Creating something interesting from really average photos

I had a great time at the New Orleans zoo, but aside from the giraffes, the photos of the animals in captivity were amazingly average.  So what can you do with them besides just deleting them?  I have to confess, I did delete most of the images I shot that day.  Photoshop offers a lot of creative tools to enhance your photographs.  There is no formula and this is an area where just playing with the various filters and layer effects is really the best way to learn and develop something new. I see this kind of effect printed on canvas in places like Pier 1, and decided to try and create it for myself. As with all my own efforts, I don’t do anything which will permanently damage the pixels.  I start by duplicating the base image with the keyboard shortcut <Ctrl-J>.  Next I created a blank layer and used a paper texture image I had created and which I keep in my library.  I knew I wanted it as a subtle effect, so I did two things to it.  First I changed the blend mode to overlay, to make the white parts go away, and secondly I adjusted the opacity down to 50%, making it pretty transparent. I didn’t want the texture to show up on the birds themselves, so I added a layer mask. I very crudely painted over the outline of the birds with black to hide the texture effect as shown here.  When I was done with that, I saw that I wanted a little more definition on the outlines of the flamingo’s themselves.

I created another copy of the birds and played with the filters until I found the <Filters<Find Edges.  It creates outlines of the birds to reinforce their shape.  I played with the blend modes again and was happiest with the Hard Mix option which darkened the image.   I then reduced that layer’s opacity as well to make the changes more subtle. Then I said—yep, that was good enough.

Of course you can always just use a program that we have discussed before—Silver Efex Pro2 and instantly turn a decent gorilla picture into a much more striking image.  Total time for this one was about 3 minutes.