On a typical half-day shoot, I’ll take 200 photos. When I get home, I turn on my computer and create a file folder for the day’s images. I then transfer the pictures from the camera’s data storage card into the folder.
After opening Corel Paintshop Pro, my preferred photo editing software, I begin the process of evaluation and editing. I usually open ten photos at a time, immediately discarding anything blurry. No one wants to view blurry images, not even the photographer.
If there are several shots of the same image, I’ll choose the best of the lot to edit. The rest can be dumped into a subfolder labeled “Originals.”
There are many settings that can be used to alter the image, but these are the ones I use most frequently:
- Adjust Fill Light/Clarity (lightens backlit subjects)
- Adjust Brightness and Contrast, Highlight/Midtone/Shadow (allows one to separately lighten or darken shadows, mid-tones, and highlights)
- Adjust Hue and Saturation, Vibrancy (allows color to be intensified)
Let’s look at some photos from a recent shoot to see how they were improved.
During a recent visit to Sweetwater Wetlands, I came across a group of Wood Storks. Since I find these animals particularly charming, I couldn’t resist snapping a few shots. I took four portraits, knowing that the birds were standing on the “wrong” side of the sun. Being heavily backlit, they would appear dark.
Backlit images have a 70% failure rate, but occasionally they can be saved in editing. I had nothing to lose by making the attempt.
Above is the original photo. The background looks a bit dark, and the bird’s head is a black blob. I first added some fill light. I then lightened the shadows. Finally, I intensified the color. Below is the adjusted image.
Now let’s look at an image of a Great Blue Heron. I actually took fourteen shots of this bird. Reasons for rejection included poor composition (placement within the picture frame); blur; a gaze angled away from the viewer; the nictating membrane (second eyelid) covering the eye. This left me with four images to work with.
Although this image was my favorite, I wanted to find a way to make the bird appear more powerful. I did this by increasing the vibrancy, or color intensity. Below is the adjusted image.
Another way to strengthen the image is through thoughtful cropping. This photo of a Tricolored Heron has too much “dead” space.
Now there are times when dead space can be helpful. For example, we might want to add text above or below the bird’s head. But I wasn’t interested in using this for signage. Instead, I wanted the focus to be on the bird itself.
The solution was to crop it long, with proportions of 16 x 9. Now the focus is on the bird’s extended neck and face. We feel ourselves tense, almost as though we’re stalking with it. Do you notice the intensification of color?
Finally, let’s look at a picture of some Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. I had it in mind that I might want to do something with the reflections in the water, so I was sure to include it in my shot. But I later changed my mind, deciding to focus on the row of ducks. So I again cropped it long.
The only thing I disliked about this picture was that the righthand bird was ever so slightly out of focus. I was able to correct this a bit in editing, but this bird is still a bit softer than its peers.
Out of the day’s 200 shots, 71 (36%) were usable. From these, I selected 29 (15%) as my best.
Although field photography is rewarding and challenging, the day’s session is incomplete until its captures have been processed. The goal is to transform ordinary snapshots into something special.