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How to turn a photograph into digital art

Updated on December 26, 2008

Working with your photo paint program to create art.

You do not need an expensive photo paint program to turn photographs into digital art. Many of the least expensive photo paint and edit programs have the tools you need to turn a photograph into a work of original art. You can work with an image taken from a digital camera or if you have a scanner, you can take a regular photograph and digitize it.

If you study the digital photograph at a very close enlargement, say 1600 percent, you can see the individual pixels that make up the photograph. You can manipulate each pixel. You can change its color or the shade of color. Do a little experiment and pull back to 800 percent then 400 percent and then 200 percent just to see how the pixels combine to form your picture. At 1600 percent, You first see a mosaic of pixels and, as you pull back, the picture forms before your eyes.

Go through your photo paint program and use each tool and practice on a picture. Manipulate the picture using your mask tool and then your clone tool and use the various brushes, shading tools and editing filters. Don't forget to save the first picture under a name, say the original, and then save additional versions numbering them as you go. Study and practice the ways you can change the face of the picture before you begin working on the picture you want to change into your digital art piece.

Provided below is an example of a picture I edited to create an illustration for my book, Dark Sabbath. I will tell you what I did with each step, so you will understand how I changed the photograph into digital art.

This is an illustration from my novel.

This digital color photograph of a historic San Francisco saloon was converted to a black and white watercolor illustration.
This digital color photograph of a historic San Francisco saloon was converted to a black and white watercolor illustration.

Converting a photo to art step by step.

I took the photograph above into my photo paint edit program and first used the clone tool to eliminate many of the elements of the photograph that were not needed. In order to get into the real detail and remove elements, I used the enlargement tool and focused on various spots. I cloned areas of blue sky to remove the telephone pole and the cars and I focused the clone tool on other parts of the picture to get rid of the unwanted elements of the photograph. This may be the most difficult part of the editing process and it should be done carefully. But you will notice when you become a master with the clone tool, you can do almost anything to a picture and change it as you like.

Notice how I removed most evidence of the current century. This picture was used to create an an illustration to depict this saloon as it might have been seen in 1865. The final phase of art creation was made using the edit filter tools. Most photo paint programs have art filters to convert a picture into pastel, oil or watercolor. I used the water color filter and then I converted the image to black and white. I took the water color art and made some adjustments in the deepness of the shadows so it would appear more striking.

I saved the picture at each stage of the process so that I had a working picture to go back to in case the art did not come out the way I wanted it to. Of course, you can undo your work at certain stages and you can also use the preview to check and see if the tool you used gave you the correct effect you wanted.

The next example of digital art from photography will be more complicated. I took a house from another picture and transplanted it using a mask tool to copy and paste it into another historic photograph and then, I took that black and white photograph, colorized it with some additional painting effects and distorted it to create the image I used as the the cover image of the book, Dark Sabbath.

This is an art image of San Francisco in 1865

This is a step by step view of the stages of change to create the final image that is featured on the cover of my novel Dark Sabbath, which is featured in my HUB, designing your cover.
This is a step by step view of the stages of change to create the final image that is featured on the cover of my novel Dark Sabbath, which is featured in my HUB, designing your cover.

Combining two pictures to create a work of art from both.

This is a more advanced use of your photo paint program, but you can do it too. All it takes is practice learning to use all your photo editing tools. I imported this picture from a book of architecture and I made some changes in the house. I altered the porch and some of the windows using my clone tool. I also had to change the shadows and forced the perspective a little to make it fit into the picture. After I managed to drop the picture into the photograph of San Francisco, I had to do a lot of work around the edges of the house to blend it into the picture.

The next stage was to colorize the picture. You can apply color in percentages. I used 90 percent transparency with the regular color brush with the edge of the brush fully feathered. It is better to apply the color with a very high transparency so that you do not obscure the details of the photograph. You can undo your tool action if the color is too bright. This is supposed to be the 19th century so you do not want bright colors. I added some dark clouds to make the scene appear brooding.

The last stage of manipulation was created with the ripple filter at a very low setting just to turn elements of the picture askance but not to obliterate the view of the scene. This is a story about an earthquake event and I wanted to add the effect of a topsy turvy scene of the city.

All it takes is some practice and you can produce digital art from your photographs. The possilbilities are endless. The creativity part is all up to you.


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    • marketingmergenow profile image

      marketingmergenow 9 years ago from Spokane

      Excellent hub SF Book Craftsman! 

      I appreciated the insightful information, the how to turn any photo into digital work of art.  I really found the pictures as well as the information on your hub to helpful & valuable.  Thank you, it was just what I needed.