Sally Jane Photographic Art

Fact Sheet 8


Pet Photography - Advanced Editing

Much of what I explain here may be beyond the capabilities of some of the more basic image editing programs but will certainly be well within the limits of programs like Adobe Photoshop Elements or Corel Paintshop Pro. The procedures I am going to explain in this fact sheet are relatively complex. To describe them fully would require several pages of fact sheets so I will simply be outlining the techniques in brief. I would recommend that you refer to your software user guides for fuller explanations. Furthermore, as my experience is with Photoshop the names and locations of the tools I will be using will be as found in Photoshop although other programs will probably have similar tools available. For a more detailed explanation of using Adobe Photoshop visit my Adobe Photoshop tutorial site.

Preparing your Pet Portrait

By now you will have selected the image you intend to work with and made minor corrections to it where necessary as explained in the previous fact sheet. Now we turn this photograph into a portrait to be proud of. You will need to decide on the background. Do you want to keep it as it is (perhaps minus a few distracting features), would you like a different view as a background or would you prefer the background to be removed completely? The first choice is naturally the easiest provided you have a reasonable background to start with. The second two options require you 'cutting out' the image of your pet and dropping a different background in behind. This can be a lot of work even when using the full version of Photoshop but it often pays dividends if you have the patience.

N.B. Before I go on, I recommend that whenever you edit your images you do so with them scaled up to 100%. That way you are less likely to miss defects in your work. You can zoom out occasionally to check your progress but don't work on the image when it is zoomed out.

If you chose to keep the background but there are some things in it that are distracting or simply ugly then it might be possible to remove them, covering them up by copying information from another part of the image and pasting it on top of the part you want covered up. This is easy if it is say, a toy that was left on the lawn. In the tools pallet about a third of the way down there is a 'Clone Tool'. In Photoshop it looks like a rubber stamp. When you click on it you need to select a brush size. Don't choose anything so small it will take forever to paint over the defect but similarly don't try and choose a size that will do it all in one go. Select a brush with a soft edge as this will help the ‘repair’ blend in better. Once you have selected the brush size you need to load up the area of the image you want to use to cover the defect. To do this 'Alt' click on the good area in the image ideally a good distance from the defect. Now simply drag the tool over the defect area and it will paint from the good area to the bad as you go and as if by magic, the defect will disappear.

There is another way to do this in Photoshop that often works better. Docked near to the clone tool in the tool pallet you will find the 'Patch Tool'. It looks like a tiny rag patch. Sometimes this is hidden under the Healing Brush tool that looks like a sticking plaster. When you select this tool you simply draw and outline around the defect you wish to remove making sure you take some of the surrounding area as well. Now drag the selection to an area that you want to have copied over the defect and release it. Hey presto! Not only has the area been copied over the defect but it has been blended to match the surrounding area as well. This does not work, however, if the defect overlaps the edge of the image.

After removing distractions you now need to concentrate on blemishes or spots. There may be some blemished or small scars on your pet that you might wish to remove or there may be some spots in the image that have come from dirt on your camera's sensor. These can be removed using the 'Healing Brush' tool or the 'Spot Healing Brush' tool if you have that available. They are very similar but work slightly differently. You might like to practice with them to see which you prefer. The Spot Healing tool is very useful for small spots and blemishes. You will need to select a brush size and this time I would use one that is slightly larger than the spot. Then simply click on the spot and it should disappear. If not, try the Healing Brush. This time you need to load the brush by clicking on an area roughly the same colour and tone of the pixels surrounding the spot or blemish. Now drag the tool over the spot and it should, once again, disappear. This tool is generally better for long blemishes, scars or scratches. Check over every inch of your image for any defects and repair them using these tools. When you are happy, save your image. If you are keeping your background then your pet portrait is complete save for printing and mounting.

If you wish to change your background you will still need to check your pet for any blemishes or marks that need fixing. Deal with these as explained above. If you are importing a different view to use as the background you will also need to check this image for defects as well. Take your time with this because nothing is worse than printing off your final image on good paper only to then notice the mistakes.

OK, so now you are ready to 'cut out' your pet. There are many and varied ways of dong this and it really depends on the program you are using. I will describe the basic method that should be available to most programs but this is not the most effective. The best method is to use the 'Extract' feature found under the Filters drop down menu in the full version of Photoshop although there are other specialist programs you can buy that work similarly to this. I will not be explaining the 'Extract' feature here as unless you have the full version of Photoshop it will not be relevant. Instead we are going to use the polygonal Lasso tool. This is one of the selection tool that allows you to draw around your selected image in a series of straight lines placing a point anywhere you click the mouse. You will need to be zoomed right in to make sure you get the selection as close to the edge of you pet as possible. Work gradually around your pet until you get all the way around. Once you click on the start point of your selection the outline with change to tiny back and white dashes that appear to move like marching ants.

Another tool you can use is the Freehand Lasso Tool that is docked with the Polygonal Lasso Tool. This tool allows you to draw any outline by clicking and holding down the mouse button whilst dragging it around the outline you wish to follow.  This tool can be a little tricky to control accurately with a mouse so I don't recommend it for anything other than rough selections. You may have some success with the Magnetic lasso tool if your pet is not too fluffy and contrasts well with it's background. Using this tool run your cursor as close to the edge of pets outline and it should detect the edge and snap to it. Once you have gone all the way around click on your starting point to join the selection up and it will change to a dotted line.

Now you will need to soften the selection slightly by feathering it. Under the 'Select' menu on the Tool Bar at the top of the screen there is a feature called 'Feather' (this has moved in the latest version cs3 to be placed under Modify in the Select drop down menu). Click on this and enter a value of 1 pixel. Click OK. Nothing much will seem to have changed but it has. Now the ways part depending on if you want a plain background or another image in its place.

Plain background

Go to your tools pallet and select a background colour. The foreground and background colours are by default black and white but by clicking on them you get a colour swatch up where you can make your own selection. Choose the colour you want for the background and click OK. It will initially be placed in the foreground colour box but this is a flippy floppy tool that by clicking on the little arrows in the top right hand corner changes them over. Now the colour is set go up to the Tool Bar at the top and click on the drop down 'Select' menu again. Now click on 'Reverse' so it is the background you have selected and not your pet. Once done, hit delete and there you have it, a plain background in the colour you chose. If you don't like it, hit undo and the original background will reappear. You can now try with a different colour.

Using another image for the background.

Right, so backtracking to the paragraph before last where you have just feathered the outline of your pet. Copy it by selecting Edit>Copy or Control C on your keyboard. Open up your background image and paste your pet on top. You can now move your pet around until it is in the right place using the move tool. If you need to resize it smaller go to the 'Edit' menu at the top left of your screen and select Transform>scale. A box with handles will appear around your pet. Click on a corner handle and, making sure you are holding down the shift key, drag the handle in to shrink the image. If you don't hold the shift key down your pet will go out of shape. It is not a good idea to enlarge the imported image as this will result in a loss of quality, better to shrink the background instead if the pet appears too small.

You may feel that the colour or contrast is different between the two images. You can correct this as you did in the previous fact sheet. In the layers pallet usually docked to the bottom right of your screen, select the layer with the image on you want to change, either the background or your pet. Any alterations you make to colour or contrast will only affect that layer. Once you are happy with the colour, contrast, size and position of your pet you need to flatten the image by merging the layers together and save it. Your pet portrait is now ready for printing.

Before I finish I will admit that I have over simplified the process of image editing in this fact sheet and the chances of you producing a decent pet portrait just by following these steps is small. If you do, well done, you should feel very proud of yourself, but if not, don't despair. Image editing is something that really benefits from practice. It can also be greatly helped by making use of any manuals, books or tutorial videos you can get hold of. To this end I will be setting out my recommendations for further reading in my next fact sheet.