Simplifying Photos for Notans and Value Studies

I’m currently learning about values in art. Part of this process is to learn how to see in values and how to place these values in paintings. If you are struggling to see the values in photos, it really helps to simplify your photos. This post will take you through a few steps on how to…

I’m currently learning about values in art. Part of this process is to learn how to see in values and how to place these values in paintings. If you are struggling to see the values in photos, it really helps to simplify your photos. This post will take you through a few steps on how to simplify your photos to help learning to see values so much easier.

Note: I am using Photoshop CS6. This may work on other applications as well as older and newer versions of Photoshop.

In my Virtual Art Academy class – Workshop A – they taught us to convert our photos to greyscale. Example, using my own reference photo, below:

I purposely used a very small photo for this exercise; it helps your eye to overlook any details. Looking at the reference zoomed out like this combines the values visually.

Greyscale Thumbnail of Sunlit Path Photo
Greyscale Thumbnail of Sunlit Path Photo

The photo still is quite cluttered however; just take a look at the foliage on the right! For a beginner this can still be quite daunting to try and work out the values.

The Cutout Filter

If you select the filter gallery in Photoshop, one of the options under the Artistic tab is Cutout. You are able to select the number of levels – such as the number of different values you would like in your photo.

For this tutorial I selected 9 levels.

Cutout Greyscale Thumbnail of Sunlit Path Photo
Cutout Greyscale Thumbnail of Sunlit Path Photo

Doesn’t that make everything so much simpler? This cutout filter removes most of the distracting textures and details.

Compare the greyscale photos side-by-side:

If you have any tips on how to do this in other programs or how to make values more easily seen in photographs, then please share with me!

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