Capture stunning abstract photographs using paint and Photoshop

Creating an abstract photograph doesn’t mean that everything has to be done behind closed doors. Photoshop is a fantastic tool for taking your abstract art to the next level. For this project, we will see how to create a colorful dancer image from a series of painting photos. It involves a combination of shooting skills and Photoshop techniques.

First, we’ll get ready to take some vibrant photos of paint by capturing the colors as they move through the water. Once that is done, we will progress into Photoshop where we will distort the photos into the shape of our gushing dancer. As such, it is effectively two skills in one. So, if you are mainly interested in capturing beautiful abstract paintings, you can follow the first part, and if you prefer to work on Photoshop skills, you can skip the shooting part and use the provided images to create your own. pictorial figures.

For filming we need a transparent container filled with water. An aquarium is ideal, but any plastic or clear glass container will do. When it comes to lighting, you can use natural light all at once, but you’ll get better results with an external flash – any low-budget flash will do. The flash helps bring out the colors in the paints and freezes the action as the paint passes through the water tank. We will also see how to set up your external flash and how to expose for shooting. We will then move on to the Photoshop part of the technique. It may sound complicated, but it’s actually a lot easier than it looks …

Abstract shot with paint

abstract photography

(Image credit: James Paterson)


A small aquarium like this is ideal, but any plastic or glass container will do. Make sure the glass is as clean as possible before you start to fill the water tank. You will need to refresh the water after a few shots, so it is best to do this near a sink.

Speed ​​of light

An external flash is the best way to capture paintings because it gives your images a clarity that is difficult to achieve with natural light alone. Place the flash on one side of the tank, tilted slightly from the backdrop so that it does not tip over.

• Better flash


By positioning a reflector opposite the flash on the other side of the tank, we can bounce the flash light into the shadows to even out the lighting. As such, this is a simple, inexpensive way to create a second light source for your subject.

• Better reflectors

Black background

A simple piece of cardboard can be used to make a black background. This helps to make the paintings stand out and also makes it easier to combine multiple images of the painting later. This means we can just blend them together using the Lighten blending mode in Photoshop, which effectively cancels out the black background.

Wireless flash trigger

A wireless trigger allows you to trigger your external flash. If you don’t have one, you can set your flash to optical remote control mode, then use your camera’s pop-up flash to trigger it instead. You can also use a wireless compatible flash with your camera.

• Better flash triggers

Camera settings

As a starting point for your exposure, set your camera to manual mode with an aperture at f / 8, ISO 100 and a shutter speed of 1/200 second. Set the flash to manual at 1/2 power and take a test shot. If it is too bright, reduce the flash output until it is perfect.

Draw paint summaries

abstract photography

(Image credit: James Paterson)

Choose your paints

Acrylic paints will work best for this because they don’t mix with water, so they’ll stick together when you drop them in water. If the paints are too thick, try mixing them with a dash of white spirit to thin them out. Experiment with the height at which you pour them into the water.

The drop point

Before you start pouring paints into your water, you will need to focus on where they will be. Hold an object like a spoon in the center of the water, focus on it, and then switch your lens to manual focus to lock it in place. Place the paints in the same place.

Mix your colors

Try to pour more than one color in the water at a time, as the best photos will be those where the paints intertwine. Use contrasting colors with bold undertones. If needed, you can still change colors in Photoshop using the Hue / Saturation command (Cmd / Ctrl + U).

Use Photoshop to create your pictorial dancer

abstract photography

(Image credit: James Paterson)

Fall into a shape

Open Photoshop, go to File> New, set Background Content: Black and hit OK. Then drag and drop the shape you want to use. Here we used an outline of a dancer, but you can find many more shapes and figures online. Resize the image with Cmd / Ctrl + T, then press 2 to set the layer to 20% opacity.

abstract photography

(Image credit: James Paterson)

Copy in painting

Copy a photo of painting and position it roughly over the figure. In the Layers panel, set the blend mode to Lighten. Then go to Filter> Liquefy. Check “Show backdrop” in the settings on the right. Choose Use: Dancer Shape and set Mode: Front, then adjust the Opacity slider accordingly.

abstract photography

(Image credit: James Paterson)

Distort paint

Enter the Forward Warp tool in the toolbar and use the keys]and[pourredimensionnerlapointedupinceauFaitesglissersurl’imagepourdéplacerlapeintureafinqu’ellesuivelecorpsdudanseurFaçonnez-lepourcouvrirunepartieducorpsenutilisantdespousséescourtesetpointuesavecl’outilAppuyezsurOKlorsquevousêtessatisfait[keystoresizethebrushtipDragovertheimagetopushthepaintaroundsothatitfollowsthebodyofthedancerShapeittocoverapartofthebodyusingshortsharppusheswiththetoolHitOKwhenyou’rehappy[pourredimensionnerlapointedupinceauFaitesglissersurl’imagepourdéplacerlapeintureafinqu’ellesuivelecorpsdudanseurFaçonnez-lepourcouvrirunepartieducorpsenutilisantdespousséescourtesetpointuesavecl’outilAppuyezsurOKlorsquevousêtessatisfait[keystoresizethebrushtipDragovertheimagetopushthepaintaroundsothatitfollowsthebodyofthedancerShapeittocoverapartofthebodyusingshortsharppusheswiththetoolHitOKwhenyou’rehappy

abstract photography

(Image credit: James Paterson)

Paint a mask

Go to the Layers panel and click the Add Mask icon, then grab the Brush tool and press D then X to set the color to black. Paint to hide the parts of the paint that you don’t want to include. Then drag and drop another paint image and position it roughly as before.

abstract photography

(Image credit: James Paterson)

More pictures of painting

Change the blending mode of the newly added paint layer to Lighten, then, again, go to Filter> Liquefy. Once again, set the Show Backdrop settings so you can see the dancer’s shape, then use the Warp Forward tool to reshape the painting to match another part of the figure, the other leg in this case here.

abstract photography

(Image credit: James Paterson)

Build it

Continue to increase the effect. Once done, hide the dancer shape layer and add a paint image as a backdrop – drop it and change the Blending Mode to Lighten. Press Cmd / Ctrl + U and adjust the hue to make it a different color if you want, then add a mask to hide the areas you need.

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