interface. It’s right next to where it says “Basic.” Just select “Previous Conversion” and it will apply the same settings from the last image and apply it to the current one.
Camera Raw Filter Presets
You can also save a preset so you can use it in the future. One of the problems with the “Previous Conversion” option is that it only remembers the last conversion. The save preset option will allow you to create a variety of presets that can be used for different conditions.
To create a preset, make all of your corrections with the camera raw filter and then select “Save Settings.” Name the preset and save it. On a Mac, the default location is the “Settings” folder in the Library folder for the current user. I recommend using the default location so you can find it in the future.
You can control which options your presets will include. I leave them all checked but you can customize it however you want.
To use the preset in the future, just select the “Load Settings…” and select the one you want to use. The benefit of saving presets is that you can call them up a year from now and use the same settings.
5 Use the Sharpening Feature in the Camera Raw Filter
I prefer the sharpening function in the camera raw filter. Depending on your camera settings, you may not need to sharpen the photo. I keep the sharpening settings in my camera set to the lowest setting. A photograph can be sharpened later in Photoshop but if the camera overdoes it, then it’s impossible to remove.
A little bit of sharpening can improve the apparent clarity of your images. Too much sharpening detracts from the image. A bit of judgement is required here.
Using any sharpening tool effectively requires an understanding of how it works. It’s technically impossible to add more detail to the photo that wasn’t captured by the camera and lens. The way sharpening works is it detects the edges of the shapes and increases the contrast along them. The added contrast along the edges creates the illusion of sharpness.
The image above contains two shades of blue and a strip of gray along the top. This is an image I created in Photoshop and the edges are perfectly straight and the colors are uniform. On the left is the original image. The image on the right is after I applied the sharpening. The sharpening made the edges darker on one side, and lighter on the other.
Understanding the Photoshop Sharpening Settings
Below are the three controls that I pay attention to when sharpening a photo. There’s Amount, Radius, and Threshold.
- Amount: is the strength of the sharpening. It’s represents how much the contrast will increase along the edges.
- Radius: is the distance from the edge of a shape will increase in contrast. Setting the radius too high will make halos appear around the shapes in your painting.
- Threshold: determines how sensitive it is in detecting the edges between shapes. If you set the threshold too low you will end up sharpening everything in the image including noise. If you set it too high it will only sharpen the areas that have the greatest contrast.
A few Sharpening Tips
Keep in mind there are no perfect settings that I can share with you. Since this function is based upon pixel measurements, it will be different for each camera. It also depends upon the sharpening settings you use when you take the picture.
Make sure to view the image at 100% when sharpening it. If you have it set to a different magnification the preview may not be accurate.
The amount of sharpening done by the camera will also determine how much to sharpen it. The image may not need it.
6 Reduce the Contrast to Bring out the Details
The standard settings on digital cameras create snapshots with lot of “punch.” The standard setting increases the saturation and contrast. When taking pictures of artwork it’s probably a good idea to lower the contrast settings on your camera. If you can’t lower the contrast settings on your camera, you can lower the contrast in Photoshop.
Increasing the contrast can be useful for creating dramatic photographs. However, the goal is to create accurate photos of paintings. When you increase the contrast, it usually sacrifices details in the shadows and the highlights. This filling in of the shadow areas is more noticeable on works of art that have subtle shading effects.
Artwork with subtle colors and shading will benefit from lowering the contrast. The camera raw filter has a slider that controls the contrast. Try lowering it and compare it to the original painting to see if it’s more accurate with less contrast.
7 Use the Spot Healing Brush Tool to Remove Specks
Before Adobe created the spot healing brush tool, the clone tool was the tool to use for removing flaws. The clone tool works well but it’s difficult to use. You have to manually sample a surrounding area that’s similar in color and value.
The spot healing brush makes it very easy to remove small flaws from your photos. It works like a regular brush tool. Just paint over the speck that you want to remove and it will “heal” itself.
Within the black circle is a large piece of lint on the tomato in this painting. Use the Spot Healing Brush to remove a flaw like this. Select the spot healing brush, it looks like a bandage. You can change the size of the brush to any size that’s convenient. When you start painting, it will leave a transparent dark gray area to represent the area that you’ve already painted. Cover the entire flaw before letting go of the mouse button.
Let go of the mouse button and Photoshop will automatically fix it as shown on the right in the photo at above. The spot healing tool samples the surrounding areas and then determines what colors to use to fill in the blemish.
Sometimes it gets it wrong but I find that it works great on small specks. If it goes wrong, just undo it and try again. If it’s a larger flaw, try using the tool on smaller sections.
Visit Adobes site on how to retouch images for more detailed information.
Please keep in mind that the goal is to use the proper settings when you take the picture. If you can correct the color balance while you’re taking the picture, then do it. The same goes for aligning the painting in the viewfinder. I find it’s faster to do it this way, and the quality of the photos are better too.
This should be a good start to learning how to adjust photographs of paintings in Photoshop. I intend to write more about how to photograph art in the future. Sign up for my newsletter to receive updates by email.