Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Creating the “Grumpy Gorilla” Portrait

In October of 2013, my husband and I went to Albuquerque, New Mexico, for a vacation. One of the attractions we visited was the ABQ BioPark Zoo, also known as the Rio Grande Zoo. We became fascinated with one of the gorilla exhibits that contained a bachelor group of gorillas. One gorilla in particular enjoyed interacting with people. He sat down at the front of the enclosure and proceeded to go through a range of actions, including tearing up and fiddling with pieces of paper, beating his chest, folding his arms, and making popping noises with his lips. We merrily snapped away with our cameras while he did all this. I took 130 pictures. Once we were back home and I had a chance to review them all, I chose this one because I really like the attitude and personality it presents.

Male Gorilla, ABQ BioPark Zoo, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Original Western Lowland Gorilla Photo

Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Telephoto Zoom Lens
168 mm, f/5.6, 1/250 sec, ISO 200

However, the only thing interesting in this photograph is the gorilla. The background is ugly. So I popped the photo into GIMP and went to work on it.

Step 1 – Cropping

Cropped Image
Cropped Image

I used the Rectangle Select tool to select an area close in to the gorilla, then chose Image > Crop to Selection to crop the photo.

Step 2 – Cleanup

Cleaned Up Image
Cleaned Up Image

I copied the image to a new layer and used the Clone tool to remove the bits of grass on the gorilla's hair.

Step 3 – Color Adjustments

After Color Adjustments
Color-Adjusted Image

I created a new layer with a midtone mask and a new layer with a darks mask, both copied from the cleaned up layer, and did a color adjustment to each new layer. (Unfortunately, since I'm writing this tutorial many months after I did the initial work, I don't remember what the adjustments were.)

For a description of how to create lights, mids, and darks layers that can be used as masks, see GIMP Quickie No. 4 – Creating Color Pop on Midtone Grayscale.

Step 4 – Masking

Masking the Gorilla off the Background
Gorilla Masked Off over Black Background

To remove the background from around the gorilla, I created a new layer from the currently visible image (right-click in the Layers dialog and choose New from Visible.) Below that layer I added a black layer to act as a background. Then I added a white layer mask to the gorilla image layer (right-click on the layer and choose Add Layer MaskWhite (full opacity)) and painted black on the mask over the areas I wanted to remove.

I usually use a combination of the Free Select tool and the Paintbrush tool to do the initial cutout work. Then I use the Paintbrush, Blur, and Smudge tools along the edges of the object being cut out to fine-tune the transition so that it looks OK when put over another background. Doing the fiddly bits around the hairs is the most time-consuming part.

When I think I'm done, I invert the background from black to white to see if I missed anything and to make sure I'm happy with the transition edges.

Gorilla on White Background
Gorilla on White Background

Step 5 – Highlighting

Highlighting the Eyes - Before and After
Before and After Highlighting

Since the gorilla's eyes are in deep shadow, I added a new transparent layer on top, put a white circle over each eye, and changed the layer mode to Soft light to brighten the eyes a little bit.

Step 6 – Adding a Background

To complete the portrait effect, I added a layer just above the black layer using Filters > Render > Clouds > Difference Clouds. I set the opacity of the clouds layer to 35%. I then added a color layer (brown 0d0907) just above the clouds layer and set its opacity to 69%.

Gorilla with Original Background
Manufactured Background

A while after creating this image I noticed that the background exhibited some unfortunate banding effects in certain parts of the cloud. This often occurs with gradients and is due to the fact that GIMP 2.8 uses only 8 bits per color channel.

Gradient Banding
Gradient Banding (Look closely.)

I have since stopped using Difference Clouds and now use Plasma instead. I prefer the textured look of the plasma, anyway.

Here is the final “Grumpy Gorilla” portrait.

Final Grumpy Gorilla Portrait
Maybe I don't want my picture taken.

I also use the caption "Which part of NO do you not understand?".

In December of 2013 I was approached by HotSpot Media via Flickr. They were interested in licensing (the first version of) this image. I agreed and they ended up selling it to The Telegraph, who published it in their Animal Photos of the Week for 13 December 2013. My five minutes of fame!


This image is available for sale on a large variety of products at Redbubble and Zazzle, and is also on the August page of my Wildlife Portraits calendar. It can be licensed from Getty Images.