My latest project this month was to look at more experimentation by turning a photograph into a piece of art work. It's a journey that I often start without any real idea on where I am going to end up. I love just simply playing around with layers, brushes and filters using a combination of Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop and DxO Nik Collection plugin filters.

Flowers are probably the best subject to start with. May is the ideal month to get outdoors and create a stock pile of photographs to work on throughout the year.

This is a step by step guide on how I turned the tulip on the left into the one on the right.

Photograph of a red tulip
Original photograph of tulip

This image was taken on a recent trip to Wakehurst Place. May is a good time to visit with so many plants in full bloom. I used a macro 105 mm lens. It's not the greatest of shots but I just wanted the tulip head and beautiful curved stem for my project. The distracting background and foreground I knew were not going to be a problem.

Red tulip on white background
Cut and paste of tulip into new file

I started the process by creating a new file in photoshop with just a plain white background. I had the original image also opened up as a separate file. Using the Object Selection tool I selected just the tulip and it's stem and did a copy and paste into a new layer in the new file; ending up with this. I then did a free transform to move into position.

Red Tulip
Smoothed out edges

The next step involved a little bit of brightness adjustment on the tulip layer. I then created a mask and using a soft brush I smoothed out all the sharp jagged edges.

Red tulip on pink background
Background colour change

As mentioned earlier when I start this process I never really have any idea of where I am going to end up. I like to keep an open mind and experiment along the way. The white background looked too harsh so I changed it to pink. I did this by selecting the red on the tulip with the colour picker tool and then sliding across the spectrum until I got a pale pink. Using the bucket tool I changed the colour on the white background layer.

Painted red tulip
Oil Paint effect

The next stage was to give the tulip a more painted look. To achieve this I duplicated the tulip layer. This was to preserve the work already done if I decided I did not like the effect. My favourite mixer brush is "Kyles real oils". It works best when zooming in close. Always adjust the brush size to suit. My brush settings were wet at 24%, mix 35% and flow 100%. The key with using this brush is to think in terms of using a real paintbrush. The key is to remember to hit the clean brush option every time you start to paint over a new shade of colour. Otherwise you can end up with some strange colour mixing.

Red Tulip on textured pink background
Texture added

I next gave the image a crop to suit the composition a bit better and ensure the tulip was more central. I then added in a texture layer between the tulip and the background layer. I used the blend mode of overlay and reduced the opacity to 40%

photograph of green peeled paint.
texture shot

I often collect texture shots when I see something suitable when out and about. Anything with a regular pattern that fills the frame is suitable. Such as leaves in a tree, grass, sand. In this case I used some pealed paint.

Red tulip
apply white layer

I wanted to look to create a more pastel effect so the next step was to add another white layer. By selecting overlay mode and reducing to 30% opacity it gives a really soft effect. I did start to lose the texture so I had to increase the opacity on that layer slightly to compensate.

red tulip
apply green vignette

The next stage was to create a vignette. To do this I created another layer. Took a colour sample from the green stem with the colour picker. With a large soft brush set to 10% opacity I brushed around the edges of the image. The advantage of doing this on a separate layer meant I could also play around with the blend mode and opacity further to get the desired effect.

The next step was to flatten the layers and import the new image into Lightroom. It was still far from finished.

Red Tulip
apply DXO Nik filters

From Lightroom I imported the image into the DxO Nik Collection plugin and added some additional filters. I used the detail extractor , skylight filter, foliage and a red vignette filter to intermingle with the previously applied green vignette. The result was this stronger looking image but I was still far from happy with it.

Red Tulip
Change colour effect

Once back in Lightroom I ran the image through some of the filter presets and really liked the "aged photo" effect. As mentioned before the whole process is a journey for me and I never know exactly where it is going to take me. To me the colours just looked much more subtle.

The final step was to import back into photoshop. There were a few annoying spots on the petals which needed smoothing out. As an extra touch I decided to add one more white layer over the top. Using the softlight blending mode. I then masked out the petals of the tulip so that the surrounding edge and stem looked slightly misty.

The end result of this journey is the image below which I would be happy to hang on my wall as a piece of art work.

Red tulip with photoshop effects
Final image. The Tulip

The way to great photography is to simply just experiment.... Set yourself realistic goals and just keep practicing.

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