Quick and subtle painterly effect in Lightroom

I used to work on photos in Photoshop and occasionally had a go at making an artistic image; using brushes or filters to make the photo look less like a photo. Almost all of the images were abject failures as I just couldn’t get the effect right. Too much choice and too little artistic talent were the problems; I’ll leave the world of digital art to people like Graham, who have both the eye and the ability to create images of quality.

Whilst selecting and editing a photo for our wall at home this evening, I came across a really nice effect in Adobe Lightroom by accident. One which is the simple result of a “0” too many in the noise reduction field.

Noise reduction reduces all the little speckles in an image: either monochrome ones, removed via the “luminance” noise settings, or red ones, removed via the “colour” noise settings. These speckles are the result of over-reaching the camera’s sensor range, or shooting with a high ISO setting.

I usually remove just enough noise that you wouldn’t even notice: in the case of the image above of Harlech beach in mid-Wales, underexposed using my Nikon D70 in 2007, I wanted to remove 10% of the luminance noise. I entered 100 in the field by mistake and the result was the image above: a painterly effect on a detailed photograph. The cropped part of the larger image here helps to show the effect “close-up”.

I like the mistake enough that the full-sized version of the image (which is available to purchase via RedBubble) will be hanging on our wall soon. If you’re using Lightroom yourself, give the noise reduction filters a try. Over-do it: instead of trying to be subtle, start at the maximum setting and work backwards until you get the effect you want. Zoom in to 100% view to see the proper effect and adjust as follows. (Numbers are for Luminance, Detail, Contrast.)

  • 100, 0, 0: this painterly effect.
  • 100, 100, 0: a very smooth but more detailed and photographic image.
  • 100, 0, 100: the painterly image, but the difference between highlights and dark tones become more noticeable.
  • 100, 100, 100: there is no noticeable benefit to using these settings.
  • NB: setting Luminance to 0 turns off the whole effect. Doing this and setting other options to a positive number has no effect on the image.