Thursday, July 24, 2014

Creating the “Majestic Lionfish” Portrait

The Cameron Park Zoo in Waco, Texas, has a building containing some tanks of fish and other sea creatures. One that fascinated me (and most of the crowd passing by) was the lionfish tank. The glass was reasonably clean, the lighting was good, and there were very few items in the tank to obstruct views of the fish. It was nice that there were only a few fish, and they swam around slowly, giving lots of opportunities for interesting shots. I took 100 photos. This was my favorite shot. It was also the first photo I took.

Original Lionfish Photo
Original Lionfish Photo

Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Telephoto Zoom Lens
200 mm, f/10, 1/40 sec, ISO 1600

What follows is how I processed this image. 



Step 1 – Adjusting Exposure


I normally do exposure adjustments first. I used Colors > Curves and set one point at 5,0 and another at 240,255. This improved the contrast.

After Exposure Adjustments
Exposure Adjusted


Step 2 – Sharpening the Image


I decided to do a little sharpening, so I used my usual Gaussian Blur method, using a blur of 9% and an opacity of 49% on the Grain Merge layer.

Grain Extract of 9% Gaussian Blur
Grain Extract of 9% Gaussian Blur

Sharpened Image
Sharpened Image


Step 3 – Removing the Background


The background was basically fine except for the green plant sticking down off the fish's rear end. (How unattractive!) I created a new copy of the adjusted fish image, added a layer mask to it, and added a solid black layer below it.

  • Right-click in the Layers dialog > New from Visible
  • Right-click on new layer > Add Layer Mask; White (full opacity)
  • D to select foreground black, background white
  • Left-click on Create a new layer icon; Foreground color

Then I used the Paintbrush tool to paint black on the mask over the plant, thereby causing the black background to show through. Once I was happy with the removal of the plant I created a new visible layer.

Plant Masked Off of Background
Plant Masked Off of Background


Step 4 – Making the Fins Pop


I liked the blue light highlighting the rear fins, but thought it looked a bit subdued, so I added a new transparent layer above the fish, painted some white over the fins, then changed the layer mode to Soft light and set the opacity to around 50%.

Light for Fins
Light for Fins

Highlighted Fins
Highlighted Fins


Step 5 – Intensifying the Color


I like a little stronger color in my images, so I created another visible layer, chose Colors > Hue-Saturation, and played with the Saturation slider. I eventually settled on +10. It's a subtle effect and more noticeable in a close-up.

Improved Saturation
Improved Saturation


Step 6 – Removing an Inappropriate Line


While zooming in and looking around I noticed a visible line from the glass over the fish's lower fin. Well, that had to go! I created yet another visible layer and used the Clone tool with a small brush radius to paint out the line.

Before Line Removal
Before Line Removal

After Line Removal
After Line Removal


Step 7 – Smoothing


I was happy with the final product, but I've seen other photographers do interesting processing of their images that involved smoothing, so I decided to play with G'MIC a bit. Smooth [anisotropic] is found on the Repair menu. I set Sharpness to 0.05 and Anisotropy to 1, leaving all other parameters at their defaults.

[G'MIC] Smooth [anisotropic] : -gimp_anisotropic_smoothing 60,0.05,1,0.6,1.1,0.8,30,2,0,1,1,0,0,24,0

I think the smooth version is pretty nice. Here's a comparison.

Before Smoothing
Before Smoothing

After Smoothing
After Smoothing


Step 8 – Cropping the Image


The last thing I do is crop the image depending on how I want to use it or where I want to display it. I usually make a 2x3 (3x2) crop (standard photo aspect ratio) and a square crop (useful for pillows, tote bags, keychains, etc.). Sometimes I also make a 5x7 (7x5) crop (common greeting card aspect ratio).

Final Image - 2x3 Crop
Final Image - 3x2 Crop

Final Image - Square Crop
Final Image - Square Crop


Here's my final Layers list of my main image file.

Lionfish Image Layers List
Lionfish Image Layers List


Step 9 – Improving the Square Crop


Since the square crop is quite tight because the fish is very close to the top of the image, in order to make it useful I copied it into another file and put it on a larger square solid black background. Because the left side of the fish has a blue glow around it, I had to add a layer mask and remove some of the blue glow with the Paintbrush tool (Hardness 050 and a large brush size) so that it blended into the black background properly.

Before Blending the Blue Glow
Before Blending the Blue Glow

After Blending the Blue Glow
After Blending the Blue Glow


Step 10 – Cutting Out the Fish


Sometimes I like to cut an image completely off its background so I can put it on a t-shirt or a sticker. I copied the smoothed version of the fish to another file, cropped close in to the fish, then added a layer mask and used the Free Select tool on the mask to cut the background away from the fish. I used a solid white layer below it so I could easily keep track of how I was doing. Finally, I ran a small Gaussian Blur on the mask to slightly blur the edges of the fish, then hid the white layer and exported the file as a PNG with a transparent background.




Marketplace


This image is available on a wide variety of products at Redbubble and Zazzle. It can be licensed from Getty Images.