Digital Hand Coloring in CS & Elements

Here are a couple of videos demonstrating hand coloring in Photoshop CS5 and Elements 9.

Even if you are using Elements, watch the CS video first and then the Elements version. In the first video I share a very simplistic and basic explanation of masking as it relates to digital hand coloring. The whole subject of layer masks is quite a bit more extensive than my description, but for this topic, it might help you understand the concept a little better.

I mention in the first video that one of the reasons I sometimes use these techniques, is that it gives me a starting point for when I do hand color with the pastels. It’s cheaper and easier to experiment in the computer than on actual prints.

I tried to find some information on digital hand coloring using iPhoto, but was unsuccessful. I am not sure if you can do it in iPhoto, but if any of you know a way to hand color using that program, please share by commenting on this post.

Feel free to ask any questions by commenting here as well. Other people may have the same question so don’t be shy about asking….


Watch this video first:





Floral Photography – A Quick Depth of Field Lesson

Depth of field is an important creative tool and understanding how to use it will greatly enhance your photography. This is especially true when it comes to photographing flowers.

Depth of field is the term used to describe the amount of sharpness in an image.

  • A “shallow depth of field” means your subject will be sharp, but anything in the foreground or background will appear out of focus. This comes in handy when you want to isolate your subject from the background.
  • Images with a lot of “depth of field” will appear sharp throughout.

Many of you probably already know this, but it can’t hurt to review a few basic terms and show some examples.

  • Your depth of field is determined by your aperture (lens opening).
  • A higher number such as F 22, is a small lens opening which provides for greater depth of field. (There is a scientific explanation for all of this, but it’s not necessary to know what it is to understand the concept. Let me know if you are curious about this and I will find that information for you.)
  • Something to consider: While F22 will give you a greater depth of field, it is not always the sharpest aperture to use.  If you stop down too far, diffraction may occurr. Diffraction is a loss of sharpness or resolution caused by photographing with small f/stops. Anytime you look or photograph through small holes you get diffraction. Squint your eyes – that’s diffraction! If you’re shooting flat subjects, the sharpest aperture is usually around f/8.
  • A smaller number like F 5.6, is a large opening which will give you a shallow depth of field.
  • Depth of field is also determined by the camera-to-subject distance. The closer you are, the less depth of field you will have. (See the flower example below)
  • Keep in mind that your shutter speed is directly related to the aperture. A small opening lets in less light, so setting your camera at F 22 will require a much longer shutter speed.
  • An aperture setting of F 5.6 will let in more light and decrease the amount of time the shutter needs to be open.

This is where a picture is worth a thousand words:

 Close up of Flower: F 5.6 - Shallow Depth of Field

Close up of Flower: F 5.6 – Shallow Depth of Field


Close up of Flower: F 32 - Sharp throughout most of the image

Close up of Flower: F 32 – Sharp throughout most of the image

F 4.8 Notice the type on the stapler  (Because the lens is a little further away from the subject, the difference in depth of field is not as dramatic.)

F 4.8 Notice the type on the stapler
(Because the lens is a little further away from the subject, the difference in depth of field is not as dramatic.)

F 32

F 32


How to use depth of field when taking floral photographs:
  • In a studio setting, determine how much of your image you want in focus and set your F stop accordingly. If you want to throw your background out of focus, set it at F 5.6 and get close to your subject.
  • When you are outdoors there are more variables to consider. If you want an image with great depth of field, setting your aperture at F 22 will increase the amount of time the shutter will have to remain open. This could be a problem if there is even the slightest breeze. The good news is, most of the time when you are shooting outside you don’t want a distracting background. You want to have your subject sharp and the background blurry.
  • Setting your camera to F5.6 or a similar aperture should allow for enough light to enter and give you a fast shutter speed, decreasing the chance that a breeze will ruin your shot.

The best way to understand all of this is to simply go out and experiment with it…………….


Using Backdrops Outside

Remember my post about making your own backdrop? Thanks to some workshop students, I have photos showing it’s use in an outdoor setting.



It helps to have a second pair of hands.......

It helps to have a second pair of hands…….



It can also be useful to have fabric with you when photographing flowers outside. In this shot, I had a beautiful rose blooming in my yard but as you can see, behind the flower was a wrought iron fence and my neighbor’s side yard. I simply draped the black cloth over the fence and had an instant backdrop.




Sometimes it’s difficult to find simple backgrounds when you are outside, but being creative and carrying around a few simple props can go a long way

Making Your Own Backdrop

This post is about making your own backdrop. Using something I learned from a Tony Sweet video, I took a “very out of focus” photograph and then made prints of this image to use as a backdrop.

The idea is to mimic what shallow depth of field looks like, and it comes in very handy when your backgrounds are less than perfect, especially when you are outside (which is where Tony demonstrated this technique).

My original plan for this post turned out to be too expensive to implement. My idea was to do the same thing but print it on canvas to use in a studio setting. It could work, but a regular cloth backdrop in the same size is less expensive. I may still do it some day – I like the idea of my very own custom backdrop.

But anyway – on with this tutorial…….

I began this by going on a little outing, searching for objects and settings that had backdrop potential. You don’t want anything too busy, even if it’s going to be out of focus. What I found was this fence:


I liked the color of the fence with the contrast of the yellow. I got very close and zeroed in on one section of the fence and then photographed it out of focus.


After a few adjustments, I made two different size prints. (I have included a link at the end of this post if you want to print this same file to use as your own background.)

The smaller one, an 11″ x 17″ print, is handy out in the field, but also works inside and is perfect if you are shooting close ups of flowers:



The second one I made was printed on 17″ x 22″ paper. This backdrop will work for larger arrangements. A larger backdrop would be great, but this works as a thrifty alternative.



One of the things I love about using these prints as backdrops is you don’t have to worry about wrinkles like you do when using fabric.

Floral Photography – A Few Miscellaneous Tips…..

Flowers have long been one of my favorite subjects and they lend themselves naturally to hand coloring, so I thought I would share  a few tips and resources that are in response to some questions I have received in the past.

  • Backgrounds: For small table top work, any piece of fabric will work as a backdrop. I have used upholstery fabric, sheets, and curtains for example. One of my favorite pieces however, is an actual backdrop that I got from They have a few different patterns and colors, but this is one of my favorites.


Nipomo Dunes

Nipomo Dunes

I usually nail the backdrop to the wall but other options are available. There are ways to make small stands to support your backdrops, but you can also purchase one made by Lowel Ego. This stand is small, so if you are planning to shoot larger arrangements, you may want to rig something else up or use full size backdrop stands.


Before using your fabric, iron it to remove as many of the wrinkles as possible.




  • also sell light kits and other accessories, some of which I will be demonstrating later. However, for now, I am going to concentrate on window light and outdoor floral photography.
  • Dulling Spray: This next tip may come in handy when photographing flowers inside, with a vase. For years I avoided buying vases that were glossy and always seemed to be on the lookout for matte and textured containers. A shiny surface on a vase will reflect the light source, which can be very distracting.


  • After asking around, someone mentioned “Dulling Spray” (don’t you love that name?), made by Krylon. You can find it at Using this spray will make it easier to light and photograph your vase. The matte film that the spray leaves will wipe off easily when you are finished.





Floral Foam: The last item I want to mention is floral foam. I use this to support flowers when the vase does not have be part of the image. Floral foam can get messy and leave a green dust everywhere, so I usually try to keep it wrapped up or placed inside a container.






Photo Transfers

Transfer on watercolor paper

I experimented doing them on paper and canvas……………


Transfer on canvas


Here is a little bit about the process:

One requirement for this method is you have to use color copies, not inkjet prints. You need a mirror image to place down, so after reversing them in Photoshop, I made prints and went to Kinkos. (I may just bring a flash drive next time…….)

The next step involves a “pouring medium”. I chose this one by Liquitex.

Using a foam brush, coat your substrate (in my case paper or canvas), and the front of the print with the medium.

Place the print face down on the substrate and smooth out the bubbles with a brayer or other object.

Let it dry for at least 24 hours………….ugh!

Using a spray bottle, wet the piece and carefully start rubbing the paper off. (This is actually the toughest and most time consuming part………)

This image of the Golden Gate Bridge was transferred onto hot press water color paper.
As you can see, it is so not perfect, and that is part of the charm. I can transfer this same image over and over again and it will never turn out the same way twice!
This is still a work in progress, and as I learn more I will share what works and what doesn’t. I am not sure if I will only apply this technique to iPhone images, but for now, it is this blending of extreme technology with of the idea of original art that has me so excited. (Ask the brave people that stepped inside my studio the morning I completed my first semi-successful transfer. I had to share it with someone and I was downright giddy!)
I plan to play around with adding pastels or even acrylic paint (if I am brave enough….) to these transfers.

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