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Author Topic: Wildlife photography, Part 3 Post Process  (Read 5252 times)

Offline popeshawnpaul

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Wildlife photography, Part 3 Post Process
« on: January 16, 2009, 01:35:16 AM »
Well, we made it to part 3.  Now we have gear, have taken a well composed and exposed picture, now what do we do?  Going through post process work is like following a recipe.  There are different recipes for different types of images.  In general, I’ll follow a set way of doing things in every photo.  Knowing the order in which to do them is important.

RAW Post Processing

I shoot all my images in RAW.  Many people ask how I store my images as it takes up so much space.  But it really doesn’t.  Each file I shoot at 10mp is about 10 megabytes.  A 1 terrabyte drive will hold all the pictures you’ll want to take for many years.  RAW is very powerful.  You can make adjustments to RAW images that you just can’t make with a jpg picture.

You have to get your photo from the camera to the computer.  I personally use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (LR).  It costs about $300 but this program does more than just import and fix pictures, it is a program that lets you keyword, add rating stars, and organize photos by different species and sizes of animals.  I have my system set up so I can simply do a search for “2 point” bucks and Washington and all photos of 2 points from WA pop up.  I can do a search for “5 point” bucks and only 5 star rated photos (as rated by me) and only good pictures of 5 point bucks pop up.  It’s a very valuable and powerful program.  For you Canon shooters, Digital Photo Pro (DPP) does very similar things as LR does but with less features and ability to create a powerful database.  For those of you that shoot rarely, a program like this might not make sense.  For those of you that shoot 30k pictures a year like me, it is invaluable.  (I’m talking about you Boneaddict…   ;) )

So LR imports my photos to my hard disk.  I add keywords and have to go through and I filter out bad photos and rate each one.  Then later on, when I get a little time I add the detailed keywords regarding the subject.  If you are using DPP, you need to import your photos with the EOS Utility.  It comes with your camera so find that disk in the box you threw in the closet.  Once the images are imported, DPP automatically opens with your RAW images.  The last way you can import images is through your Windows interface.  Vista has the ability to show your RAW images in the standard windows explorer.  XP does not display the RAW images.  To get Windows to show the RAW images, you need to go to Canon’s website and download the RAW plugin for Windows.

So now our images are imported.  If you have LR or DPP, they can do a lot of image editing but they can’t do everything that I need.  They will do 90% of what I do though, so you need to decide what software you are going to buy.  I go to LR to see what types of images I want to do what with.  So let’s say I want to take one of my RAW images and post it on a website.  Images for a website need to be in jpg format and 800-1000 pixels on the long end.  But your images are on your hard disk in RAW format.  I find the images by searching through my LR database.  From there I click on the “Develop” tab in LR and make my adjustments.  For those of you using DPP, you find the image you want and open it to fix the image.  The 3rd way, for you Photoshop (PS) users is to simply open a RAW image in PS and the program Adobe Raw opens up.  LR, DPP, or Adobe Raw will all make RAW adjustments to images and convert them to jpg for posting.  I have used all three raw editing programs extensively and they all 3 do the same thing.

So my photo is open in my RAW editor.   When an image is opened in one of these three raw editing programs, you have the same functionality to edit your images in all three RAW editors.  Most cameras shoot pictures on auto for the white balance.  You can change this on your camera in the field or if you can just do it later on the computer.  I don’t worry about it when I’m shooting the photo.  Then I adjust the white balance.  Various options include sunny, cloudy, rainy, etc.  Remember what type of day it was when you shot the picture?  Try that white balance out first or see what looks best.  If it was sunny that day but the cloudy white balance looks better, you can keep whatever setting you would like.  Let’s walk through an example image from start to finish.  The following shot was shot in Daylight white balance mode.



However, it was not daylight out that day.  I remember it being overcast.  Let's try the "shade" white balance...



Ew, too orange or warm.  The goat isn't white anymore.  Let's try the "auto" white balance...



Perfect for me.  Now the goat is white and it looks how I remember it the day I shot the image.

Is your photo too light or dark?  Adjust your exposure.  On our sample image, the goat doesn't look quite white to me.  I think the overall exposure is a bit dark because my camera was on aperture priority exposure mode.  The camera compensated for a white subject by under exposing the photo.  I'll bump up the photo +.5 stops and see what happens...



Looks better, now the goat is actually white.  However, I seem to have lost some white detail in the white on the goat's back now.  See the hair detail is about blown out.  I need some detail there so we can see every hair.  At this point you have your exposure set and your white balance looking good.  Now I look to the brightest white in the photo.  It might be a cloud or a sunny part on a mountain goat.  Is there detail in the white?  If there isn’t, I adjust the “Recovery” slider to recover some of the lost information in my bright whites.  I don’t want any area in the photo without detail usually.  I'll adjust the "recovery" slider to recover some of the overexposed image on the goat's back...



I did a +89 out of 100 on the recovery.  However, I seemed to have gotten that detail back in the hair on the goat's back.  Next I look at the black or dark areas of the image.  Maybe it’s the shaded side of that buck deer.  Can you see the detail in it?  If not, I adjust the “Fill Light” slider to brighten these dark areas.  In this image, there is no lost black detail I'm worried about in this goat.  Next, let's bump the contrast a tad as i like the almost black background and how it makes the goat stand out.  We seemed to have lost a little of that in our adjustments.  A slight increase of +32 should do it...



Ok, looks good.  I don't like to over sharpen images.  I've found the "clarity" slider on my RAW converters does a good job of sharpening without looking like a sharpened photo.  I'll bump that up a little...



A clarity bump up of +26 makes the goat and features within the hair stand out better.  Lastly, I look at the “Vibrance” and “Saturation” sliders.  These do similar things.  The vibrancy enhances color where there is color, while saturation adds color to the image.  I prefer to adjust the vibrancy until the photo looks good.  In our goat image, the colors look a bit muted.  I'll bump up the color a bit with the "vibrance" slider...



A slight increase of +14 added a bit of color to the green in the background and the red rock the goat is standing on. 

At this point, the image should look almost done, except for cropping and sharpening.  If you are using LR, you can do these two things in the program and be done.  However, this is usually where I send the photo to PS.  I will save the edits and convert the RAW photo as a Tif file.  I save as a Tif because it is a lossless file format.  This means you can save the picture as many times as you want and it will always stay good quality.  If you save a jpg photo more than once, it degrades the image quality.  This is because jpg photos are compressed to save space.  The compression can make a photo look bad if you save it a few times.

The next thing I do is crop my image to the size I want.  I usually put 800 pixels as the size I want on the vertical or horizontal, whichever side is longest on this photo, and crop the image.  Remember the rule of thirds already explained and never have an animal with his head near an edge looking out of the frame.  It just looks odd.

Next I sharpen my photo.  This is the biggest mistake people make in images.  Over sharpening a photo just does not look good.  Many don’t even know they are doing it.  If I am processing a landscape image, I want the whole photo to be sharp.  I do a global sharpen on the whole photo and I’m done.  With wildlife, I take a different approach.  Wildlife like to be around grass.  Grass looks awful sharpened.  Therefore, I never globally sharpen an image with wildlife or shots where I’m trying to make my subject stand out.  What I do is selectively sharpen the animal.  First you need to select the animal.  There are many ways you can do this but just grab your selection tool and just draw around the outside of the animal.  Pay special attention to keep grass and distracting elements out of your selection.  When you select just the animal, you don’t want the selection to be so hard on the edges.  The transition between the sharpened areas and not would be weird looking.  You want to feather the selection by 20-30 pixels so any changes you make to the selection are gradually blended into the unselected areas.  The rule I use is I look for a white or black line around the edges of the sharpened area.  If you can see a white or black line, you have over sharpened or sharpened in a way that does not look good.  I would start over again.

Once you sharpen, there are various ways of doing it in most programs.  There are easy sharpen buttons where the computer selects the settings and does it all for you.  I use a more powerful option in PS called “unsharp mask”.  There are three sliders in unsharp mask.  Play with them until you get the desired look.  Just a few hints…don’t get your radius over 1.0 pixel unless you have a huge image.  Also, don’t over sharpen an image.  If it’s not sharp, throw the image away if you can.  Sharpening is usually the last adjustment I make to an image.
Now I’m done, except for a border and signature on the photo.  I select the outside of the image and “stroke” the image to make a border.  Next I use the “type” tool and type my name on the image.  This doesn’t do a whole lot, but it will help keep the people who want to steal your image at bay.  They can get around the signature, but it takes time.  Lastly, I flatten the image and save as a jpg.  A note to you advanced PS people, I do all my PS work with actions these days.  I have a border action that does all that for me if I simply click one button.  I have a signature action that puts it on the photo with one click, and I have a “flatten and save” action that does that for me.  All I have to do is name the photo when the save box pops up.  Look up actions to save a lot of time PS users.

If you have to make too many adjustments, the photo is probably not shot well.  Like they say, crap in equals crap out.  Take a good photo to start.  For those with important photos, you have to do what you can.  Just know you can only fix a photo so much.  RAW will really help you with this though.  Here is our completed image:



JPG Post Process

Hopefully I haven’t lost you point and shoot (P&S) guys yet.  By the way, check your P&S camera as some shoot RAW these days. 

With jpg photos, your latitude to change options like the exposure, color balance, contrast, etc. are limited.  What I do with a jpg image is adjust the “Levels” on the image.  Most photo programs have a “levels” type adjustment with a histogram on how many types of pixels are in each photo.  What I try and do is keep the image so that it has pure black in it, pure white in it, but no part of the image lacks detail or is blown out in the white areas.  It can be tricky with a jpg but adjust the sliders until you get them like that.  That is a good starting spot for any photo.  From here you can change the color balance of your image or change the saturation.  You don’t have a vibrancy adjustment with jpg images unless you have the brand new PS CS4.  From here I simply crop and sharpen my images as I would above.  There really isn’t a lot you can do with a jpg.  Hence, shoot RAW if you can...

Printing

If you are going to print an image, whether on your printer or send it off to a printer online, there are a few things you should know.  When you sve your image, save it as a tif so it won’t lose quality.  I like to have at least 150 dpi or dots per inch or pixels per inch of detail in a photo.  I have printed with as low as 100, but the more you have the better.  If your camera shoots 4000x2500 pixel images, then that means at most you can print a high quality 40”x25” print.  For prints these large, I send my images off site to a printer like perfectposters.com.  You simply upload your image and it comes in the mail a couple days later.   Try and make images ¼ “ larger than your size opening in a frame so edges won’t show.  I’ve made that mistake…

Noise

If you under expose an image, it will tend to have noise in the image.  You P&S guys know that a lot of your images have noise.  Making all these adjustments above tends to magnify the noise.  If you have consistent noise problems, there are affordable 30 dollar programs like Noise Ninja that take most of the noise out.  I use them right before I sharpen an image.

Offline Timber

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Re: Wildlife photography, Part 3 Post Process
« Reply #1 on: January 16, 2009, 05:59:50 AM »
Once again you've given a lot of great info pope. Thanks for taking the time to write this up.

Offline boneaddict

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Re: Wildlife photography, Part 3 Post Process
« Reply #2 on: January 16, 2009, 06:38:40 AM »
This has been talked about on here a couple times but you just said something that made me clue in about tif versus jpg.  I often shoot a full frame.  A nice 10 megapixel pic of my little pisscutters.  There is no cropping so I do my little playing in CS2 and then bring it over to elements as a jpg.  I then cram this 3000x2000 pic into a 800x600 picture so that I can post it on here and I get what I call "compression syndrome."  You can see it alot in antlers or sticks or straight lines.   Would doing it in Tif save fix that problem?  I've never done anything in tif.  Not even sure if photobucket handles it.

Offline Slider

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Re: Wildlife photography, Part 3 Post Process
« Reply #3 on: January 16, 2009, 09:02:36 AM »
Pope GOOD POST!!! But you used my name to many times!!!(slider)..... :chuckle:

Offline Ricochet

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Re: Wildlife photography, Part 3 Post Process
« Reply #4 on: January 16, 2009, 09:45:45 AM »
Thanks for the insight, Shawn.  As a Nikon shooter I use the Capture NX software that came with my D300 to open and edit my RAW (NEF) files, but its all basicly the same processes.  Thanks again for all the great info.

Offline bigdave

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Re: Wildlife photography, Part 3 Post Process
« Reply #5 on: January 16, 2009, 10:29:54 AM »
Thanks for taking the time to explain and show us what you do.
It's very valuable stuff.

Offline Dmanmastertracker

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Re: Wildlife photography, Part 3 Post Process
« Reply #6 on: January 16, 2009, 01:10:17 PM »
 Shawn, you should be charging an hourly rate for this :chuckle: :chuckle: :chuckle:

Offline popeshawnpaul

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Re: Wildlife photography, Part 3 Post Process
« Reply #7 on: January 16, 2009, 02:55:09 PM »
Bone, good point.  When you make your edits and save as a jpg, you have saved once as a jpg.  Then you open the photo in PS and edit it, just to save it as a jpg once again.  Also, any edits you make to a cropped jpg will tend to make it look pixelated or as you described.  Save it as a psd or tif and only save it as a jpg once you are completely done and at the highest settings.  That will reduce this effect.

I noticed many of my adjustments were rather minute in this series.  Those details are important, but I think I picked a picture that was pretty darn good right out of the camera.  Maybe I'll pick a more challenging image and do a walkthrough on it when I get more time.

Hope this was helpful.

Offline stumprat

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Re: Wildlife photography, Part 3 Post Process
« Reply #8 on: January 16, 2009, 08:47:28 PM »
This series needs to be kept as an article. It would be easier than searching through the forum. :twocents:
Thanks again Pope.

Offline searchnfor

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Re: Wildlife photography, Part 3 Post Process
« Reply #9 on: January 16, 2009, 09:07:46 PM »
Great post, thanks for taking your time to help us amateurs out!

Online robodad

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Re: Wildlife photography, Part 3 Post Process
« Reply #10 on: January 16, 2009, 09:16:57 PM »
I agree with the rest, Excellent information, Thank You very much !!!  ;)
The essense of freedom is the proper limitation of government !!!

Offline huntnphool

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Re: Wildlife photography, Part 3 Post Process
« Reply #11 on: January 16, 2009, 10:54:30 PM »
Awesome info Shawn, thanks for the tutorial.
The things that come to those who wait, may be the things left by those who got there first!

Offline boneaddict

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Re: Wildlife photography, Part 3 Post Process
« Reply #12 on: January 17, 2009, 06:26:03 AM »
I never could quite figure out the sharpen thing...what radius was etc, so I tend to not mess with it.  Not sure if it does anything or not to my photos.  Sometimes I will auto sharpen.  If I like it I keep it.  Seems like most of the time I can't tell the difference.  I also tend to be VERY conservative withthe saturation button.  Some folks oversaturate and it takes away from their original pic.  Thats just another personal bias though.  Another side note, what they see might not be what I see and vice versa, depending on what monitor I am using.  My pic might look perfect on my monitor on my laptop, then I pull it up on my moms screen and think what the heck thats way overexposed.....

Offline popeshawnpaul

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Re: Wildlife photography, Part 3 Post Process
« Reply #13 on: January 17, 2009, 06:54:20 PM »
Good point about sharpening Bone.  I use unsharp mask but there is a few others that work as well.  The most important thing is to keep the radius down to 1.0 or under on a web sized picture.  I prefer .6 or .7.  I keep my threshhold about 10 all the time.  I just adjust my % and try and keep it at 80-100%. 

Offline huntnphool

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Re: Wildlife photography, Part 3 Post Process
« Reply #14 on: January 21, 2009, 11:11:28 PM »
Good point about sharpening Bone.  I use unsharp mask but there is a few others that work as well.  The most important thing is to keep the radius down to 1.0 or under on a web sized picture.  I prefer .6 or .7.  I keep my threshhold about 10 all the time.  I just adjust my % and try and keep it at 80-100%.

I use unsharp mask as well set at .5 most of the time
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