Friday, June 6, 2014

Creating the “Fibonacci Cockatoo” Portrait

The Fort Worth Zoo has an Australian section, and just outside of the building containing some aquatic animals is a small area containing a few trees where the keepers place various types of Australian birds. One is the Red-tailed Black Cockatoo. This bird normally looks blackish with some red markings on the tail. On the day that I shot 15 photos of this bird, the lighting brought out the blue in the feathers.

Original Red-Tailed Black Cockatoo Photo
Original Red-Tailed Black Cockatoo Photo

Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Telephoto Zoom Lens
200 mm, f/4, 1/125 sec, ISO 400

I chose to work with this particular image because I really liked the way the feathers were spread out around the curve of the neck with the head turned back over the body.



Step 1 – Cropping the Image and Adjusting the Contrast


The first thing I did was crop the image and adjust the contrast to add some definition to the bird and improve the saturation a little. (Unfortunately, I don't remember which technique I used to do the contrast adjustment.)

Cropped and Contrast Adjusted
Cropped and Contrast Adjusted


Step 2 – Sharpening the Image


The image was a bit fuzzy because I didn't get the focus exactly right, so I used my usual technique for sharpening. (See A Non-Destructive Adjustable Way to Sharpen a Photo.) I used a Gaussian Blur of 5% and an opacity for the Grain Merge layer of 40%.

Grain Merge layer
Grain Merge layer

Sharpened Image
Sharpened Image


Step 3 – Cutting Out the Bird


I created a new layer using New from Visible and then painted a mask to remove the background from around the bird. Hmm, it looks like I was a bit sloppy on the upper left there. The only way to see what a mask looks like up close and personal is to copy it and paste it as a layer. I don't usually bother to do this to check the mask, but based on what I'm seeing here, perhaps I should.

Mask
Mask

Background Removed
Background Removed

I was pretty happy with this image, so I posted it to Flickr and it got some good reviews. The original caption was Red-tailed Black Cockatoo at f/4 because of a lack of imagination on my part at the time. Another Flickr member, “B Traven”, came up with the Fibonacci Cockatoo idea.

Pat David saw this image and used it (with permission) as one of the examples in his Getting Around in GIMP - Luminosity Masks Revisited blog post. (Look for “Red Tailed Black Cockatoo at f/4”.) I so liked the way Pat processed my cockatoo image that I decided to try his described method myself.


Step 4 – Enhancing the Mid-tones


I went back to the pre-masked sharpened layer and created a mid-tones layer from it using Pat David's technique. I copied the sharpened image layer, added the mid-tones layer as a mask, and made some adjustments using Colors > Curves to really bring out the blue.


Mid-tones Mask
Mid-tones Mask

Mid-tones Adjustments
Mid-tones Adjusted


Step 5 – Finishing the Portrait


All that remained was to mask the bird off the background again and create a more interesting new background. I started with a dark bluish-black layer (hex code 00001e), then put a layer above it of a slightly lighter color (hex code 272741) and set its layer mode to Dissolve at 46%. This created a grainy texture.

One Color Layer Dissolved Over Another
One Color Layer Dissolved Over Another

I created a new layer from the visible two layers, then ran a Gaussian Blur of 11 on this new layer to remove the sharpness. I hid the lighter layer and set the opacity of the grain-blurred layer to 50%. This gave a little texture to the background so it wouldn't be just a flat color. Finally, I added a transparent layer over the background color and put a white to transparent radial gradient in the middle of it to put a bit of a halo around the bird's head. I set the layer mode to Soft light and left the opacity at 100%.

Here's what my Layers list looks like.



I'm so much happier with this final image. I feel it is a fitting portrait for this beautiful bird.

Fibonacci Cockatoo
Fibonacci Cockatoo

Marketplace


This image is available on a wide variety of products at Redbubble and Zazzle. It is also available for licensing through Getty Images.