Some time ago, my grandma asked me to take a nice photo of her dog Mickey for her to print and frame. We finally got a nice shot in a spot in the house where there was okay lighting (the last photo above), but the surroundings weren't exactly "photo-fit". As I have always found messy backgrounds to be disturbing, I decided to play around with the photo a bit in Gimp before I sent it to my grandma.
The results were stunning! I came up with a simple three-step way of removing the original background and subbing it with a photographer-style two-tone color instead. I felt much prouder to have my grandma hang the final photo on the wall, which made it look like her dog had been to a real photographer, instead of the original shot, which screams "home-made!"
The process transforms the picture in such an amazing way that you can use even a quick iPhone picture to make a professional-looking photograph!
In this instructable, I have used Mickey´s best friend, the cat Panda, to show the editing process. I am using gimp for this, which is a free image editing software that can be downloaded here. Also, I am doing this on a mac, so the buttons might be a bit different on a pc.
Step 1: Choose and Prep Photo
The fist thing to do is to choose the best shot from you photo session. Make sure it is not blurry and that the pet poses in a way you like. The surroundings/background is completely irrelevant.
Open the photo in gimp.
Before I start removing the background, I like to enhance the photo by adjusting the brightness and contrast a bit and perhaps the hue-saturation if the pet is golden in color. To do this, choose Colors>Brighness-Contrast in the menu bar on top. Adjust the sliders to your liking and click OK.
Step 2: Remove Old Background
Before you start removing the old background, duplicate the photo layer. You can find it in the window to the right of the photo. If this window is not open, choose Windows>Dockable Dialogs>Layers in the menu bar on top. Right-click on the layer and choose Duplicate Layer.
Select the top layer to work in. Choose the Scissors Select Tool in the toolbox to the left. If this window is not open, choose Windows>New Toolbox in the menu bar on top.
Start clicking all the way around the edge of the pet to select it. You can drag the dots to the right place if you click on the wrong spot. When you have gone all the way around, click on the fist dot to close the ring. Now, hit enter. You will see the dots turn into a broken line all the way around the pet.
Choose Select>Feather, set it to about 10 px, and click OK. This will soften the edges of the pet so the fur doesn't look unnatural.
Now, right-click inside the selection and choose Layer>Mask>Add Layer Mask. Choose "Selection" and click Add. The background in the layer you are working in will now be removed, but you can't see it yet, because the original layer below is still visible. Go back to the layers and unselect the original layer by clicking on the eye icon. You should now have the pet on a checkered background. Choose Select>None to remove the selection.
Check to see if the feather effect is the way you want it. Otherwise, choose Edit>Undo _ in the top menu bar until you are back at the feathering step. Reduce or increase the feathering and try again.
Step 3: Add New Background
Now, it is time to color the background. I chose to use white as a light/halo around the pet. Pick the paintbrush in the toolbox and make sure you are using the color white. In the window to the right, adjust the size of the brush. Also, choose a soft brush with blurry edges. If you can't find this window, choose Windows>Dockable Dialogs>Tool Options in the menu bar on top.
Before you start painting, make sure to make the original layer visible by clicking where the eye was, and select this layer by clicking on it. This way, you will not paint on the pet you just cropped out but only on the old background behind it.
Paint a halo around the pet. You will feel that you are somehow magically painting behind the pet, only touching the background.
Now, click on the topmost of the small colored squares in the toolbox and choose the color you want for your background. I chose gray. Click OK.
Color all the way around the pet, leaving a small white halo. I chose to go back and choose a lighter shade of gray for the halo and paint it in again. Go back and forth between the two colors until you are happy with the results. You can always select a color you just used by picking the Color Picker Tool from the toolbox and clicking where the color is on the picture.
Step 4: Final Touches
Now, we are almost done. Crop the image if needed using the Crop Tool from the toolbox.
When looking at the picture, I realised the ears were fuzzy, and a small piece of red ribbon had been left to the right of the cat. Select the color of the background where the error is using the Color Picker Tool. Then, select the top layer with the pet in it and carefully paint around the edges of the pet where the errors are. Be careful here, as you are now working in the layer with the picture of the pet that you want to keep. It might help to zoom in using the Zoom Tool from the toolbox (in the Tool Options window to the right, you can choose whether to zoom in or out). If you need to select another shade of the background color, you will have to go back to the background layer to do this and the go to the top layer to continue painting.
The last step is to add back in some of the pointy pieces of fur that were lost when we cut out and feathered the edges of the pet. To do this we first have to merge the two layers. Right-click in the top layer and choose "Merge Down." Pick the smudge tool from the toolbox, and reduce the size of the brush in the window to the right until the brush is very small. Going around the edges of the pet, drag from the fur and outwards using small, quick strokes and following the direction of the fur and the natural structure. Compare the left (smudged) and right (original) sides of the pet in the second-last picture to see what I mean. The final results are shown in the last picture.
Step 5: Export
Now, we are done!
Choose File>Export in the top menu bar, give the file a name, click Export, and click Export again in the new window that opens.
Step 6: Play!
If you want, you can now open the file in PIXLR, an online editing program, and have some fun playing around with borders, sticker and text. Choose PIXLR express, upload the photo, and when you are done, click SAVE and give the file a new name (add for example the text "copy," "2," "edited," etc. to the name) so you still keep the original edited picture.
Step 7: Finished
So now you have them! A professional-looking photograph of your pet and tons of not-so-professional but-very-cute pictures.
If you felt this instructable was inspiring, please vote for me in the Photography Contest!
Also, fell free to download my "before" photo and try the process with that first if you feel that will help before you try this on your own photos! I would love to see what you can make, so please share in the comments!