• Mathys

A guide to Painterly Portrait Photography

Have you ever wondered how to create quick and easy Painterly photography inspired from the great masters ? Here is your chance to learn the tricks that I developed in my little man-cave. You need to first understand what you want to achieve and how to analyze it. This type of painting is called "Clair-obscur" Light & obscur. It was a style used from the greek period but mostly its golden age was during renaissance. We gonna take as example this photo, that I googled very quick, let's analyze it.

As you can see she is facing the side but looking at you, everything is dark excepted her skin (hand and face). So that could only meant 2 things : She was in a dark environment and she faced 1 source of light. (Obviously, dark environment + 1 source of light + no electicity can only mean 1 thing : she was lit by a candle or a fire place. And THAT is the secret. Only use one source of light when you want to achieve this look. I personally do use only 1 softbox or 2 depending if I want to light a subject entirely but the second softbox will only be here to be some ambiant light. Also there is no Rembrandt light in this picture, but in most of the painting of that period they used rembrandt style lightning. You can Google it, i'll explain in another tutorial ;)


  1. 1 or 2 softbox, depending if you want to light your subject entirely or do a "clair-obscur" type of photo. I personally use 1 x 120cm deep octa & 1 beauty Dish

  2. Presets from Fire & Ice, I use 90% of the time one of their presets called Rhaegal you can buy it here

  3. You need to understand what color work the best for this type of photography and presets, here are the ones I selected : red - orange - mustard yellow - brown - navy blue - bottle green - grey - black - white - beige ACHIEVING THE LOOK :

First let me say this : I don't pretend being good at photography (in fact that's quite the opposite. Maybe it's not true, but at least, thinking that I do shit, push me to do better every time. So I have basically only few technicals knowledge. I don't do photo mathematically, I don't use a light-meter. I do shoot only tethered in studio so I can modify my setups regarding the style I want to achieve. What I do first is to set up the camera settings so the background look in camera the way I want, without light, I don't look at distance and stuff, only how it looks. Here is the raw of my image. I just put my model, take a quick shoot with the light on her. but the background has been exposed with the light OFF, so it has some light spots (it's some fabric painted cheap from aliexpress, I litterally Paid it like 5$) Then I put my softbox at 45° side ° 45 from above looking down °45° everything (you got it, I can't explain it clearly, but just look at the photo lol)

You can see the 45° beauty dish & the very far ambiant softbox


Once I do that I switch on the main light (the 45° one, and light my subject so only the part I want to focus on is lit (face / hand ) Then I switch on my ambiant light (the other softbox that is pointing straight at the model. and light at around 1/128 so it barely light the rest of the model, but just enough to seee some detail. Here is your photo ! POST-PRODUCTION INTRO :

Now that you photo has been taken, it's time to bring it to lightroom and apply Rhaegal to it ( Again buy it, you won't regret it) But I have to warn you, these presets are super hard to use on every situations. I do, but for some use it demand a lot of tweaks to works. But I find them perfect for a quick and easy painterly effect. WHAT THIS PRESET WILL DO : What I found that these preset do is that they flatten contrats, no pure black, shifted white, added grain muted colors, richer colors when it's above the colors I listed above and that's all right because that was the color palette used during this period.


When you will apply the preset on your image. you will notice how dark it got. excepted highlight everything is about gone. And that's what we want ! Remember : We want to emulate the clair-obscur mood. everything is Dark excepted the lights parts.




From their I only turn off grain to the first "notch" not the bottom one, the one after. And then I paint with the brush the light areas and bright them even more. Last thing I do will be to shift the color temperature to more yellow, as the painters used varnish that turn the images yellow overtime. Last thing would be to use the radial filter I will apply it around the most important it and darken the rest. with a very wide transition so it doesn't look ugly.

And that's about it... I hope you learned something new. Please if you want to support me like my page and share this tutorial EVERYWHERE.


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