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Creating Painterly Photographs

Lesson 10 of 21

Painterly Backgrounds

Kathleen Clemons

Creating Painterly Photographs

Kathleen Clemons

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Lesson Info

10. Painterly Backgrounds

Lesson Info

Painterly Backgrounds

So I wanna talk about painterly backgrounds and background choices, you know, some backgrounds are just really painterly, this is dew really early in the morning on grass on my neighbor's lawn and I shot a Queen Anne's lace. Painterly look usually involves a blur of colors, but when you're shooting inside, you have a little more control over that, this is just a scarf behind this flower, when I was beta testing the Lens Baby Velvet 56, but I prefer a natural background. So there's some things you can do, if you don't like the background of your flower, I found this windflower last year in Portland, Oregon and the flower was beautiful, but the background was sort of plain, so I walked all around the edges of this plant and tried to line that flower up with something else in the background, so think about that, if you don't like the background as is, try a different point of view, shoot up, shoot down, shoot from a different side angle to try and find a more pleasing, painterly backgroun...

d, you can also shoot at a larger aperture to create more blur, but if there's nothing that you can do with the background you have, you can substitute the background, this is something that I'm doing a lot of lately, I shot this calla lily in my garden, my callas aren't growing yet, so I bought it at the farmers' market and just stuck it in a little vase and used a paper towel to make it stand straight, there's nothing fancy about my studio work and attached a plant clamp to my tripod and then I took some of my favorite textures and I printed them on matte paper and I glued them to a small piece of foam core, so there's two per piece of foam core, it weighs nothing and I can easily clamp that on and place it behind my subject and because there's two, with a flick of the wrist, I can change it. I started with fabric this spring, I went to the fabric store and tried to find some very simple prints, that would look natural and that worked great and one of my students even said, "You should have some of your photos "printed on fabric into it," which I thought that was a great idea, one of my Santa Fe students, Sally came up with that and I thought that was great, but then I started thinking textures, so some of these are my textures and some are just my favorite textures, but I use matte paper, so that you don't get any glare and I'll pass these around, so that you guys can have a look at them and see how lightweight they are and such an easy way to substitute the background. So here is a peony with a nasty background, there was nothing I can do, so I used one of the ones that you have right in front of you to simplify the background, so I ended up with a painterly look in camera, so you're not adding the texture later on, you're adding it right at the time. The fern on the left has fabric behind it and the flower on the right has one of those backgrounds, so here's a before and after, without the background added, with the background added and here's a thistle type plant from Dunne Gardens and let me show you how I dealt with reducing that busyness. Let's talk about what you can do if you have a subject that has a less than painterly background. First thing that you could try doing is moving in closer, eliminating as much of that background as you can, you could also try a different point of view, a different angle, lower, higher, more from the side, maybe the subject has a better background on the right, than the left, work with what you have, if you just cannot eliminate a displeasing background, then you can substitute something else and my favorite thing for that is textures and I don't mean textures added in post processing, although you certainly can do that, but I always like to do as much in camera as I can, so I've taken some textures and I've printed them on matte paper and glued them onto foam core and I'm using this a lot lately and finding it's a beautiful in camera effect, that requires very little post processing. So I've chosen as my subject this thistle type plant, as you can see, it's quite compact and the background flowers are pretty close, so to get any detail in my subject, I'd have to stop down and that's going to bring my background into focus and I don't want that, I want a soft, painterly background, so all I need to do and I have my texture with a clamp attached to my tripod, so that I can shoot by myself, I'm gonna move that behind my chosen flower. Let's try this one, I have two textures per board, so that I always have two texture choices with every board. I'm gonna try a slightly different angle and I also wanna flip the board around and try the other background, while I'm right here, do that with just a twist, this one has bluer tones, I think it might be a better match and strong brushstrokes, that's what I'd look for in my textures and it's as simple as that and the beauty of that board is that if you wanna stop down for more detail in your subject and if you bring the background into focus, you're bringing brushstrokes into focus, so you're increasing the amount of the painterly look, which is very simple and I wanted to just show you the one, which is another one of the one on blue and the one on green, so you can see why I said the blue is better, 'cause, ugh, (laughs) I'm not crazy about that one at all.

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!