What you are describing is a branch of retouching called photo-art. I’m not saying that photo art is bad, and I know that is the look you’re going for. My point is that photo art is only as good as the photo. If it is not a good photo, it will not be good photo art. I’m not a photo artist by any stretch of the imagination, but I have learned through what little experimentation I’ve done with it that if you want to do it, you must shoot your images in a very specific way depending on the effect you want and you must do it with a level of technical precision beyond what is required for normal shooting.
If you take a photo with bad lighting, bad composition, bad framing, and bad exposure and try to make photo art out of it, you get photo art with bad lighting, bad composition, bad framing, and bad exposure with the added problem of now being bad photo art as well. And to be perfectly frank with you, if your goal is to “look more like a painting or almost animated” you’re not succeeding there either, I don’t get the impression that that is your goal, and the images don’t look that way at all, they look like they have been mangled by someone with only the most basic understanding of how to use Photoshop.
If the photo isn’t good enough to sell, trying to turn it into photo art to make it salable makes the problem worse, not better. I have done some stylized work for some of my clients. Take this image for example:
The client requested something that had an old glass plate feel to it. So I whipped this up (took about 4 minutes). The image itself is solid, good lighting, good exposure, good focus. Editing is simple, complements and enhances the emotional impact of the image. But if the image had been bad, I could have stylized it until the end of time and never gotten a shot that would have pleased my client, let alone myself.
Either way, you can’t get away with sloppy shooting if you want to create real photo art any more than a painter could get away with using poorly mixed paints to try to create on canvas.
You may not use the term professional photographer. But you call yourself a photographer and charge for your work, so you style yourself a professional none the less.
The biggest reason I say that you don’t go in with something in mind and create that is that you shoot one decent shot among 10 really really bad ones. That speaks of spray and pray to me. You may have something in mind, yes, but you don’t understand how to make it happen, you just shoot a lot of shots and hope something materializes.
I’ve never been impressed with Kelby’s work (as a teacher), he seems to be a tutorial hound, but he doesn’t really explain anything well enough to consider it teaching. You need a good understanding of what he’s doing to adapt the tutorials to your own images and I don’t feel he supplies that. His work is excellent, but he just doesn’t know how to teach it well. I’m familiar with McNally and Peterson’s work, but I’ve never read their books or taken their workshops. My inclination is that their stuff, while good and accurate advice, can actually be harmful to someone who doesn’t have a good solid foundation though.
One of the problems with learning from the internet these days is that the information hits you somewhat at random. A good book will provide a much more focused approach. It will cover the major points of technical understanding in a straight forward and methodical way that makes sure you learn things in an order that they are of use to you. There is just too much to miss if you learn from blogs and tutorials at random.
This is a good example, today I was out running a few errands and I spotted a guy shooting pictures in the park. He had his flash pointed straight up into the sky while he was trying to shoot some people sitting in the grass. I know he read on some blog somewhere that it’s better to shoot your flash pointed up so you get better lighting. He just doesn’t understand that that only works if you have a ceiling to bounce off of, and it doesn’t help you outside because you can’t bounce the flash off the sky. This shows me that he’s trying to tackle the finer points of lighting without the basic understanding of how light works that every photographer needs. This connects back to the Kelby comments, you can’t understand how unless you understand why as well.