How to Turn a Photo to a Photo Painting

blog image

Midjourney and Photography

October 12, 20228 min read

How AI is Changing Photography

DSLRs, Mirrorless, and mobile cameras are powered by information processing systems. These computers in the camera help produce ideal results. Such as, it uses data in the camera to alert the photographer if the highlights are blown out, optimize the camera settings, or auto-focus on an athlete running track. 

Artificial intelligence or AI also speeds up a photographer’s editing and workflow. Editing software, like Photoshop or Luminar Neo, can analyze the content of your photos. AI support includes when the program suggests white balance correction or crop with a straight horizontal line to offering AI-driven presets to auto-correct or make artistic changes to your digital photo.

Like our cameras, our editing software is getting more sophisticated. You can swap out a sky, saving hours of editing. You can instantly turn a photo into something dramatic, fascinating, and even a painting. It creates an impact immediately.

AI helps increase photographers’ productivity. 

There is no doubt artificial intelligence is transforming the field of photography. But where is the fine line to digitally manipulated photography? At what point does the computer-generated program take over and takes away all the creative decisions making?


Midjourney AI Fall Art, Pumpkin, House

(Art made with Midjourney, Jeremy Hagerman - fall prompts, 2022)

Recently programs like Midjourney started to sweep into the photography community. It seemed like my Facebook was inundated by my photography friends creating these surreal masterpieces. And it only took them seconds to develop the AI look using a few word prompts.

To start making AI images in Midjourney, sign up for an account with Discord and type the descriptive text you want the AI to create in Midjourney. The AI goes out and finds the pictures described and combines them beyond a simple composite. And within seconds, you get a masterpiece, painterly image. You can continue to tweak the image by adding more descriptive text. And the picture will continue to augment until you are satisfied with the results. The AI image created is something truly artistic. 


It certainly raises ethical concerns. Who owns the art, the creator, the one putting in the descriptive words, or the bot? Can these images be entered in digitally manipulated photo art contests? Where is Midjourney pulling all these images? Midjourney expresses it is gathering images from copyright-free creative commons. This has been under debate. 

With AI image generators, you do not need a skill or ability to photograph, draw, or have an artistic background. You simply describe what you want and let the algorithm generator do the rest. Some art communities and professional organizations have already banned AI-generated images. 

Is AI sparking creativity or ending creativity?


Midjourney, fall, bourbon, art

There is a sameness that emerges from these algorithms and computer-generated art. If you look over several images created by AI Image generators, you will notice they have a similar look. AI is losing something unique that only comes from a human quality of thoughts mixed with feelings.

As creators and viewers of AI Image generators, we must be cautious to avoid visual fatigue and complacency. 

(Art made with Midjourney, Jeremy Hagerman - fall prompts, 2022)

It is changing how we relate to art and quietly reshaping the aesthetics of our culture.

Art Belongs to Humans

AI software can assist digital artists with their creations, all the way to creating images on its own. Using AI to help can benefit digital artists to fully develop their images quicker and enable them to complete more complex digital art. An example of AI supporting digital artists is using digital brushes to clone pixels of a photo and turn it into a digital painting. Or AI can assist in editing software that allows multiple layers to stack on top of one another and use a blending mode to create a unified image.

At times, total AI-generated art, like the ones from Midjourney, may look more aesthetically artistic and pleasing. Especially when compared to someone just beginning to learn digital painting and composite art. But, when you let AI completely take over, the computer does all the work— leaving out the artistry and the opportunity to visually communicate your point of view. Instead, when you are at the helm of all the choices while creating digital art, you decide what, when, and how to edit and present the final piece.

Digital art is more than technical knowledge. It also requires imagination and creativity and, dare I say, soul. What separates a total AI-generated art from one allowing the artist to make creative choices is individuality.

The best art is the most honest. Art with intent, human emotions, and ‘mistakes’ often makes art more interesting and authentic. When feelings introject while creating, the art now has a distinct voice with meaning. It has something ‘more’ that AI art will always lack, the human soul. You can ask an AI generator to turn your photo or words into a digital painting, but it would never be the one you would create. It would never have the same intent or feeling behind it. 

AI art is unable to use real imagination nor make vital aesthetic choices that humans can perform.

AI will never be able to digitally paint the way you do or draw your digital drawings with your symbolism and meanings. It will always lack creative mortal originality. Often, AI-generated art produces identical-looking images with redundant brush strokes. Following algorithms and rules, AI cannot communicate sentiments and make changes based on inspired memories and thoughts. There is no heart or impassioned understanding behind the artistic decisions. 

It’s in the process of creating a digital painting, making every decision along the way to the final texture layer that imprints yourself in the art. This is vital on an individual level because you are inserting yourself and expressing yourself in every creative decision. 

When artists open themselves and create deeply, they reveal an aspect of their humanity. Doing so provides a mirror for others to use when viewing the art. Art has and always will belong to humans, who are the ones appreciating the art created. We know ourselves more deeply through our creations, allowing ourselves and our art to connect with others more intimately. 

AI can mimic, but it can’t create. 

Discovery over Speed

Midjourney Alternative, Learn to digital photo paint, Carly Sullens

(First Light of Day, Carly Sullens, 2022 Gold Medalist at International Photographic Competition)

As a concept artist, I understand the need to augment photography to evoke mood and ideas over photo realism. My photographs are constantly being deconstructed, revisited, and transformed into a new reality. Trained in both painting and photography, my artwork creates an encounter between these two influences.

Letting go of the mindset that photography depicts reality opens new doors to artistic expression. But how? And how far do we allow AI to aid in this transformation?

I use AI to help deconstruct my images by allowing the computer to extract a selection from the whole and eventually use digital brushes to paint the picture. But I make the decisions every step, making mistakes, trying again, moving objects, changing colors, lighting patterns, etc., allowing the image to unfold as I steer the decisions to the completed piece. 

Deep Learning is when we apply the lessons we discover and learn from our actual application. It helps us grow as photographers and artists. It keeps us from getting stagnant and complacent. It may take longer, but the artistic rewards are found on the long journey. The benefits of creating one-of-a-kind art generated by oneself outweigh speed and immediate imagery. This process can not be hastened. 

When we invest in our own art making, making decisions, and creating, it becomes autobiographical. 

When we give that over to AI, we lose the opportunity to understand ourselves, how we relate to the world, and how our images reflect our experiences back to us and connect to others. We see an image AI creates for us, and it becomes so easy to think, ‘Yes, that is it! That is what I wanted to express. It’s even better than what I imagined.’ But is it? 

As an Art therapist, I know first-hand that art making has value and can be healing. The sheer discovery of who we are unfolds in the art-making process. While people are creating, they have the potential to understand themselves in a new way, discover new coping skills, and even heal past thoughts and memories- reclaiming and reframing our stories through the power of imagery. 

It allows for self-expression and reflection. Humanity has always needed creative expression. When we delve into our creative process, our art tells the story of our truth, authenticity, and soul. These attributes are worth taking time to explore. No matter how much time it takes to create. When we let AI entirely create for us, it strips away our access to our knowledge and self-discovery.

Art making, including photography, functions as a path toward growth, especially when it aligns with genuine methods. Art is a search for who we are individually and as a society. It’s the path to the marrow of our true selves. When we create from that place of deep soul, our art will undoubtedly connect to others on a deep soulful level.

Midjourney Alternative

The alternative to Midjourney and AI-generated art is learning to create composite art and painterly photographs. You can learn how to composite several photos, make them look like a unified image, and create a painterly look.

World-class digital painter and award-winning photo artist Carly Sullens mentors enthusiasts and photographers who want to improve their skills in photography and post-production. Are you ready to learn and create something truly unique? 



➡️ Follow Me on Instagram for coupons, tips and inspiration.

blog author image

Carly Sullens

Multi Award-winning and renowned digital photo painter Carly Sullens, M. Artist, CPP, share’s her passion for digital art. Her photography pushes the boundaries to look like paintings in a museum. She teaches internationally how to achieve painterly effects from photos digitally. With her truly unique blend of creative skills, educational background, and technical expertise, she created courses, backgrounds, and overlays for students to excel in digital painting. Now, Carly’s techniques and methods can be easily accessible and applied to any photo.

Back to Blog