My first ever blog post had a picture of me staring out of my window in wonder at a underwater world. I’ve had a few people ask me how I managed to create the image and so I thought I’d share the technique with you. I actually created the original image using Lightroom 4 and Photoshop CS5, two programs I’m very familiar with, but these are expensive and not everyone has access to them. In order to give you all a chance to try out this tutorial I used the free, yes free, photo editing program called GIMP. This stands for the GNU Image Manipulation Program although typing GIMP into your search engine may get some interesting results if you aren’t careful 🙂 The program is about 70Mb in size and should run on most PCs. I don’t know if there is an Apple equivalent but I’m sure someone will comment and let me know.
Once you have the program open you need to open an image. In the following tutorial I used one of me staring out the window. If you would like a hi-res copy of my original image then contact me and I’ll send you a copy so you can use it alongside this tutorial.
I have created my first ever Youtube tutorial to accompany this blogpost. You can find it below, sorry about all the zooming in and out, I’ll do better next time 🙂 Each of the stages is covered in more depth by this post and clicking on an image will show a larger picture.
By changing the quantity of Reds, Green and Blues it is easy to give the image an underwater colour cast. I used the settings of Red -20 and Blue +30 and did this for the Shadows, Midtones and Highlights (click the little buttons and slide the tabs for each one). Make sure that ‘Preserve Luminosity’ is ticked or it will all go wrong.
The next thing to do is to add the aquarium picture. I found this image by typing “Georgia aquarium” as it is one of the biggest aquariums in the world! Filter the results to only show ‘large’ sized pictures and try and choose an image that has plenty of area uncluttered by human tourists so you have lots to work with. The image I used can be found HERE and all copyrights remain with the photographer.
Once you have found a suitable image and downloaded the full size version to your computer then you need to add it to your window picture and so you must create a New Layer by going to Layer / New Layer. Choose ‘Transparency’ as the fill type. Think of it as adding a sheet of tracing paper over the image so you can work between two pictures at once.
Go to File / Open and open the aquarium image. It will open in a new window and may appear behind the working window. In the aquarium picture go to Select / All and then Edit / Copy. This will copy the image and have it ready in your clipboard. You can now close the Aquarium picture, no need to save if it prompts.
Go back to your window picture and select Edit / Paste and you should end up with something like this. As you can see GIMP has shrunk the image to fit inside the canvas of the original window picture. If you look at the top left of the screen you will see a grey bar that says ‘Opacity’ I’ve set the slider to 65% so that I can make out the original picture – this will make the next few steps much much easier!
The aquarium doesn’t fill the space taken by the window frames and so I need to resize it. By using the ‘Move’ and ‘Scale’ buttons highlighted below by the red circle I have stretched the image and positioned it so that none of the people are in the spaces occupied by the windows – my big nose covers the arm of the man taking a picture in the bottom left of the frame! Note that when you are actually scaling the image the opacity will set to 100% so some guess work is involved.
I also found it easier to zoom in on the picture for more accuracy and this was done by clicking on the small % sign at the bottom of the page (just below the man). Better still if you hold Ctrl and scroll the middle mouse wheel up/down you can zoom in and out really easily. You will need to zoom in/out a lot in the later stages so get used to this control now. If you want to move around the picture when you have zoomed in then just press and hold the spacebar.
I’m happy with the position of the fish and so want to make the layer ‘editable’. First of all you need to return the opacity to 100% as shown in the top right hand circle. Now you need to stop the image being ‘floating’ and thus uneditable. You need to ‘anchor’ the image (boy did this take me a while to realise!). All that is required to do is click on the Anchor icon shown in the bottom right hand red circle below.
Now the fun bit. The aquarium image is sitting in it’s own layer but even if we make it see-through it still goes beyond the edges of the window frames in the original picture. What we need to do is ‘rub out’ all the bits that aren’t necessary. We could use the eraser tool but this is actually a very inefficient way of doing it. If you use the eraser and make a mistake then the pixels are lost. What we are going to do instead is create a Layer Mask. Go to Layer / Mask / Add Layer Mask. When the dialogue box opens select ‘White – Full Opacity’.
Very little will appear to have changed but you are going to see something amazing in a moment. Go back up to the Opacity slider and knock it down to about 60% so that you can see the window frames and the aquarium. We are now going to get rid of the bulk of the spare pixels by masking them out. Zoom in to 50% and use the spacebar to get the top left pane of the window into view. Now you need to select the Path tool (shown in the small red circle in the picture below). You might think that a rectangle selection would be better but it would be rare for the shot to be exactly straight so the pen is far mightier…
With the Path tool selected you should see a Tool Options panel open below all the icons (shown in the large red circle). The button marked ‘Design’ should be selected and you need to tick the ‘Polygonal’ box. Now click on one of the corners of the window frame. Make sure you click just slightly inside the frame and not in the ‘garden’ side. Once you have clicked on all four corners click on ‘Selection from Path’ under the ‘Polygonal’ box you ticked earlier. You should now have a box of ‘marching ants’. Now move over to the next window frame and holding down the Shift key press the left mouse button once. This will add your new clicks to the current selection. Let go of Shift and click around the corners of the frame just like you did the first time. Once finished press ‘Selection from Path’ again and you should get rewarded with another box of marching ants. Do this around all seven window panes. You have to guess where the bottom left-hand window finishes but you want to try and have straight lines – if you keep the left button pressed after you have clicked you can drag the line.
Once you have selected all the windows you can make some fine tune adjustments. A bit of time spent at this stage will stop you pulling your hair out later. Zoom in and check that none of the ants are marching in the green areas of the garden. If they are then left click once on one of the corners you made and drag it carefully into the dark area of the frame. Once your lines are all in the dark areas click again on ‘Selection from Path’ and the screen will update. Now for some rubbing out 🙂
The only pixels you can rub out are those inside the boxes you have just drawn. That is the opposite of what we need so we need to Invert the mask. This will protect the aquarium pixels in the window. Go to the menu and choose Select / Invert (or press Ctrl + I). Nothing will look different but the next step will tell if you’ve done it right.
Select the Brush tool, shown in the left hand circle below. In the tools panel that opens at the bottom pick a decent sized brush, I clicked about a third in on the Size bar and got a figure of 356 pixels. Make sure you zoom out your picture (I chose 25%). The brush should default to the colour black. Where ever you apply black to the Layer Mask the aquarium picture will vanish. You can wave the brush all over the place and, if you’ve done it correctly, none of the water inside the window frames will be effected – as shown below. You may find it helps to increase the opacity so none of the blue escapes you. In the red circle in the right of the screen shown below you should notice a black pattern forming as you draw. This is a thumbnail of the Layer Mask you are creating.
Remember that BLACK REVEALS the bottom layer and WHITE CONCEALS the bottom layer.