The creative thinking required for photography often intersects with the creativity required for painting. When experimenting with your own style, it’s often helpful to let yourself explore a bit. One thing I sometimes like to do is enhance my creative images with simple hand-painting in Photoshop. It’s fun, and teaches me skills I can tuck away in my mental arsenal.

It’s as simple as using Photoshop’s Brush tool, and doesn’t even require you to use a digital tablet (although it certainly helps).

The technique we’ll explore today is great for enhancing landscapes – for example, the sky, particularly at sunrise or sunset.

Let’s look at our starting photo:


You can follow along on a sunset/sunrise photo of your own, if you want. This technique translates well.

For this particular photo, I was standing on my third floor balcony, trying to catch the sunset before it ended. I think if I had been a few minutes earlier, I would have caught the pink yellow hues better, but I still thought the photo had promise. Hence, I held onto it, because I knew I would creatively touch it up at some point in time.

That time is now.

Simple Hand-Painting in Photoshop

In Photoshop, I created three new layers to sit on top of the main Background layer, and labeled one layer pink,  the next layer yellow, and the third layer blue. These were the colors I planned to paint with. Also, I put each of the layers’ Blending modes on Overlay so that the colors would be blended and softened as I painted. You can experiment with the look you get with the other related Blending modes, although I find myself coming back to Overlay more often than not.

The 3 layers, labeled according to the color to be painted with.
The 3 layers, labeled according to the color to be painted with.


First, I started with the blue layer. I selected the Brush tool, and set it on a Hardness of 0%. Additionally, I like to set the Opacity and Flow to under 35%. In this example, they both started off at 25%. Use the Color Picker to select an existing color in the sky, and then double clicked the resulting foreground color to bring up the color chart. I like to select a shade that is slightly brighter and more pronounced than the original color. This is what we will paint onto our blue layer to make the top left part of the sky pop. From there, I hand-painted where I wanted the blue hues to be richer.

When I was done with the blue layer, I went on and did the same steps for the yellow layer, and then the pink layer. It’s a matter of learning to trust your eye as you hand-select areas you want to emphasize. In this instance, I wanted to carry over the slight glow of the setting sun into the darker areas of the sky.

Here is a diagram of where I placed my brush strokes:


And here’s the final image:

The finished image. Photo copyright Chamira Studios.
The finished image. Photo copyright Chamira Studios.


Concluding Thoughts

Before I was ever a photographer, I was a painter, and I find that the two areas often intersect. Spotting the potential in an image is like training a muscle that grows stronger over time. This exercise helps you learn to pay attention to color and recognize where the potential lies in an image.

This is a quick, satisfying activity you can do on just about any photo. I encourage you to have some fun playing with and experimenting on your own images. Develop that muscle!