Friday, October 24, 2014

Creating a Fountain of Feathers

One day while wandering through the Fort Worth Zoo, I happened upon some Caribbean flamingos with their feathers puffed out. I love the way flamingo feathers look, with their delicate colors and texture, so I snapped several photos. I really liked this one in particular.

Caribbean Flamingos

Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Telephoto Zoom Lens 
Canon Extender EF 2x III
260 mm, f/11, 1/60 sec, ISO 800


In looking at the central flamingo and the one on the left, it occurred to me that I could create a semi-symmetrical artistic image out of them. What follows is the processing I did in GIMP.


Step 1 – Adjusting the Lighting


I copied the original image to a new layer, opened the Adjust Color Curves dialog (Colors > Curves), and slid the lower left point to 6,0 and the upper right point to 240,255 to brighten the image and add a little contrast. This also increased the saturation a bit.

Lighting and Contrast Adjusted
Lighting and Contrast Adjusted



Step 2 – Sharpening the Image


I used my standard sharpening technique to sharpen the image somewhat. I copied the curve-adjusted layer, ran a Gaussian blur of 15% on it (Filters > Blur > Gaussian Blur), set the layer mode to Grain extract, created a new layer from what was visible (Right-click in the Layers list > New from Visible), and deleted the blurred layer. Then I set the layer mode of the grain layer to Grain merge. 100% opacity looked OK so I didn't adjust it.

Sharpened Image
Sharpened Image



Step 3 – Cutting Out the Feathers


I copied what was visible (the sharpened image) to a new layer so I could extract the part of the image I wanted from the background. I added a layer mask (Right-click on the layer > Add Layer Mask; White (full opacity)) to this layer and a solid black layer below this layer to act as a background so I could see how my cutting out was progressing. I did most of the cutting using the Free Select tool and did some finer touching-up with the Paintbrush, all with black to remove the background. I occasionally changed the black layer to white to make sure I didn't miss anything. Sometimes it's easier to see masking effects over white instead of black. Once I was happy with the look I ran a Gaussian Blur of 3% on the mask to cause the edges of the cut out image to look a bit blurred so it didn't have sharp edges.

Extracted Image
Extracted Image



Step 4 – Removing the Leg


Before going any further I needed to remove the leg, replacing it with feathers. I used the Free Select tool to draw a selection around a section of feathers to the left of the leg, copied it to a new layer (Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V, right-click on Floating Selection (Pasted Layer) and choose To New Layer), moved it into position (using the Move tool), added a mask, and used the Paintbrush with black on the mask to adjust the edges of the feather overlay until it blended in.

Feather Overlay
Feather Overlay

Leg Removed
Leg Removed



Step 5 – Creating the Symmetry


To balance the image I needed to create a copy of the flamingo feathers on the left and put it on the right. I turned off all layers below the masked layer (click on the eyeball to the left of each layer in the Layers list) so that the feathers were shown against a transparent background. Then I created a new layer from what was visible, put it below the masked layer, and flipped it horizontally (Layer > Transform > Flip Horizontally). I turned the black layer back on and masked out all unwanted parts of the flipped layer.

Creation of Symmetry
Creation of Symmetry



Step 6 – Fixing the Tail


Though the image was looking pretty good, I really didn't like the tail section. Because flamingos in open areas in zoos have their wings clipped, this disparity shows up at the back of the flamingo. I finally decided the best answer was to copy the good tail (wing) feather and flip it to make a symmetrical tail. So, again, I created a new layer from what was visible (minus the black background), used the Free Select tool to cut around the part of the tail that I wanted, then added a mask and used the Paintbrush with black to fine tune the part that I wanted to be visible.

Copied Tail Feather
Copied Tail Feather
(Oops! Sloppy. Didn't check it against a white background.)

Tail Adjusted
Tail Adjusted



Step 7 – Brightening the Dull Areas


I felt the feathers on the sides looked too dark and dull compared to the feathers in the center, so I added a transparent layer on top and used the Blend tool with white as the foreground color, the Gradient set to FG to Transparent, and the Shape set to Radial to create two white circles, one over each side wing. I erased any part that overlapped the central bird, then set the layer mode to Soft light.

Side Feathers Highlights
Side Feathers Highlights
(Shown over black so you can see them.)

Brightened Feathers
Brightened Feathers



Step 8 – Improving the Saturation


As a final touch I decided to improve the saturation a bit to bring out the colors a little more. I created a new background from what was visible (without the black background) and used Colors > Hue-Saturation to turn the Saturation up by 10. Then I used a mask to remove the tail feathers since they were already saturated enough.

Saturated Feathers
Saturated Feathers



Step 9 – Creating the Final Framing


I was now finished creating the image, but the side feathers were way too close to the edges. I wanted to keep the 3x2 aspect ratio so I experimented with resizing the canvas (Image > Canvas Size) until I found something I liked. I ended up with 6600 x 4400 pixels. I kept the background black because I think the stark contrast really makes the feathers stand out.

Fountain of Feathers
Fountain of Feathers

Here is my Layers list:




I really like the way the image initially looks symmetrical, but, upon close examination, isn't exactly. I think that adds a lot of interest.


Prints are available at DisplateRedbubble, and Zazzle.