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Creating Painterly Photographs

Lesson 3 of 21

Overview of Techniques to Create Painterly Photographs

Kathleen Clemons

Creating Painterly Photographs

Kathleen Clemons

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Lesson Info

3. Overview of Techniques to Create Painterly Photographs

Lesson Info

Overview of Techniques to Create Painterly Photographs

Let's talk about my favorite technique for painterly type photo and that's selective focus. So what you're doing with selective focus, you're using shallow depth of field to draw attention to a particular part of your photograph. This is also will simplify the subject beautifully and hide things that are not so attractive in the photograph as well. So the reasons I love it is the simplicity. This is a shot of a dragonfly that I did at F3. and if I had used a smaller aperture here with all that grass it would've been really really busy. But this simplified it beautifully and I really didn't do much in post processing and all. Just at F3.5. I can put an emphasis just on the curves or the lines, or the shapes of my subject with selective focus. I can isolate a subject from the background. Selective focus allows you to celebrate what is special about your subject. Calla Lilies are one of my very favorite subjects and they're all about the curves. So with selective focus, I can draw your at...

tention just to the curves. The first image is a Calla. I wanted to draw attention to just the tip. The second is a weed (laughs) growing around my Morning Glory. And the third is just a water drop on the edge of a leaf. Well you can see how I simplified those with selective focus. And another Calla. You're probably gonna see a lot of Calla Lilies. Just wanted the attention right on the tip. And I wanted attention here on the foreground leaf, didn't need the rest in focus. Selective focus allows you to draw attention to just one area. Very small area in the frame or a larger area in the frame but it controls just where your eye goes. It also hides flaws which is fabulous as a flower photographer because they're not always in pristine condition. But if I put the selective focus area on the healthy (laughs) looking part of the flower, I can hide the flaws and then I don't have to deal with that in post processing. It erases a busy background. Ferns grow in the woods and woods aren't always pretty (laughs) in the background. There's a lot of pine needles and sticks and I can simplify easily with selective focus. This would've been hugely busy. I was just sitting in some bushes at Acadia, and focused my lens through the bushes to one fern that was sort of isolated in by itself. So let's think about the factors that affect depth of field. I know that aperture is an obvious one for people but it's not the only thing that you need to think about. So I shot this at F4.5. I was actually getting ready to leave my house one day and walked by my rose bush and this is what I saw and I knew I was gonna be late but you know what, I went back in the house and grabbed my camera and I was very lucky that it stayed. So larger apertures, smaller number, create less in focus and more in blur. So I want you think, small number, small amount of focus. F2 little bit in focus, F3.5 little bit in focus. F16 lot in focus. And I probably don't shoot much over F in just about everything that I do. But you also can do selective focus with an F5.6. You know, if you're close enough to your subject and the subject is large enough, you're still gonna get plenty of blur. Even at F8. Depends on the lens you use and how close you are. This is F3.5. With the 180 millimeter, I just wanted a little bit in focus. And F4 for just a petal edge on this poppy. I'm at F6. and F4. This is the same subject but look at the difference in how much is in focus. I prefer the F3.5 of course. (laughs) But F8, there's still plenty of blur in F8 for me as well to make a painterly look. The next thing you need to think about is your focal length. This was shot with a 50 millimeter at F4. But look what happens if I shoot the same thing with 180 millimeter at F4. I get closer, but I also get much more background blur, a much more painterly effect. Here's two more examples of Rebekia at the same way. Both at F4 but look at the difference in the background so it's not just aperture that you need to be thinking about. So when you're choosing a focal length, there are a few things that you need to think about. Will the background be included? Can you blur it? Is it part of the story that you want to tell? And can you get close enough to your subject with that lens? If you need to get closer, you're going to need a longer focal length or lens baby, you can get pretty close with a lens baby too. Does the scene need the compression that a longer lens provides? And think of compression is bringing elements back here and elements here closer together. Kind of pulls everything together. And that's what I needed for both of these. The next thing that you need to think about is the distance to your subject. Kathleen I was just wondering if we could go back to that last slide. And just kind of talk a little bit more about these different factors that we're going through. Like in these particular images so we can really let it sink in, I know sort of that focal length and compression is not, not everybody's familiar with how you grate that. Okay, sure sure sure. So these were both with 180 millimeter and the two daisies in the first picture, the two daisies on the right were nowhere near the daisies on the left. Because it was so much further back. But because I used 180 millimeter, I could bring them all into the same grouping where they wouldn't have been. If I'd shot that with a wide angle lens, there's no other way that they would've been together. Or even 100 millimeter lens. It wouldn't get the, I needed that compression to pull those background elements to the front. Same thing with the other daisy, I needed to be able to draw that background which was a good distance away, up close to fill in behind my flower. And if I had used a short lens, it wouldn't happen. The background would've been way further back. That's basically what I mean. Awesome, it's super helpful to to hear from you what would've happened differently if you had used something different. So thank you. Okay. So your distance, the distance from your camera to the subject is the next factor. Both of these images were with the 180 millimeter at F7.1 but you can see that with the tulip, I was right up close to it. Well, as close as i can get with that lens which is about 16, 17 inches away. And with the iris bud, I was quite a bit further back. So the closer you are, you lose depth of field. And I think that's really important for people to understand. I'll have students who are trying to shoot an orchid with 100 millimeter lens and right up close and they can't understand why they can't get much in focus. But you lost so much depth of field because you are so close to your subject. You know, if you were back here, you'll get that all the orchid in focus and also everything else around it so the right lens for the job it comes in handy and also one of the reasons why I like a longer focal length. In both of these, are also with 180 millimeter at F3.5. Look at the difference about how much is in focus. When I get right up close, as close as I can, depth of field is really really slim. Where there's a little more on the fern but there's still a well blurred background because I use that long length lens and was able to pull that background closer and blur it. This is with the 180 millimeter F5.6 from a distance away but watch what happens when I get closer. Good the difference in the amount in focus between this one, trying to go back and that. So keep that in mind when the closer you get, you're gonna reduce depth of field. All four of these pictures are with my 180 millimeter lens at F3.5 so the first one on the left, it was a good distance away and then I got a little closer and take a look. And as I get closer, you'll notice that I lose depth of field in my subject and I get more background blur. So same lens, four different photos, four different effects. The distance from the subject to the background is also something you need to think about. If you want a well blurred background then you don't want it right up against your subject and a well blurred background is a painterly background especially if there's some good colors and shapes in the back. I shot this thank you, I shot this flower. The background in this one is actually a huge patch of Rebekia and it was probably about 30 feet away. And that's why there's not a shape, or anything in the Rebekia. You can see a little bit of foliage that was between the Rebekia and my subject. But I thought it filled in that empty area nicely without distracting, without being in focus but I loved the fact that I could fill the whole background with yellow. And I do that a lot when I'm looking at a subject, I look at around all the different sides of it to choose a background that is either has a painterly look or is very simple and I went back there last week and they did not plant the Rebekia in the same spot this year. So I'm glad I got the shot when I did. Now here, these are poppies that I shot in Longwood Gardens this spring. Now you can see that the poppies aren't just a blur of color, they have some shape because they weren't so far away. They were a little bit closer. And this Dianthus photo, Dianthus grows very compact. There's no way you're going to have the other flowers far away so you can see that I have my main flower in focus and then you can see that they other flowers are starting to come into focus. To get a single one in focus, I'd have to chose and angle where there was just one growing if I didn't want any of them in the background.

Class Description

Short on time? This class is available HERE as a Fast Class, exclusively for Creator Pass subscribers.

Make yourself stand out among nature photographers by adding a new dimension to your images. Painterly techniques draw attention to the delicate patterns, lines, textures, and designs that we often overlook in the natural world.

Kathleen Clemons is an experienced nature photographer, known for her creative techniques and her unique, stunning compositions. 

Join Kathleen for this class, and you’ll learn:

  • How to achieve the painterly look in-camera with slow shutter, selective focus, Lensbaby, and multiple exposures.
  • How to evoke the painterly look in Photoshop with panning.
  • How to use Topaz Impression and NIK software to make painterly photos.
In this class, you’ll learn how to create painterly images by using a wide variety of techniques. Kathleen will show you how to apply effects using in-camera settings, different lenses, Adobe Photoshop®, and low-tech tricks like applying vaseline to filters. Capture the magic of nature and turn your photography into remarkable impressionistic art. 



Wow. I really loved this class. I took her other class, "The Art of Flower Photography" as well. She is very thorough, explains concepts clearly and is professional, yet kind. I have been doing photography for decades, but flower photography is a little bit of a different animal. I have found it to be extraordinarily challenging - which is also invigorating! At the same time, using Kathleen's principles, I feel like I now have basic rules and tools under my belt which I did not have before. This is a little humbling as I have been doing photography for so long and was surprised there were a few basic concepts I didn't "get the memo" on. haha. This class will save me heaps of trial and error time. I will be much better able to zero in on what I really need to work on. I actually recommend taking both her Creative Live courses. Yes, there is a bit of overlap - but that little bit of repetition is actually helpful. They are not the same class. Oh, and one more "perk" get to view some of the most stunning flower photography ever created. Masterful. Thank you, Kathleen.

Donna Macri Stevens

As I've been watching this class, I have literally been sitting at my computer and saying aloud, "Wow....WOW!" This is an absolutely amazing class!!! I began watching it while it streamed, but had to buy it. Kathleen is an amazing instructor, and she is SO generous with her tips and techniques. I love that she supplemented her instruction with on-site videos, in class photo manipulation and so much more. If you love flower photography or want amazing tips on how to make your photos more painterly, CLICK BUY NOW! I'm just blown away! This is a GREAT, GREAT class!


Kathleen's images have a very artistic and painterly character, so she is a great presenter for this subject. In this class she openly shares many of her methods of shooting to create in-camera artistic images (even with your phone) as well as post-processing techniques. She presents this material with her open, calm, strong and passionate manner that gives you an "artistic license" to experiment and discover "What happens if?" I have admired her work for a long time and am so excited that she shares the secrets of creating her enchanting images here. If you are interested in capturing images that go beyond what you see to incorporate how you feel about a subject, you will love this class!