Thursday, December 4, 2014

Creating the Mask of the Cockatoo

One day while I was perusing my library of bird photos I came across this one of an Australian red-tailed black cockatoo.

Original red-tailed black cockatoo photo - Portrait Mode

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens
70 mm, f/5.6, 1/125 sec, ISO 800

Seeing it in landscape mode caused it to catch my eye.

Original red-tailed black cockatoo photo - Landscape Mode

Since I have developed an interest in creating abstract art from bird feathers, it occurred to me that this arrangement would make an interesting art piece.

Step 1 – Adjusting Exposure

As usual, the first thing I did in GIMP was adjust the exposure. Using Colors > Curves I pulled the lower left point to 30,0 and the upper right point to 240,255 to enhance the colors and add contrast.

After exposure adjustment

Step 2 – Sharpening

I duplicated the adjusted layer and ran Filters > Blur > Gaussian Blur on it with a Blur Radius of 9. In the Layers dialog I set the layer mode of the blurred layer to Grain extract, then right-clicked and chose New from Visible. I deleted the blurred layer and set the opacity of the grain layer to 55%.

After sharpening

Step 3 – Cutting the Bird Off of the Background

I chose New from Visible again to create a layer that could be masked and added a mask by right-clicking on the layer and choosing Add Layer Mask with White (full opacity). Then I added a black layer underneath the masked layer so I could see how my mask adjustment was proceeding. Using a combination of the Free Select tool and the Paintbrush tool, I put black over the parts of the mask where I wanted to remove the background, inverting the black lower layer to white once in a while to make sure I wasn't missing anything. Once I had the edges around the bird cut to my satisfaction, I ran a Gaussian Blur of 3 on the mask to make the edges of the bird blend into whatever background it would end up on. Then I used the Clone tool on the bird image to remove some unwanted speckles.

After masking out the background

Step 4 – Bringing Out the Colors

I had originally planned to go with just this image, but I felt it didn't really have a lot of appeal, so I hid all layers except the final bird cutout, used New from Visible to get a layer with the bird against a transparent background, then copied the layer and put it in a new file so I could play around with it.

The first thing I did was use the Rotate tool to turn the bird so that the long tail feathers were vertical. Then I copied the layer and used Colors > Hue-Saturation to turn the saturation up by 60 to make the color more intense. I didn't like the strong effect the saturation change had on the red feathers, so I added a layer mask and painted over the red feathers with a mid-gray to show some of the color underneath and remove some of the intensity.

After rotation and saturation changes

I thought the middle part of the bird was too dark so I added a transparent layer (New Layer > Transparency) and used the Blend tool with a Radial Gradient, the Gradient set to FG to Transparent, and the foreground color set to white to draw a fuzzy circle over the dark section. Then I set the layer mode of this highlight layer to Soft light and the opacity to 39%.

(Shown against black to make the highlight visible.)

Step 5 – Playing with G'MIC

At this point I decided to play around with G'MIC, so I created a new layer from visible so G'MIC would have a layer to work with. I eventually settled on the Morphological filter (which is on the Contours menu) with Action = Erosion, Invert colors off, Size = 5, Shape = Square, Channel(s) = All, Scale on, and Preview type = Full. I liked the way this filter gave the image a more painted look rather than a sharp reality look.

After morphological filter

Step 6 – Creating the Basic Mask Shape

I decided to flip the image horizontally (Layer > Transform > Flip Horizontally) on a new layer and see what I could create from the combination of the two layers. I liked the way it looked like a mask when I abutted the two images.

Basic mask shape

Step 7 – Adding Some Feathers

The image obviously needed some more work, so I decided to add some feathers. Going back to the G'MIC layer from Step 5, I copied it and masked off the lower feathers.

Feathers to be added

Then I created a new layer from visible, rotated the feathers 180 degrees (Layer > Transform > Rotate 180°
), copied the transformed layer to a new layer, and flipped it horizontally. Using the Move tool, I moved the two layers together until I liked the arrangement.

Top feathers

Finally, I combined the two new feather layers plus the basic mask into an interesting form and merged the three layers into one layer. (Right-click on layer > Merge Down)

Mask with more feathers

Step 8 – Filling Out the Mask

I thought the mask still looked a bit sparse, so I copied the basic mask image from Step 6 and placed it under the mask layer from Step 7, vertically offsetting it to make the mask look fuller.

Duplicated mask for effect

Though the image was looking a lot better, I thought there were way too many red feathers. They looked too crowded. So I added a layer mask to both mask image layers and removed some of the red feathers from each layer, making the image not quite symmetrical. I also copied some bits of feathers from various parts of the image to fill in some areas.

After feather adjustments

Step 9 – Adding Finishing Touches

I felt the top of the mask was too dark, so I added a transparent layer, put a circular white gradient on it over the upper feathers, and set the layer mode to Soft light, leaving the opacity at 100. Then I added a black background for dramatic effect.

Final mask

My husband pointed out that it would look more like a mask if it were inverted, so I rotated the image 180 degrees to get this final result.

Final mask inverted

Here are my layers lists for the two files:

Layers list for original image file

Layers list for mask file

That's quite a difference between the starting image and the ending image, but I find if I keep my mind open and use a creative eye whenever I look at a photo, I can sometimes come up with something very interesting, though it may not end up being exactly what I thought it would be when I started.

Prints are available at Displate, Redbubble, and Zazzle.