There are dozens of online options for getting someone else to create a stunning celebration image of your cat but, what if you want to create a more personal image? Something you will add a piece of your heart to as you create it?
I have developed a digital pet portrait project and two short videos that will help you create your own celebration cat image, or a remembrance for a loved family cat. The decisions you make, the photo and backgrounds you add, bring your own depth of love and value to your cat picture.
I have graded this as an advanced beginner project but it is not hard for anyone who wants to give it a try following the step by steps.
The reason for the more ‘advanced’ label is that the project uses tools I have not covered on the blog. Be brave try it – you will be glad you did.
This 3 minute video shows the project instructions in visual format. Rotate a smartphone screen for a larger playback.
The finished work will be one that you can print off on to a photo canvas, cards, or on a t-shirt, or you can share it online.
I believe that creating a cat portrait yourself from a photo means you can enjoy the fun in your digital exploration, learn two computer software tools and treasure the bond, or memory, of your cat.
Once you get the idea, the opportunities for celebration or commemoration are limitless as are the number of layers you can use.
First, for those who have not used layers and overlays before, let me introduce these two new tools that beginners might not have explored.
An Introduction to Layers and Overlays
With layers I am using the basic definition, as found in Wikipedia. I hope you will find helpful as a beginner, I know I did. “Layers are used in digital image editing to separate different elements of an image. A layer can be compared to a transparency on which effects or further images are applied. They are placed over or under the image.”
In photography, overlays are an image or texture that is added as an additional layer to your photograph added using an editing program like Affinity Photo or Photoshop Elements. If you need a visual idea of what an overlay can do, check out my simple overlays post. Photographers use overlays to add a texture or interest that was not in the original image such as mist, snow or sparkles.
Note: Layers can also be called Adjustment Layers and Mask Layers when used in other creative work. For this beginner’s project I will use the term ‘layer’ as a simple description of a stackable element like layers in a sandwich or an onion.
This video gives a quick introduction to adding a single overlay. If you are a visual learner, seeing the process in action might give you a clearer idea of the steps you need to take.
What You Need To Create A Cat Portrait
- A photograph of your cat. This can be a digital image you have taken or a scanned image of an older treasured photograph. I recommend one with space around your cat. A portrait, or a napping cat, works better than a cat being held by someone. Sharply focused is good but if the photo is slightly fuzzy that’s OK. If your image has a lot of clutter a work around can be to use your software’s selection tool*. The black cat image below gives you an idea of what works.
- You will need a background image – this can be a garden, general landscape or something specific to you. I use a treasured Cat Writer’s Association Certificate for my project background of Dot (below) and I have also used foliage from our garden.
- A digital photo editing program like Affinity Photo, Photoshop Elements or PaintShop Pro.
- Optional: Overlay images. These can be stars or snow or something else that your image tells you that you need. Check out Luxe Lens for an idea of what’s available. Luxe is one paid option of high quality. Pexels has free stock photos you can use as backgrounds and textures. The overlay is ‘optional’ because, sometimes, you may add your first layer and then be happy with the result. Everything depends on what you want and what you want your image to say.
- Time to work through your cat celebration project. You can save your project at any time if you need to take a break. If you don’t ‘get something’ first time let your mind process this new skill or idea and go back to it later.
One question I am asked about overlays is “why should I pay for an overlay when I can get free ones? One word ‘consistency’. If you discover you love this project and want to make a series on a similar theme then a paid overlay will make your images look more coherent as a series. Overlays are easy to download and import into your editing application. They are fun too.Overlays – Dash Kitten
TOP TIP Along the way you might discover that you create something amazing. If you do, save it as an image and don’t lose it. I promise you will not remember the steps you took to create it.
Create Your Celebration Image
I love working with photo editing software and overlays and I hope you will too. Read through the instructions to see the steps you take. This way you know what is coming up (no scary surprises!) If you are not sure of any steps, read the instructions a few times, watch the videos, and work through each section slowly.
If you are not sure which direction your portrait should develop in, give yourself permission to play around and learn the process. Collect images and potential backgrounds and try them out. The more you play, the more you will understand and learn. You will create a portrait filled with love and respect for your cat.
In this project I will be using a Luxe Lens overlay and Affinity Photo photograph editing software. Layers and blending modes are the same across all computer digital image editing apps and they will be in a similar location, under a layers tab or menu. In the slideshow below I have used a Luxe Lens bubble overlay, and a birthday image from Envato Elements.
- Mistakes don’t matter, they can help you learn by showing you what can happen. Be positive and have fun.
Top Layer Tip
When beginning to use layers be aware of which layer is highlighted in the column located on the right-hand side of your applications window. It will be a lighter colour than the others. This is the layer you are working on. Take a look at the blue highlighted layer in the screenshots of this tutorial. Any changes or additions you make will affect only the layer you have highlighted. If you want to use more than three layers make sure they are clearly labelled e.g. Main Photo, Bubble Layer, Party Image etc.,
- You will create an image from a photograph with a layer behind it and an overlay in front. You will also use the Eraser tool which is a fun part!
- TOP TIP: To make creating your image easier resize your three images/overlays so they are the same size, before you start. This will avoid you having to add your layer and resize each one as you go. Look for Resize, or Document along the top of your software’s window.
Open Your Cat Photograph (Layer 1)
Select your photograph and open it in your photo editing software. This is your first layer.
This layer is your main focus, you embellish and adjust around this image. Whatever your celebration or commemoration I hope you understand from my examples how a clear image can be helpful. [For use in this blog post the image of Dot was rized at 1000 x 770 pixels.]
Here you can see my Dot Kitten image before I add the second layer, the award that becomes the background, thanks to the next steps you take.
Add Layer 2
- Open your second image in your photo editing program.
- Copy this image Cmd/Ctrl A to highlight then Cmd/Ctrl C to copy.
- Then paste it on to your original image (Cmd/Ctrl V).
- Your first image will disappear underneath but don’t panic!
- Look at your Layers Menu. You will see two images.
- Make sure your layer of background that will go behind your cat image is highlighted like my example here. For me this is an award certificate, you may use foliage, a landscape, a collage of cat toys, anything.
- (continue below)
- Now you will adjust the transparency of your second image (the Certificate). Look for the word ‘Opacity‘ in your Layers menu. This may be set at 100% to start with. Beside it will be a drop down menu of different blending options (modes).
- For this project select Overlay, but take a look at the others while you are here to see the impact blends can have. Some are cool and some are crazy!
- Adjust the transparency of the overlay layer. I have set mine to 85% as I want to show the background but you may set a more soft ghostly 70%. The choice is yours.
- Do not be concerned about the background showing through your cat. We remove this in the next step.
Finessing Your The Cat Image
With your background layer still highlighted in the layers column find your Eraser. In your software it should look like a stylised rectangular eraser (or rubber in the U.K.) and be located on the left side of your editing screen.
- Select your Eraser tool and adjust the size if it is very big or too small.
- With your second image selected, try a few strokes to start removing the background you can see on top of your cat’s figure. Be careful not to go beyond your cat’s shape.
- If you take off too much Cmd/Ctrl Z takes you back a step.
- Remove the pattern or texture from your cat’s portrait so that it looks clear again.
- It is a good idea to save your image at this point (if you haven’t already)
Adding An Overlay Layer (Layer 3)
This layer is optional because you might be happy with your portrait as it is. If this is the case stop here, save your work and finish. If you are curious about adding an overlay layer continue with the next steps.
You can add any texture as an overlay. Something like lichen or stone might seem unlikely but the key word is texture. You will be adding a subtle overlay (50% or less) that binds your image together visually. An alternative overlay might be something humorous like bubbles or even stars. I have used a simple gold sparkle to Dot’s image and softened the overlay on the final image. Luxe Lens (and other paid) overlays have transparent backgrounds which makes them easy to add to your image and adjust.
- Copy your overlay (Cm/Ctrl A) to highlight then Cmd/Ctrl C to copy.
- Paste this on to your original image (Cmd/Ctrl V).
- Adjust the transparency of your overlay (mine is gold sparkles). Look for the word ‘Opacity‘ in your Layers menu.
- Select ‘Overlay’ as in the previous step or try one of the other blend modes.
- See if you like the results. If not you can delete the layer.
- Save your finished image. (see below)
Saving Your Image For Future Use
I recommend you save your image at a high resolution. This will make the file size very large but it will ensure your image prints well as a canvas or cards. You can save a further copy to share online but saving a good quality image when you first finish is essential as this will give you more options later.
Check the size of something like a photo canvas in online stores like Snapfish You will find canvases of different sizes and shapes, as well as the new flatter photo tiles (square) and printable garments for adults and children.
If you still have problems you can email me through my contact page.
Print Out the Instructions For This Post
Photographic Terms and Tips
- Party images (Envato Elements – paid)
- Selection tool. If you need to cut out your cat from a busy background try the selection tool. How the tool works depends on your own software selection i.e. Photoshop (Elements) Affinity Photo, PaintShop Pro etc., A quick search online will show you how your software treats different selections. The developer’s website and YouTube are excellent sources for the information I do not have space for here.
- If you need an artist portrait check this post.
- Snapfish USA Online Store
- For Affinity Photo this excellent tutorial is helpful if you want to isolate a subject from its background with a selection tool.
- My post on easy to create Overlays