Skip to main content

photo & video

Creating Painterly Photographs

Lesson 9 of 21

Shooting Through Non-Natural Materials

Kathleen Clemons

Creating Painterly Photographs

Kathleen Clemons

buy this class


Sale Ends Soon!

starting under


Unlock this classplus 2000+ more >

Lesson Info

9. Shooting Through Non-Natural Materials

Lesson Info

Shooting Through Non-Natural Materials

So what happens if you don't have foreground foliage, what else could you shoot through? Oh, this is fun! I'm gonna show you my very favorite technique, which is the one that I used for that one. And, it involves using tulle, or lace. Tulle, this kind, not wrenches, it even comes in camo. I'm gonna show you how I use the lace, though. So you would buy about a third of a yard of lace, and it's easiest to do this with your camera sitting on a table, and then you're going to wrap the tulle, or the lace, around your lens hood. You can secure it with a rubber band, and then you're pulling the fabric in front of your lens, leaving a small opening. Now, if you want a very suttle veil of color, you do maybe one layer of the tulle, or one layer of the lace. If you wanted thicker, say you're trying to hide some dark edges, then you would just pull it out a little thicker. And then, you leave an opening for where you want your subject to be, and you can easily move that as you re compose. Just as...

easy as that. And it comes in many different colors, I have not found green lace yet, but I'm hopeful that St. Patrick's Day might allow me to find some. But it's a beautiful technique, and definitely one of my favorites for flowers, and I can simplify a background just the same way that I was shooting through the foliage, but with something different, this is also done with tulle. This is pink tulle, and you can see that I had it pretty heavy over the lens, with just a very small opening of this hydrangea. And any time I do this, I get stopped at a garden and asked what I'm doing (students laughing). Someone said, "Is this some sort of a ...". I was teaching it to a group, "Is this some kind of a club?" (laughing) Yeah, we're the tulle girls. You can see the image on the left with the Spanish moss, I love Spanish moss, but it was a little too intense, a little too strong, so I did an off white piece of tulle, and just added a very soft vignette to it. I went a little heavier on the tulip. And here too, this was a yellow tulle, and it was pretty thick, because, I really only wanted you to look at that one flower, and this is the way that I could do that, where I could tone the other ones down with the tulle, and just leave an opening for that one flower. But, you don't only have to use tulle or lace. And if you have things that you've shot through that don't mention, I'd love to hear them, the people at home, if you have some suggestions, I'd love to hear them. Panty hose, it still does exist, and you would just cut a piece off, stretch it over your lens, and attach it with a rubber band. I'd stretch it pretty tightly. And that's how I made this photo. You can cut a hole in it if you do want a little more definition in one area, if you don't want that soft diffusion all the way across, so I'd get two pieces of panty hose, one with a hole in it, and one straight one for that. I think it's a beautiful softened effect, and that's how did the main image for this class, was with panty hose. And these leaves as well, not just flowers. So here's a shot, a straight shot of a flower from Longwood gardens, and then I tried the panty hose. I wasn't crazy about it, but I wanted you to be able to have a before and after shot, so that you can see just what that effect is doing. You could use a plastic bag over your lens, like a plastic sandwich bag. This is one that, instead of a plastic bag, I used, I don't have one with me. You know those free shower caps they give you in hotels? This is what I used. For this shot, I had it loose over the lens, I didn't tighten it, I just held it with my hand, not a rubber band, and for the second shot, no, I take that back, got that completely wrong. This is where I had it stretched tight, and I did have it held with my hand. And then for the second shot, I let it go looser, and I think there's a little more distortion because of the rumples in the shower cap. For this one, I used Vaseline on a filter, and I'm going to tell, and listen to this, never, never, never, put Vaseline on your lens, or on your camera. You buy a cheap UV filter, and you put the Vaseline, take a little bit on your finger, and I go just around the edge. If you want that diffusion to cover the whole thing, you can do that, but a little Vaseline goes a long way, just a tiny bit around the edges would work. And then to be able to keep this somewhat steril, and not pick up cat hair, dust, dirt, or anything, I take a second UV filter, and I just put it right over the top. Put that on my camera, and shoot through, and that way, I can reuse it, I mean, it will last a couple of years, you don't have to clean the filter and UV filters are pretty inexpensive. But that's how I did this, and you can see in the center, I didn't have the Vaseline, can you see that there's a little more definition there? The softness is more around the outer edges. Same thing here, there's just that softening around the very outer edges of the flower. Or you could do it all over, again, your choice. This has it a little thicker, comes in a little bit more with a smaller area without the Vaseline. So, something fun to shoot with. I even tried bubble wrap. I always tell my students to ask themselves what would happen if, and I do it myself, and when I was doing the shower cap, I thought, I wonder what bubble wrap would look like? It wasn't great, so that's why you're not gonna see it. But, it was worth a shot, something fun to try. So, are there things that you guys have tried that I haven't mentioned, that you've shot through that you wanna share with us? Anybody at home? Well we do have some folks, Old Red Eye, who says, when you buy a cantaloupe, it comes in one of those net bags, from certain places, so shooting through one of those can render some interesting results. So just different types of fabrics and things that you get out there. Ah, let's see what else, of course there's always that delay for things coming through. So, like you said, Mindy says, "I'm not sure I would "wanna put Vaseline on my filters, how do you clean it off?" Rubbing alcohol, for this technique, I think this was like a six dollar filter, it's nothing I'm gonna put back on my camera, it's gonna stay for this technique, so two of them $12, and I have a softening filter. Exactly, great, Felicia says shoot through a prism, which we've seen other people do, which is lovely. And then we actually had a question, first a couple more coming through, prism, prism, yep, definitely. Saran wrap, wax paper, great ones, excellent. Ah, let's see, the question is about focus, so, are you focusing first and then putting the say, panty hose on, or is it ... I'm focusing through, through, but you, you know, you definitely could do that. Oh, now they're beginning to come in, a lot more. Colored tissue paper, brilliant, let's see, a wavy glass cutting board, wavy, clear, leucite outdoor table, shower curtain, another great one. Ah, let's see, great, keep 'em coming, sandwich bag with come colored marker on the edges. You all are so creative out there, love it. You are, we have a creative audience, that is awesome. Alright, I'm gonna show you one more thing that I like to shoot through. So, this is a shot that I took in Ireland, and the plant was, I didn't set this up, the plant was behind a door that had this amazing distortion to it, and I started to think about doing some of that on my own, so, I bought myself a piece of patterned glass. You can see the ripples in the glass. And I bought probably three or four different ones, this ripple effect is my favorite. I also have one that has rain drops on it, so it looks like you're shooting through a rain-soaked window, which is pretty cool too. The only thing I don't like about it, is I can't do this myself. I tried, (laughing) I set my camera up on my tripod, and prefocused, and tried to push the button, and have this at the right angle, it just did not work. So I went shooting with a couple of friends, and they were nice enough to hold the glass for me. I do use a polarizer for this, because the glass is shiny. And you need to be sure that your assistant is holding it at the right angle so that you're not catching glare, you know, if they have it tilted this way, you're gonna catch some glare, so you'll have to direct your assistant on just how to use the glass. I am hoping that I can find some of that rippled glass in plexiglass instead, so that I could use a clamp and hold it myself, because in my life, an assistant doesn't happen unless I'm shooting with friends, and we take turns. So, this is through that same rippled glass. So I can go from this shot of these daisies, to this, with the rippled glass, I'm in (laughing). It's just fun to do this, my latest obsession. I will be adding to my glass collection and doing a lot more of this, it's not real portable. I also shot this cosmos the same day. And not just flowers, these are Coleus leaves that I shot through, and I think that looks painterly to me, and it's just beautiful. So while we were at Dunn Gardens, I did som shooting through, both with tulle, and fabric, and the patterned glass, and I'd like to show you that now. So what can you do if you want to do the shooting through technique, and there is no foreground foliage. You can shoot through something artificial. This is just tulle, that's t-u-l-l-e, not tool, like a wrench, that I've wrapped around my lens, and secured it with a rubber band, I have it around the lens hood. If you're using a tulip lens hood, it's a little tricky to use, it's better with the solid one. So what you do is wrap it around, and then you just pull the tulle in front of your lens hood, leaving an opening, so that would be like the opening that we had in the foliage to shoot through. And I'll use green if I wanna match the leaves of a flower. If I'm shooting a full-frame flower, like an orange rose, I'll use orange tulle, lace works well too. But you can recreate that look without having the foreground foliage. So we found this gorgeous tree, I have no idea what it is, but the blossoms are just fabulous, they're beautiful. And I wanna be able to simplify them, and there are a lotta leaves up close, and those would be coming into focus, so the tulle will allow me to simplify the shot, tone those down, and keep the attention on that soft, painterly flower. So I'm gonna shoot a few of those for you. (camera clicks) And if you're putting that opening on the side, or one of the corners, and then you decide you wanna recompose, you can easily just slide the tulle, and move that opening. It's really simple to do. I wanna do another shot now, but I wanna use lace instead, so let's go up and do that one. Now I have yellow lace, wrapped around my lens hood, and if you're looking to buy some, about a third of a yard is a good amount. And I'm gonna shoot these leaves, they're yellow and green and they have some beautiful little pink tips, so I could use pink tulle or lace, I could use green, I could use yellow. I think yellow will warm it up nicely. I'm going to be really careful that I don' catch the bright, white sky, that I fill the frame with only the leaves. I'm gonna shoot this at F4, because I want probably, just the pink tips of the leaves in focus. That's my focal point, I think it's the strongest part. I'm gonna move just a little bit, because I was getting a little sky (camera clicks). Beautiful, soft look, right in the camera. There's one more shooting through technique that I wanted to show you, this is shooting through textured glass. And for this one, you need an assistant, I've been trying to figure out a way where I could hold the glass, hold the camera, it's not happening, the glass is too heavy. Plexiglass might be an alternative that would be lighter, I haven't found any yet in a pattern that I like. So I'm going to have my assistant come in, and hold the textured glass in front of my subject. Choose something with a lot of color, compact together. You don't want specks of color throughout the frame, you want a good concentration of subject matter. I have the polarizer on my 180 millimeter, which will cut down any glare from the glass, and let's shoot it. You're not gonna get focus confirmation for this, you wanna shoot in manual focus, and just dial it in so that it looks good to your eye. This type of shot, you know, you don't wanna focus on the flowers behind the glass, because then you'll lose your distortion. And focusing on the glass doesn't work really well. I find it, just dial it in, and this is supposed to be painterly, and soft, and a funky effect, so you really don't need anything tack sharp anyway, and that's as simple as it is. And as soon as I find a way to hold the glass, I'll let you guys know. Well Kathleen, we do have some folks who are commenting on how to hold the glass. Yes, let's hear it! So, let's see WillCom says, "For the glass, "I've cut it to fit a P series filter holder". And then somebody else had talked about using, like, a light stand, and a clamp to hold the glass as well. Okay, my husband's pretty creative, so I've been after him to come up with something for me, but I think plexiglass would be my solution, it would just be lighter, and easier for me to use. This is the shot that I photographed through the leaves through the yellow lace. And you can see that beautiful, soft, yellow, you don't see any lace, you just see soft color. An this is the shot through the textured glass, with my wonderful assistant holding that for me. And I took one more when I was there, just because I loved, I loved this. It was in the next pod over, and you guys didn't get to see it, but I wanted to share that with you. One more thing we had during the video, a student asked, in the studio audience, but then also a question from FieldBirdie online, same thing, we saw how close you were with the glass to the subject, and to you from the camera, is that a typical distance? That works for me, if you put that glass too close, you don't get the effect, if you put it too far away, you lose the definition, so you really have to eyeball it, and how close you are is going to depend on the focal length of your lens.

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. 

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Gear List

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

Related Classes



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!