This week’s photo was taken this spring at the San Francisco Zoo. Many zoos across the country allow peacocks to roam free amongst the visitors and animal exhibits. On this day I was lucky enough to witness 15 separate plumage displays, as the males were trying to catch the attention of the hens.
Although people “ohh” and “ahh” over the beautiful colors of the feathers when displayed from the front side, it is actually the tail and backside of the feathers that is meant to attract potential mates. When in full display, peacocks will often slowly turn in a circle, in order to show off its backside in as many directions as possible.
This week’s photo comes from a backpacking trip I did this summer with a friend. Emigrant Wilderness is a backpacker’s gem, especially once you get out of range of day hikers. Easily accessible from the San Francisco Bay Area, it is often overlooked due to Yosemite’s popularity. Once in the southern part of the wilderness which borders Yosemite’s northern boundary, it is not uncommon to go days without seeing another person.
This morning we had gotten up early and were on the trail by 6:30. We had situated our camp so that we would cross Emigrant Lake’s northern side just as the rising sun was cutting across the water at a low angle, bathing the southern mountains in beautiful light, and giving me a nice reflection in the lake. The lush grass along the shore was a bonus – the long shadows across the grass give a real sense of early morning stillness.
Ever take several photos of a group, but none of the shots show everybody looking at the camera, eyes open, with a smile on their face? The more people you add to the shot, the more likely this is to occur. Recently I shot a wedding, and although most of the shots came out well, one of the critical portraits (the wedding couple with the bride’s parents) did not turn out. There wasn’t a single frame with everybody looking their best.
The photo on the left was the best shot, but the mother of the bride was looking away from the camera. Because I knew I liked the picture except for this one problem, I hunted through the rest of the similar shots and found the photo on the right. Ordinarily, it would be a throw-away, particularly because the bride is blinking. But the mother of the bride’s expression is perfect.
So now that I have both pictures that I want to combine, how do I do it? First, I open both images in Photoshop (for this example, I will be referring to CS4, but the same technique can be used in CS3). Using the Move tool, I drag one image on top of the other image. This will create a second layer, giving the second image two layers, one with each original image.
Or, if you are using Lightroom, all of the above can be skipped by selecting both photos, and clicking the menu item Photo->Edit In->Open as Layers in Photoshop…
Now that both images are stacked as separate layers, I select both layers in Photoshop and click the menu item Edit->Auto-Align Layers. This is a crucial step in making sure everything blends nicely between both layers when I merge them later. Next, I make sure that the image I want to keep (the left image above) is the top layer, and I add a layer mask (by clicking on the rectangle with the small circle icon at the bottom of the Layers palette). I make sure that black is selected as the foreground color.
With the top layer selected, I use the paint brush tool to paint the photo in the places that I want the bottom layer to show through. In this case, I painted in the mother-of-the-bride’s head. The head from the bottom layer appeared in the top layer, creating the fixed photo below:
If the two photos you are merging have only small differences, the above method can be a great and more natural looking alternative the more traditional approach of selecting from one image and pasting into another.
We see these birds all the time, throughout most of North America. They invade our parking lots and strip malls, and their calls are ubiquitous. However, when I happened upon this ring-billed gull standing alone at the end of a pier overlooking the San Francisco Bay, I saw an opportunity to turn the commonplace into an interesting shot. The sun was setting behind me, illuminating the bird with a soft glow. That, combined with the fact that this particular bird was clean and quite nice looking, gave me the ingredients needed to create a pleasing portrait.