Wildlife and Nature Photography Tips 14 - Stacking – Nothing is Ever Perfect


When I am shooting images, there are instances when I have this “Ah, that’s the one.” moment. How does this happen? It is usually by patience, timing, studying the subject, lighting adjustments, focusing, camera angle, and the myriad of other possibilities that make the image just right.

But here is the thing that was puzzling me. Once I have the image on disk, I migrate to the Post Processing (PP) part of the work to actually pull off the magic and have something I enjoy as a final result. So the big question is, "If it is "The Shot", why do I need to do any more work to it"?

After much deliberating, mulling over the great philosophical possibilities, and talking to my psychiatrist, I came up with “Crap, I have been doing this for so long, I just seem know what the tools I use can do, and how they will finish the job. That’s it.” It is nothing special, just darn ‘ol familiarity with the subject and of course plenty of practice.

Now let’s view the images I have posted below. In the first set, you will see some over-exposed, out of focus images. But what I saw was the potential for the viewer to see the original image I was attempting to capture. What I was viewing in the viewfinder was a finished image. Yes, the exposure is not perfect, YET. Yes, in some of them highlights are blown out, I’ll DEAL WITH IT.. Yes, some of them are not totally in focus, PART OF THE PLAN, etc., etc., etc. But here is the deal. I know I am stacking the images. The three images here are but three of 15 shots capturing the organism at different depths of focus. The vegetation and subject were on different focusing planes, so I had to capture many of them. Later in PP I mushed them together. That doesn't sound very technical, but all of the sharp bits were blended together.

The next thing I saw was the “not so perfect” vegetation. This required post work in plant repair. I think of myself as an photo arborist. So I got to work with cloning and masking things in the plants that I wanted or didn’t want.

The other thing that presents itself in Aquatic organism captures are the things floating in the water and the reflections and refractions from the surface of the glass chamber within which the subject is confined. Small particles become very apparent as the computer blends the various ones at various depths in the image. They have to be culled with some sort of cloning tool.

As you can see by the final image, there is a much cleaner, and refined image to view. Things that were distracting in each individual capture begin to fade away, and I was left with a rendition that more matches what I wanted the viewer to enjoy.

Last, but certainly not the least important was the cropping, exposure adjustments, and sharpening.

Is the image a knock out, stunning shot? Not necessarily, but it is a moment that I thought revealed the true setting and organism in its habitat. So when you are looking for the “Perfect Stack”, search for content and image composition. Many of the smaller things can be dealt with in PP.

When you see the photographic artwork from other photographers, especially the famous ones, know that they do not possess magical powers that let them press the button on their cameras, and render the fine quality image you see as a result. They have spent many hours in the digital darkroom to construct a powerful image from good content.

If you are taking digital images, practice with the best tools you have – the computer and software. I use On1 Photo 10 for almost all of my editing work. It is very fast and easy to learn. No need to pay monthly for the pleasure of renting the software either.

Good luck, and productive shooting.

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