How to Create a Paint Effect on Your Photo

Recently, my girls and I took a long hike, and I caught our trip on camera. During the hike, we left the woods briefly and entered a field but it ended abruptly again at the edge of the woods. I had to take the shot when I saw the girls standing in the light with the dark woods behind.

The entire time we hiked the girls were singing the words to the book We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Helen Oxenbury and Michael Rosen. So, when they saw the field they sang the grass part – swishy swashy, swishy swashy. Then they saw the woods and stopped to sing that part – stumble trip, stumble trip. The perfect moment for me to take the shot. The cold, dark woods. The only thing I would’ve changed is the backpack and clothes. And maybe my Lensbaby Sweet 35 instead of the Sweet 50 – I probably wouldn’t need to extend the canvas (in the steps below). 

When I uploaded the photo among the many others, it was what I wanted, so I added it to my 365 after making some basic edits. But I thought I could make it better and give it more of that storybook feel. In fact when I shared the photo on Facebook, the comments I got were that it looked very storybook like Hansel and Gretel. So I wanted to push that effect and painting the photo seemed the right route.

This effect is so super easy, you’ll be excited about it! I am! I just learned how to do this and wanted to share it with you. I am still constantly learning more about processing my photos and I love that I’ve put away the actions and presets for a while to push my education and open the creative doors for my photography. I highly recommend it! Enough said, on to how to paint on your photo!


How to create a paint effect on your photo:

First, since I used my Lensbaby I thought this lens would really help with painting the photo and it did – brushing almost mimicked the effect, which worked out perfectly for me.  

Second, for your first time doing this I suggest choosing a fairly simple image so you can get used to the brush sizes and strokes.

Step 1 – Basic Edits

Basic Edits in LR

I made my basic edits in Lightroom then right clicked and chose to edit in Photoshop. My basic edits included: exposure bump to +.24, clarity bump to +10. In the tone curve I slightly bumped the blacks up. In the HSL panel I moved the greens in Luminance down to -40 to make them richer, and I bumped up the noise reduction to +25.

Step 2 – Send to Photoshop and Save as 8 Bit

Step 2 - Extend canvas

Once I sent the photo to Photoshop, I extended the canvas and did a content-aware fill. I cleaned it up a bit with the clone stamp as well, but since I was going to paint on it I wasn’t too careful.  

After making the changes, I had to change it to an 8 bit mode instead of 16 bit because you can’t use the art history brush in 16 bit. So I went to Image then Mode then 8 Bit. Then I saved the image and closed it out.  

Step 3 – Reopen in Photoshop and Use the Art History Brush

Step 3 Using the art history brush

I reopened the image in Photoshop and made a copy of the background in the layers panel.  (Just drag the background layer to the new layer icon at the bottom). Then I held down Cmd/Ctrl and clicked in the thumbnail of the new layer. This selects the entire photo. Then simply press the delete key. Your photo will disappear from the thumbnail, but as you paint on this layer with the art history brush it will reappear, painted.  

Before going to the art history brush though, Press Cmd/Ctrl D to deselect. Next, choose the art history brush from the tools panel (default it is on the left but I keep mine on the right) under the history brush (click and hold the history brush to pull up the option of the art history brush).

On the top panel you can choose the size of your brush by clicking on the art history brush on the top left.  Choose your size. To start I chose between 50 and 100, changing it up depending on where I was in the photo. You may need to experiment. For the really dark areas I chose almost 200 and for my girls and the in focus foliage I chose 50. The rest of the foliage I chose around 70.  

Step 4 - end of 1st art brush

After painting most of your photo will be mostly blurry (above is my result). I could stop here but I did want to bring back a little detail in my girls. If you want to do the same to your photo, go to the next step!

Step 4 – Another Art History Brush Layer

Step 5 - End of 2nd art brush

Since I wanted to bring out more detail in my girls, I made another copy of the background layer, Cmd/Ctrl click on the thumbnail and press the delete key. Don’t forget to press Cmd/Ctrl D to deselect! Then choose a much smaller art history brush – here I chose around 20 and painted over their skin and hair then on a few of the foliage and some of the path. Paint wherever you want to bring out more of the detail of the photo.  

And that’s it!!  See, told you it was super easy!!

Here is my original photo:

Original Photo

And the final image:


Please let me know if you have any questions in the comments!

I just discovered this really cool technique and this is the first image I used it on! I knew it could be done and saw on Clickin’ Moms how other photographers used the tool, but I never thought to try it out until now. I love it! It only proves to me there is always something to learn in photography. I haven’t mastered all the skills yet either but in this season of my photography journey processing is my focus and anything I can learn about processing my photos, I soak up.  

Have you bought presets or actions wanting your photos to look like the ones in the ads for the actions? I have. Wrong move. Not only should you know how to get the right photo in camera, but your shooting style should match those actions. And to add to it, you should know how to tweak those actions when it makes your photo look a little wonky. Yes, I’ve applied actions to my photos that made them look horrible, and I had no idea how to change it. That’s where education is super important. You should learn how to use those actions and actually create your own actions for your own shooting and processing style.