I am constantly amazed at how software can improve an image I’ve taken. To me, it’s like magic and it reminds me of when I took college classes to learn how to develop film images. I loved watching the image begin to show up on the paper as it sat in the developer bath, an image from what was a blank sheet of paper, materializing right before my eyes as the image began to form on the paper. I feel the same way about all of the software that I use today as a digital photographer who shoots RAW images. I enjoy processing my images and watching them turn into something that I created out of raw material to match my vision of the image and the moment. I am not advocating that software should be relied on to “fix” an image, which is how some photographers view using any software. For me, the software simply allows me to visualize the end result as I take the shot of the image in front of me as I know what I can and cannot do with the software. Yes, I still make every attempt “to get it right in camera” but that just is not always possible, at least not the way I want it. I do believe that it is necessary in today’s digital photography world to not only know your camera and the art of photography, but to also know how to process an image to make it shine.
I sometimes photograph hummingbirds while sitting on my porch to keep my wildlife shooting skills up as I no longer go on as many wildlife photography trips as I did in the past due to Covid and my desire to stay well. The Covid issue has not stopped me completely from traveling (I was in Yellowstone in June) but it sure has slowed my travel down and limited it to a large degree. Photographing and processing the hummingbird images keeps my shooting and processing skills from declining. And, I love hummingbird images and really enjoy seeing what I can create as a finished product. I often see hummingbird images where the photographer has left the feeder in but I don’t often do that as I don’t want anything to distract the viewer from the final image. I use LrC to process these images as well as Topaz DeNoise (if needed) and Photoshop. The three software programs together can help me to create the image that I visualized as I took the shot. It’s always important to get the image as sharp as possible and to place the subject in the overall image in such a way that I can work with it afterward. I also pay attention to the background and colors that I might end up with in the final image, and having high quality camera gear helps a lot with background bokeh.
This first image is the original RAW image taken with a Nikon D850 and a Nikon 500PF lens. The settings were 1/2000, f/5.6, and ISO 4000. The light was not very bright and I wanted to get the bird in focus and sharp so I was balancing the shutter speed and the ISO. The Nikon 500PF was wide open at f/5.6. Often it is necessary to have a shutter speed more in the 1/3200 range to get a sharp shot but I also try to balance out settings to create a feeling of flight with the bird’s wings so shooting a bit slower can do that. The bird is very small in the image and the feeder very prominent and there is a lot of noise in the image. The image has no processing done on it at this point.
I opened the image in Topaz DeNoise from within LrC using the menu command “Photo> Edit In> Topaz DeNoise AI. I often simply let the denoise software make my choices for me, but sometimes do change the settings a bit. In this case I believe I let the software decide and it did a fairly good job with the image. Managing the image from within LrC allowed Topaz to return the image to LrC. The second image is the altered image from the DeNoise software plus the use of Perspective Scale with an X Offset in LrC. If you have not used these sliders in LrC the panel, in the Develop Module, is the Transform Panel and I used the Scale slider to make the subject bigger in the overall image. I then used the X and Y Offset sliders to move the subject up or down and left or right within the overall image.
In this third and final image I’ve used Photoshop to cut the feeder out, crop a bit as needed, and then LrC to process the image. After the image was returned to LrC from PS the subject was enlarged again in LrC using the procedure as stated above. In the Basic Panel, I set the Whites and Blacks using those sliders keeping an eye on the histogram and image guides, decreased the highlights to ensure no whites were blown out but still leaving enough highlights to ensure a bright image, lightened the shadows to bring up the dark areas around the bird’s head, and increased Vibrance to +7. I used the Sharpening slider in the Detail Panel after I used the Masking Slider in that same panel to ensure that sharpening only took place on the bird and not the background. The Masking Slider masked out the area around the bird so that sharpening would not take place in that area. It is essential, when doing this kind of processing, that the original image be sharply defined as processing a blurred image in this way will only increase the blur. Also, the image should be a high quality image from a technical standpoint, which is why I always shoot in RAW.
Using all of the tools at my disposal, the camera gear, my knowledge of photography and art, and my skill with photography software I was able to take a photo that was boring with a very small subject and create a much nicer and more pleasant image with the bird as the subject clearly defined. I know that using processing software effectively, and there are many processing applications to choose from, is one way to improve my photography. I continue to try to hone my processing skills as well as my shooting and artistic skills: I don’t rely on only one of these elements alone to create my artwork but instead utilize a multitude of tools together to create my vision.
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