- By Gaurav Mittal
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As I look through many online galleries and portfolios, it is just incredible how much talent is out there in nature & wildlife photography. Images after images I’m left astounded and left wondering, “How did they do that”? The perfect shot that I would be so glad to have in my portfolio is an envy to look at.
Sadly, with the growth of digital photography and the advent of software’s like Photoshop, a lot of image manipulation is being done and to a level of perfection which is downright scary. Now, every time I look at an image, I’m wondering more about it’s authenticity then it’s sheer beauty, was an object removed? Was something added? Words like “cloning” and “cleanup” have become part of a photographer’s armor of tools. This is sad because I may be questioning a photographer who might have worked very hard to make those images. Moreover, many authentic images posted on various social media sites receive heavy criticism for being “too perfect” often referred to as being “Photoshopped”. Part of the problem is that many photographers simply don’t post details about the images they present, far from describing the situations and conditions the images were made in even the basic exposure details are missing. Due to these situations it becomes hard to judge what is real and what isn’t. Add to this that many wildlife photographers are using Photoshop for more then the basic corrections, adding or removing from the scene what was or wasn’t there. The world of digital photography has grown murkier and effecting every genre today.
I’m an advanced level Photoshop user who can effectively improve the overall look and feel of my images. I never encourage other photographers to manipulate images or make edits that are unrealistic or not true to the scene. Many photographers today put less effort out in the field as certain effects or enhancements can be achieved via Photoshop. Nature & wildlife photography is about being committed in the field and recording nature the way one saw it, adding or removing objects in images surely can not be rewarding. As a photographer my images at times have been subjected to comments of being “Photoshopped” Nothing frustrates me more then hearing that because firstly, I work hard to make my images and secondly, it is not impossible to make good images and because they look good doesn’t mean they have been “Photoshopped”.
In this post I’m sharing some simple Bird Photography Tips and processing techniques that I apply to my images on a daily basis, the images are free from manipulation. I use Lightoom to organize and catalog my images, besides these functions it is also an extremely powerful raw converter and you can do basic cropping, color balance and color correction before moving into Photoshop for advance corrections if needed.
The image above of the Ashy Prinia was made at my home; the clean reddish background here is a building with red bricks roughly 30 feet away, I moved around till I was able to achieve the effect and the composition I was looking for. Because Super-telephoto lens’s have a very narrow angle of view and compress the background and the foreground, they are capable of very shallow depth of field even at F/11 or even at F/16, as a result I was able to get the flat and smooth background behind the bird. The image was cropped about 10% in LR and exposure was increased about a 1/3 stop. It is important that you pay attention to the histogram as you make adjustments so as to not clip the shadows or the highlights on either end. From this point I open the image in Photoshop for very specific adjustments. For this image, I have used three types of Adjustment Layers, the Curves Layer, the Hue/Saturation Layer and the Selective Colors Layer. These adjustments affect the overall tonality and colors of an image. After adjusting the image to taste, the last step is Noise reduction followed by image re-sizing and finally sharpening.
I feel that key to reducing the amount of time spent in post processing is to get your techniques right in the field, understanding exposure and composition will lead to pleasing images, even when shooting in your own backyard. Careful placement of the subject free of distractions will lead to clean images and “cloning” and “cleanup” of unwanted objects, which is time consuming will be eliminated. Moreover, if you plan to enter your images into competitions it is important to remember that major reputed contests do not accept images that have been manipulated.
The above image of the Ashy Prinia in a calling pose was also made at my home with the similar background as in the first image. The key difference here is that the image is full frame and was entirely edited in Lightoom in less than five minutes without ever touching Photoshop! As I had mentioned in the beginning, Lightroom is more then just cataloging and organizing software, it is a powerful image editor. Whether you want to make basic exposure tweak, correct color cast, crop in tighter or remove spots, the Develop Module is the place to start.
For this image, I started out in the “Basic” panel, I adjusted the Highlights slider by moving it to the left, this revealed more details in the bright white parts of the bird, I then moved the contrast slider to the right to get more depth in the bird. From this point, I needed to make localized adjustments to the tonality of the image, in other words I wanted to individually make color adjustments. I selected the Saturation from the “HSL” tab and worked on the color palette to improve the overall tonality, this is another powerful tool in Lightroom as it allows a very fine level of control over colors. Noise reduction and sharpening were the last step.
So, there you have it. This was a quick rundown on how I process my images. While each of the adjustment techniques I have mentioned is a blog post by itself, my goal here today was to show you that working ethically and keeping true to the spirit of Nature & Wildlife photography can lead to pleasing results. Photoshop and Lightroom are great tools and their function is to aid you in converting a raw image into a well polished and clean image. These software’s have gained a reputation for being an aid in manipulating images and contrary to popular belief I feel that this post will help clear up some air, not all photographers manipulate images to mislead their audience and they do use these software’s to improve the look of their images and correct minor blemishes.