Creating Photo Art – Part I

by Ashim Dey | July 7, 2014

© Ashim DeyFor the purpose of this article we will consider photo art as anything that has a digital photograph as its base and is created purely using software on a computer and doesn’t involve any paintings with physical objects. The photo art can then be printed on canvas or paper of the artist’s choice for further viewing and distribution.

Why give your photos that painterly look? As I have been increasingly drawn towards photo art, I have pondered over this question.

Part I – Why Photo Art

I believe imagination rules over vision. The impact of a photograph ends with the visual stimulation while for photo art, like that for a traditional painting, it lingers in your imagination for a while longer. As forms, color, and texture are deliberately moved away from the photographic representation, the mind has to imagine a little, or a lot, to “fill in” the scene, so to say. With imagination, one is not restricted to only looking at what the piece of photo art is derived from but is free to juxtapose his own imagery from the mind to make the experience unique. Hence, while a photo is what the photographer saw, a photo art is what the viewer sees in his mind making the experience more involving.

Having been a photographer for close to a decade now and having seen thousands of photographs every month, I know that most of the good photos are quite removed from what the lens saw. Consider the fact that we post-process our photographs to make the background smoother (painterly?), remove unwanted objects, enhance or reduce color, remove grain, make dramatic adjustments to global and local contrast and much more. We sometimes even process parts of the photo differently to increase the visual appeal—especially in case of landscapes. If a photograph is thus removed from reality—I have nothing against post-processing and all my photos are post-processed—my thought is, why not take it even further to make it look painterly?

Consider also the appeal of low-fi photography currently in vogue. The attributes of photographic process that were once considered shortcomings—like grain, vignetting, light leaks, uneven lighting, inaccurate color fidelity, etc. are considered assets now for digital image making. Corporations have made fortunes trying to reinvent digital grain and film response curves or making and rediscovering cheap and old lenses. The plethora of “film” preset plugins being sold and the “creative” filters on the mobile phones and even high-end cameras are proof enough that we love to impart a look to our images that makes them different from the picture we took.

All this goes on to show that “reality” likes a little sweetening often to increase its appeal. Cause reality is in-the-face, banal, and gross. For a very long time, starting much before the digital era, photographers have endeavored to make their images more visually appealing than representing reality. We called these techniques and processes the methods to present what the “photographer” saw rather than what the “camera” saw. When the photographer chooses to see in more abstract and painterly forms, you have available the digital tools to make photo art from your photos.

What credibility or standing does photo art have as a fine-art form—especially in the sphere of digital art? It is early to answer this as this art form is quite new but I have a feeling that it will establish itself soon enough as more and more photographers create and sell photo art. After all, a photograph has been used for long as a “reference” for most realistic paintings. It is only now that the photographers want to use the painters’ tools.

Legume and corn with Photoshop plugins and filters applied © Ashim Dey

“Legume and Corn” – Photoshop plug-ins and filters

In the second part of this article, we will look into the techniques that can be used for creating photo art and the current crop of digital tools available.

May your pixels serve you better as your pigments.

About the Author

Ashim is a self-taught photographer from India who started with a Nikon SLR in 2001 and graduated to a DSLR in 2006. His interests in photography lie in nature, mostly macro and floral. Ashim is a contributing moderator at, the biggest online forum of amateur photographers from India. He contributes to the local photographic community by holding photography workshops. His work can be seen on his website at

3 thoughts on “Creating Photo Art – Part I

  1. Good article. I’ll be interested to see part two.

    There’s another photographer (Patrick Lincoln) in the gallery where my photographs are. He uses all kinds of filters and plugins in PS with his photos, and customers love it. And with this kind of manipulation you don’t need to worry about your photos being razor sharp.

    Have Fun,

  2. I suggest for those who think like the author, “reality is in-the-face, banal, and gross”, it is not your camera that needs a plug-in, it is your mind.
    And please don’t confuse photography with reality. Any photograph requires only half of one of your five senses (one eye) for full appreciation. Reality requires all five senses working in unison. Big huge difference.

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