Wow, every image I take comes out just the way I wanted it. Boy would I love to be able to say that with confidence. But, the real truth of the matter is…it just doesn’t happen that way in Nature Photography - or any other photography for that matter. But there are things you can do to help the image be “All That It Can Be” so to speak.
There are always things in nature you have little, or no, control over. One of these things is the way the subject looks. Heaven knows there is a good reason why you never see photos of me. Probably too much post processing would be involved for the final product. That being said, there are many things you can do for wildlife - flora, and fauna to be sure, that will sometimes just polish off the shot, and at times, greatly enhance an otherwise throwaway image.
Here is an example of a snake I photographed in Belize this past Summer (above). The herpetologist studying the area caught this specimen in one of his traps and inquired if I would like to take a few shots before its release. Since this was the first, but not last, snake over two meters we were to collect, I was very interested in capturing a few images.
Closer inspection (fig 1) revealed the snake had sustained many injuries while growing to the two meter length. This is not uncommon, but it adds difficulties with final image appearance.
(NOTE: If the image was to be used for biological or scientific representations of this species, some of the special cloning to remove scarring would not be used as I prefer to show the subject in accurate detail. ) But this was a view I thought would be of interest as a more “arty” look at the subject, so let us proceed.
The first image (above fig 1) illustrates the full frame view of the initial photograph. The first determination was where to do the cropping. I wanted to eliminate many of the highlights, as I often find them distracting to the subject presentation.
The second image (fig 2) shows what it looked like after the crop. This is when I decided to apply adjustments to the image globally, meaning to the overall photo and not targeting specific areas yet. Exposure, contrast, saturation, vibrancy, were adjusted, as was a bit of detail. Most sharpening for me is done as one of the final processes in image editing.
During the global processing, especially when adjusting clarity and contrast, the soft background is no longer soft, but will gather small clumping or kind of a grainy feel to the image (fig 3). If you are looking for that, leave it in, but I often remove the noise and graininess from most images. I used a blur filter and set the tools to 15% opacity, brushing over spots that I want to be less distracting in the final composition.
Now the selection in fig 4 indicates the areas of highlights that I found most distracting. The scales and skin on herps (reptiles and amphibians), are a real challenge as they reflect any amount of light striking in high values. I try to eliminate that from the shots - both on the subject and the setting when possible.
Fig 5 shows the selected areas for my next targeted attack – the damage scales, dust and scratch marks on the eye, etc. Using the clone tool, I am able to tap into the color and direction for applying a “skin”, for lack of a better term at the moment, to cover the scarred snake. This takes a bit of time. Look at any patterning in the area that you are bringing the cloning in from. Match direction and color the best you can.
The last step in the process (fig 6), I have added a sunshine filter to warm up the cold shady look to the snake since it was shot in the shade. I also added a bit of sharpening to draw the viewer to the eyes and away from the cloning repairs as much as possible.
When done, it all boils down to whether you like the final result. You will view it later and find something else you could have done. Be sure to save the different steps so you can come back to them and re-edit if necessary.
All of the work I performed on this subject was done in On1 Photo Suite. I do not work for them, but I have found their software both robust in features and very easy to learn.
On you next photo excursion, don’t fixate on the perfect, but concentrate on the value of the wonderful subject you can make ”The Best It Can Be”. And of course, happy shooting.