Playing With The Human Mind
Much like Bob Ross not having to paint every leaf on a tree, we let the human mind fill in the blanks and run with the hints we have given it. The same goes for these painterly images, as the background tends to lead one down the path of the belief that the image is a painting. After that, it takes just a few extra nudges to sell the illusion. Later in the article, I will talk about a few additional things you can do, and some can lead to new products for customers!
Most of these images were shot against a white wall in my studio, and I added the background in Photoshop from my collection of painterly background textures. Sure, I could invest in a large hand-painted canvas sweep for the studio, but by doing it in Photoshop, I have a lot more variety to choose from and can change my mind if I prefer another texture. By the way, I do still own a few hand-painted backgrounds for when you know you will have a large number of images that need to be consistent.
LightingThe lighting on these can really come in a variety of styles. I think the more traditional look would be using one medium-sized softbox, as that would look similar to a small window in more historical periods. In fact, when I use a medium softbox as my only light, it sure starts to feel more like a traditional painting. I think the secret here is to take the photo from the "short" side, meaning you shoot the portrait from the shadow side of the face, not the "broad" or well-lit side.
The addition of a rim light can add a more modern feel to images and instantly changes the entire feeling of the picture. A Rembrandt style portrait, for example, would probably look odd with the addition of that additional light. Another option to help separate the figure from the ground (those are the traditional terms), would be to add a simple spot of light on the background. This helps to pull the viewer's eye into the image and hold it there. However, unlike a vignette, it does not look as contrived nor does it change the exposure of the subject around the edges of the frame.