Sunday, February 10, 2013

Can Photoshop help us paint miniatures?

Can Photoshop help us to paint miniatures? I think it might.  Find out more after the jump...

The background to this is that I recently gained a Photoshop qualification and I was mulling ideas around as to how I might be able to apply some of my knowledge into the realm of mini painting.

One of the most difficult things I find in painting mini's is knowing where to put highlights and shadows.  I'm not talking so much about detailed and raised areas as much as larger smoother areas where there's a gradation from the light to the dark.

Zenithal highlighting

If you're a regular reader you'll know that I've attempted airbrushed zenithal highlighting in the past with mixed results.  Essentially you're relying on the spray from your airbrush to act as your light source.  It works up to a point but now I want to have a greater understanding of lighting.

With that in mind I snapped a few pictures of a Space Wolf Terminator that I've assembled into a fairly dynamic pose (for a terminator anyway).  The key thing to remember here is that I placed a bright light directly above the model in an attempt to simulate outdoor lighting conditions and create the maximum contrast between light and shadow:

Just doing this actually gives you a pretty good idea of where the highlights and shadows are on your mini, indeed this might be sufficient for many painters but I wanted to go a step further.

A step further

I imported my photos into Photoshop and began to tinker with contrast, levels, curves, anything that helped me accentuate the light and the dark parts of the mini.

Then I remembered a digital painting tutorial I had seen (I'm also a keen amateur digital painter) where the lecturer had applied a special filter to break a photo down into just 4 colours and tones.  This had the effect of simplifying the picture and make it easier for an artist to copy. The filter is called the posterize filter.

At this stage I'm not concerned about colour just light and dark so I desaturated the picture to make it black & white, then added the posterize filter.

Have a look at the result after I applied the posterize filter to my space wolf pictures:

Tonal map

Now I can see a clear map of the tonal variations on the model, split into white, light grey, dark grey and black which I 'hope' will act as a guide for me when I come to paint this mini over the next couple of days.

What do you guys think? Is this helpful? Do you want a quick tutorial of how I applied the posterize filter? Any other questions? Let me know in the comments!

In the meantime I'll keep you updated on my progress.

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  1. That's a hell of an idea to use a filter I never use in day-to-day design work! I've always said photography can help one become a better painter, but haven't ever thought of PS that way!!

    great idea!

    1. Hey Tim, it's good to hear from someone who uses PS regularly validate the idea! I'm still yet to test the theory on my terminator but hopefully I'll get a chance this week.