Wish you a Very Happy World Wildlife Day (belated wishes for some :)) 2016!
I had thought numerous times to share my simple and basic post-processing workflow for bird photography with you. But for some reasons, I wasn’t able to do it.
Now I have made up my mind to write at least a few articles. These articles would describe a simple but effective way to post-process your bird photographs using Lightroom software.
These bird photography post-processing tips are extremely simple to use and apply. Make it a point to follow these steps to achieve pleasing results.
Read the article on how to Import, Export, & Watermark your post-processed file.
NOTE 2: I am using Adobe Lightroom Version 4.
Step 1: Open your file in the Develop module
Step 2: Crop & Straighten
Use the Crop & Straighten tool to crop and straighten, if necessary. I don’t need to crop this photo nor do I need to straighten it as the horizon is perfect.
While cropping, you could either use the original Aspect Ratio or choose any option from the drop-down menu beside the lock symbol.
Use the Straighten tool and draw a line along the horizon or an object which should be horizontal in reality. This will straighten the image.
Step 3: Set the White Balance
I use Auto-WB (Auto White Balance) setting most of the times. The Auto WB works well for most situations and I don’t need to change it in the post.
This photograph doesn’t need any correction to the white balance. So, I keep it as “As Shot.”
Work with Temp Slider to correct any color cast in your photograph. If the photo looks blue, move the slider to the right. If it looks orange, move it to the left until the color cast is removed.
While the Temp Slider works with blue and orange, the Tint Slider works with green and magenta colors. You can use it if you see any green or magenta color cast in your photograph. It is seldom used.
Step 4: Set the Exposure & Contrast
Generally, a slight addition of exposure (usually +0.3) helps to bring out the mid-tone details in the image. Work on the Exposure Slider till you get the required look and feel to the image.
Remember, too much change to the exposure makes an image look artificial.
Start off by adding a little bit of contrast to the image using the Contrast Slider. I usually start by adding a contrast of +25 to +30.
Step 5: Set the White & Black Points
Set the white and black points if necessary. It helps to increase the dynamic range of an image. However, it’s not always necessary to do that. Because sometimes having small dynamic range makes more sense.
Push the Whites Slider to the right (or left if it’s overexposed) till you get the histogram just about to touch the right corner. Hold the Alt key while moving the slider to see if you are clipping something by mistake.
Do the same with the Black Slider till the histogram touches the left corner.
Step 6: Work on Highlights & Shadows
By moving the Highlights Slider to the left, you can recover any overexposed highlights in your image. Or, move it to the right to increase the brightness only in the brighter regions.
Open the shadows by pushing the Shadows Slider towards the right.
I have slightly bumped up the brightness and opened up the shadows. If you open up too much of shadows it looks artificial. And also, it might bring out all the noise in the shadow region.
These settings depend completely on the photograph you are working with.
Step 7: Improve the Clarity and bring back the Colors
The RAW files are flat and devoid of colors. You need to bring back the contrast and the color present in the scene. We worked on the global contrast in Steps 4 to 6.
The Clarity Slider works on improving the local contrast in the image. This improvement in the local contrast results in the increase in the apparent sharpness of the image. Too much clarity would easily kill the image. Work carefully with this slider.
There are two ways to bring back the colors in your image. One is using Vibrance Slider and the other one using Saturation Slider. While Vibrance Slider works only on the saturated colors, the Saturation Slider works by increasing all the colors.
Most often you would use either of the two. I normally use Vibrance Slider as it works well with the nature images.
Step 8: Reduce Noise
At this point, I am almost done with the processing. Now, it’s just a matter of reducing the noise and bringing back the sharpness in the image.
Reduction of the noise depends very much on the ISO settings and how much noise is present in the image. In the case of lower ISO settings, for a given camera, you might not have to reduce the noise at all. For higher ISO settings you might have to reduce the noise more and more.
But remember that you can faithfully reduce the noise only up to an extent. Too much of noise reduction makes the bird look like a wax statue by softening out the subtle details.
At ISO 320 on my Nikon D750, which is a full-frame camera, I might not have to reduce the noise. Just to show you process, I have reduced the luminance noise by 15 using the Luminance Slider. You wouldn’t normally have the color noise unless you are shooting in very dark conditions.
Step 9: Sharpen
The RAW image has zero sharpness to begin with. You need to sharpen the image to get back the sharpness that was present in the scene. And also to get back the details in the bird’s plumage.
A lot many photographers tend to oversharpen the image. But beware that it looks extremely artificial and kills the beauty of the scene.
Normally the amount of sharpness an image can take depends on the equipment you are using. Especially it depends on how sharp your lens is. Try out with different sharpening settings to see what works the best for you.
I stick to the sharpness value of 40 to 50 to keep it well balanced. Use the Masking Slider to mask off the sharpening of the unwanted edges in the background. Press the Alt key and push the Masking Slider to understand how it works.
Press the Y key to see the before-after screen. Or, press the button which displays Y|Y on the bottom left of your screen. Press the Y key again to get only the processed image.
So here’s the final result.
Remember that too much is too bad. Post-processing should be done to just bring back enough details, brightness, contrast, colors, and sharpness in the image. Keep it as realistic as possible. A little bit of punch is acceptable but don’t go overboard.
Post-processing the bird photographs is probably the easiest of all, but still a lot many bird photographers get it wrong. Stop applying the post-processing techniques that are hugely popular amongst landscape photographers. It’s not the same. Bird photography requires a different post-processing mindset. Learn to keep it simple.
I think the best way to make sure your processing is alright, is to post-process your image and keep it aside. Then come back after a few days to check your post-processing result. If it appeals to you, then it’s good to be published. With practice, you would be able to produce much pleasing results.
The rule of thumb here is “Less is More.”
If you want to know my complete post-processing workflow for bird (and nature) photography, keep an eye on my upcoming video course: Post-processing video course for nature photographers using Adobe Lightroom Creative Cloud Software.
Till then, why not read the article on how to Import, Export, & Watermark your post-processed file.
Think Photography. Think Simple.