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Lesson 14 from: Beginner's Guide to Bird Photography

Ben Knoot

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Lesson Info

14. Post-Processing

Lesson Info


After a full day of shooting, the very first thing I do, I go home, I download my images into Adobe Lightroom, and then I can review them for editing. So let's go ahead and take a look at some of the stuff we got today. My first process is, once everything is downloaded, I go into the library, which is just G on your computer, in Adobe Lightroom. That will show you all the photos that you were able to capture. And then you can just go through them, and there's different ways you can sort them. Everyone has their own method. Essentially, what I do though, is I just use the starring method. So anything that I like, anything I think I want to edit, I just give a five star, and then at the very end, I select only the five stars to look at. Then I start my editing process. So first, let's go through some photos. The very first thing we saw today was the Lewis's woodpecker with the berry. And if you remember from that, what I was looking for, was for the woodpecker to be looking left, becaus...

e the branch that it was on was going diagonal right, so I want him looking left, so that he looks into the negative space of the frame. Looks like we got a couple here, let's check these out. Blurry head, so that's caused by just a slower shutter speed and he moved a little bit, so I didn't grab that one. That one looks okay. So if I think one looks okay, first let it load all the way, and then I zoom in, just to make sure it's sharp. This one's a little soft. So just missed the focus on that one, but I know it's in a stream of good ones. So what I'm gonna do is I'm just gonna hit the arrow. This is a good one. So we've got one here. Good eye contact, looking left, you can see all three berries in his mouth. Everything is exposed nicely, and again, he's looking the way I want him to. So we're gonna keep this one. So I'm gonna ahead and give that one a five. Now, once I've done this, I've got the shot that I know I want. What you can do is you can look and see if there's any sharper ones, but I'm really happy with that one, so I'm just gonna move on from that entire shoot, actually. So I'm just gonna scroll. Unless I see something that's dramatically different, like if the wings are open, or if the background's changed completely, I'm gonna move on. I'm not interested, personally, in keeping ten shots that look exactly the same, I'll just pick one. The next thing we saw was that robin with that really nice pink background. So let's see if we've got any there. Again, I'm gonna be looking, this one can either go, he can be looking left or right, but I preferred him looking left. So what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna go through some of these images and look and see what we have for that. A couple here that have some good eye contact. Let's check those out. That one looks a bit soft. That one's blurry, so I moved. It was tricky, so when you shoot from a car, as well, often times you will be leaning, which means you're in a less stable position. So it's a good idea to increase your shutter speed more than you would normally. Which is just not something I thought about at the time. Just keep thinking about things like that. This one looks good. That one's pretty good. Aright, cool, so we've got a sharp one there. So I'm gonna give that one a five. And again, got a nice shot of it, so I can move onto the next bird. Okay, so now that we've gotten to these two here, he's changed positions a little bit, so I'm gonna go ahead and look at those and see if I got him. Looks like I missed that one. And I missed that one. So missed them both, and that's okay. But I've got the one that I wanted already. Looks like I have a couple more here, but what I want to get to are the ones where I took the teleconverter off to get a little more of the perch. Let's see if any of those came out nice. This one looks pretty cool. I like the way he's looking over his right shoulder into the negative space of the frame. So I think I'll crop it kind of like this. You can see my mouse tracing where I'd like to crop it. So I think, yeah, that's pretty good. So I'll keep that one, make that a five. And again, quickly go through the other ones, make sure there's not a better head angle or wing position or anything like that. Doesn't look like it. There's a flight attempt, see I missed that. (laughs) Blurry. That's okay. So I've got those, so we'll go ahead and move on now. And then, of course, the empty perch shot. You'll get a lot of those, and that's okay. I still get plenty of empty perches, and that's just what happens. Currently, in my current state, I keep about 1% of the photos I end up with the day. If I have a really, really, really good day, it's about 5%. I would encourage you to keep more than that, as you start to learn, you can start to dwindle that number down, but keeping more of those will help you look and see where your style's going and how you can better adapt to change your style if you want or how to just improve your current style. All right, let's go into the nuthatches, these were fun. So we got one guy up here, I'm not a huge fan of this stick that's sticking out to the side of him, but I can get rid of that, with Lightroom, so let's see if we have a sharp one here. Aww, that's awesome. That's really sharp. Look at that detail, it's fantastic. So we got some great detail there. Nice background, but again we've got that stick. But we can get rid of that later. So I'll make that a five. And again, I'm just gonna scroll out to where I can see everything, and I'm gonna just skip all the ones that look relatively the same, because that one is, that's pretty much as sharp as you can get. So I don't need those. Don't need those. I use the grid mode in Library to really look at everything very generally. I can pretty much determine at this point, in my editing process, if I want to edit it, just by looking at the grid. And for the most part, these are gonna be a no. And here we have the pygmy owl image, the one I was telling you about with the branch that was coming towards me. We can see here, you see how that branch on the right there is out of focus? And that's because the pygmy nuthatch and the branch run different focal planes, and I was only shooting f/4. I don't even think at f/22 those would have come both into focus. So really that's just kind of something you have to watch out for when you're selecting your perch. Or when the bird is on that perch, if you're able to move and get everything on the same plane, that's best. Sometimes that's not an option, though, and you just have to go with what you got. I do have it on a different perch that I liked better, I'm pretty sure. Here's the perch that I wanted him on, and if you notice, he's not there. That's because I was too slow and I missed him. That happens all the time. So let's keep going. Here he is on the perch again. All right, so these look like some fun ones here. This is when both of them went up there. So, what we have to do now, is we have to go through these and see. We wanted one with both of them looking at us, that's key. If that didn't happen, it'll just be a little weird having one looking off into the distance, while other is looking at you. So let's go through these real quick. Okay, maybe this one here. Looks like we got this one at the top. This one's king of looking off. That's not bad. I'll probably keep it. It's not something I'm super pleased with. And then this one, actually, will be a fun shot, just for the single one at the top, here. Yeah, so we'll keep that one for the single at the top. Good. I don't think there's any more there. Oh, this one looks fun. Yeah, that's nice. That's nice. Look at how he's straddling this Y spot on the perch, that looks really cool, so we'll keep that. All right, and that's the end there. I didn't capture this pewee, I'm pretty sure, but just double check. Always double check your images. You never know, he might have turned his head really quickly towards your camera, but I didn't get him there. Finally, the ruddy ducks at the end, this was really cool. I got some with some nice light. I really like this. It's a little hard to see without the post process, but these are gonna turn into something really cool. I really like the way these are highlighted, so this is the back-lit situation. This is what I mean by all those things that are really thin, or they're the bugs, water droplets, they create this sparkle effect that's really, really cool. So these will be fun once we post process. This one looks pretty good as well, just double check. Yeah, that one's nice. So we'll keep that. Now, essentially what I do, I go down here, into your toolbar and you just select all the fives. That's in your filter area, actually, I'm sorry, not your toolbar. Here's your filter down here. You just go and you select "Rated" and this star area will come up. And then you select your fives. And then everything that you five-starred will come up. So let's see, here's our lewis's woodpeckers, our robins, nuthatches, and ruddy ducks. So now once I've got all my five stars, what I do is I go through them. If I have ones that are relatively similar, I'll pick my favorite. So, for instance, these two nuthatch shots. Pretty similar, but remember, I actually want to do different things with these. So with this one, I'm gonna try to combine them both, see what happens. With this one I'm just gonna go with the top. So let's go ahead and edit this one first. Once you get into develop mode, which is just shortcut D on your computer, the first thing I like to do is crop. That way I know exactly what image I'm working with. So that's this crop tool here on the right. You can either pinch in here, or you can enter in your own dimensions. I use custom, but a lot of people like 8x10, 4x5, whatever you wanna use. Again, I do custom. Something you can work on when you get a little more advanced is working on your Rule of Thirds. For now, I would really just focus on getting that bird nice and crisp and clear, but essentially you can see where I'm putting this bird is in an intersecting column and a row. And again, looking into the frame, and then your eye is naturally drawn to edges, so I'm putting the left side of the perch on the left side of the frame and then it swoops down into the frame, also where the bird is looking, so it's got this flow kind of with it, and that's part of the compositional aspect of photography. Okay, so once I've got the crop, if you can see this little blue highlight here, that's Lightroom telling me I've lost details in the blacks. And that you can see up here, that I've highlighted this triangle here. If I unclick that, it'll go away. If I click it, it'll come back. This right one here is for whites. And that'll turn red, I can actually just, here, I'll manipulate that real quick. So you see the red here on the perch is telling me the detail in the whites has been lost. I'm not gonna do that, obviously. So just get that back to neutral to start. A lot of people edit with histogram. I don't really edit with histogram. I pretty much just look at my image. When I'm happy with it, I'm happy with it. And I'll tell you why, and that's because for artistic thing things, most artistic things are not histogram appropriate. So, for instance, just jumping ahead a little bit, if we go to the ruddy ducks, we go into develop here, actually, the ruddy ducks are fine, but when we edit it, I'm gonna get these highlights, I'm gonna get those a lot brighter, and those actually should turn red. We'll check when I edit, but they should turn red. Meaning I've lost detail in the white, but I don't want to bring those down, because I want that effect. So it's not something that you have to edit with, the histogram. It's something you should look at. So, for instance, if I can get rid of the blue, I'll get rid of the blue. So all you do to get rid of the blue, is you use the shadows or the blacks slider. Shadows are gonna make the shadows brighter. So if I slide that up, you can see the blue going away there. We also see the image starts to become kind of washed. So here, I'll put it all the way back down, and you can see the darker areas get a lot darker, and then when I go back up all the way, they get a lot lighter. But you gotta be careful with this, because it turns your image a little gray. It kind of starts to wash out your image, so really you just wanna go roughly until either you're happy with it, or until histogram says you're okay. The other option is to use the blacks slider, and the blacks slider will just affect the blacks. So essentially, when you lower the blacks slider, that's making the blacks blacker, when you raise the slider, so you go positive, it's making the blacks grayer. Again, I wouldn't go super high up, because then it looks super washed out, but if you do it just where the histogram says you're okay, then I think it generally and actually it still looks good most of the time. So that's about there, so +11 for the blacks got rid of the black. As you can see, I have no loss of detail on the whites. The color is nicely balanced. It doesn't really need a whole lot of contrast. You can see what the contrast does, makes it look like it was taken mid-day, more mid-day than the sweet morning light that I took in. The lower contrast also has a washed out effect, so I don't mess around too much with contrast, unless it's needed. So unless I did take something mid-day, then I usually lower it a little bit. I'm gonna probably move the contrast up by about one to two, it looks like I did three. One to two to three values. It just gives it a little more pop that I like in an image. I don't need to mess around with the highlights, but essentially what they do are all the bright spots, they just make them brighter. If you increase the highlights, it makes the bright spots brighter. And then if you decrease them, it makes them, again, grayer and a little more washed out. I don't need to mess with those, because the highlights are fine in the original image. Shadows we already went over. Whites, like blacks, it makes the intensity of that value more or less, so if I go up, it'll make the whites whiter, if I go down, it'll make the whites grayer. Again, it's not something you wanna overdo on the gray side, make your image washed out. But again, I exposed the whites fine, so we don't have to mess with that. Clarity is, think of clarity kind of like the softness or hardness of your pencil, when you're drawing or when you're tracing. So a lot of clarity is like a superfine pencil, you can see I just upped it all the way there. Everything is very defined. And then if I go all the way down, it starts to look more like a washed out oil painting. That's definitely not something you want, but I also don't really want everything defined. A lot of people want these really really crisp, well-defined images, but it just looks unnatural. So actually, where I had it, at neutral, how I took it, just fine. The dehaze feature's really cool. It, again, will give you this kind of washed out look, but also changes the color a little bit. So it makes everything super, super crisp. It's very similar to clarity, but I like the feature a little better, so I usually give things a little positive boost for dehaze. I want to stress the importance, before moving onto anything else, of trying your best to take the photo that you want in-camera, instead of making it in post processing. It's a lot easier to edit very slight things than to create your whole image in editing. Most of my editing, this one's just taking a little longer because I'm explaining everything, but most of my editing is done in roughly three to five minutes. That's it. That's maximum for an image. Unless I have to do some serious doctoring like cloning or wing repair, which is a little more advanced, so we won't go over that kind of stuff, but that will take a little longer, like 20 or 30 minutes, but basic editing should be done in five minutes, if you can help it. While you're learning, it's not a huge deal, but as you start to progress, you should notice your editing time getting lower and lower. Moving onto vibrancy and saturation. So these are two different things that people often get confused. I just like to think of vibrancy, and to be frank, I don't know the exact separation between the two, I like to think of them as vibrancy is the intensity of the color and saturation is the amount of color. So when I up the vibrancy, see how the blues just get super, super blue. All the yellows get super, super yellow. And that doesn't look very good. And then with the saturation, everything just becomes, like it kind of spreads out more. So that's kind of how I like to think about it. I know that's not the technical term, but the other thing, I like vibrance a little more, so I'll usually up that, but then to counter it, I'll actually subtract a little bit of the saturation to balance it out a little bit, so it looks pretty natural. But again, not too much. So you can see here, these are my basic edits, really nothing major. No exposure, because with the mirrorless, you can expose properly in your photos. So there really shouldn't be too many exposure adjustments. Not high on contrast. Shadows, highlights, whites, and blacks were all pretty easy to manipulate, because again, when you expose it in the camera correctly, your editing should be very little. Clarity, dehazer, vibrance, and saturation, I usually play around with that little bit, just because your eye can see so much better than the camera, any camera. And the camera's never gonna get the colors the way you saw it, so it's your responsibility when editing to create the image that you saw, but not to over-produce the image. Scrolling down, I don't use the tone curve area too much. Only if the image has a lot of problems and you need a lot of fix. So we'll skip that. This is a cool feature. I don't use it often, but this is selective color saturation and hue and luminance. I'll touch on this a little bit. Essentially, you can pick just the blues in the image and saturate those. You see that? Or you can pick, let's see, he's got a lot of orange in him, so we'll pick the orange and you see that I can saturate just the oranges, but beware this does it for the entire photo. So this is not like paintbrushing. There is a paintbrush tool, but that's for a little more advanced work. Split toning, you can ignore that for now. That's a little more advanced. Detail, this is where you do some sharpening and noise reduction. Noise is caused by high ISOs. It's that grainy look that you get on your camera. It's usually caused by a high ISO. Most cameras have a pretty good ISO until about 3200, and then you start seeing some grain, and you can fix that in here. So let's start with the sharpness. This little square here, this is like the navigator for your computer, so let's put that on the head. What I always do is I take the amount of sharpening up, just until it starts to get kind of grainy in the background, and then I turn the radius down, because the radius is like the outline of the pixel, it'll make it bigger. It's a way to kind of band-aid a really out of focus photo, but that's really advance, because you need to know how to balance the detail radius and the amount. So for now focus on the sharp images and then move your radius down a little bit. Detail, I move that down just a little bit from where it normally starts. It starts at 25 and I usually move it down to about 15, just because I don't like that super crisp look, like that a high clarity gives you. Next up is noise reduction. I always zoom in on the actual picture for this one, just so I can really see. Noise is going to be most prevalent in dark areas. So kind of this area, by his ear here, where he's got the black. The area under the tail and by the wing. Those are going to be the most prevalent noise areas. This one's not too bad on noise, because I actually took this at ISO 400, and on my Olympus, that's plenty. I mean, that's fine, it does a really, really good job. You get all this information, by the way, by hitting I on your keyboard. So noise reduction, honestly I don't need any, but I'm gonna show you what it does. Noise reduction, if you put this all the way up, you can see how you lose all your detail here in the feathers, and you might think that Detail will bring that all back, but it really doesn't. So what I would recommend, is I don't go above 60, and then Detail, I do use, but I leave at its default, which is 50. So I don't go above 60, but on this one, I really don't need it, so I'm gonna put it back. So that way I maintain all the detail that the camera was able to capture. Once I'm done with that, that's the end basic stuff. So once I'm done with that, I enter fullscreen mode. I look at it, make sure I'm happy with it. And I'm happy with this one, so once I'm done with it, I decide what I want to do with it afterwards. If it goes on my website, it gets a specific color. If it goes to Instagram, it gets a specific color. If it's just done, and I don't want to use it for anything, it just keeps its five star, and then I move onto something else. So once I move onto something else, or to move onto something else, hit G. Get back into your grid mode. And I'm actually really looking forward to this ruddy duck image, so let's go ahead and edit that. Let me pick my favorite here. I like this one. I like this one a lot. I got four of the babies, the mom looking at me, and I have some great, there's just so many bugs and lots of water sparkling effects. Let's go ahead and do that. This is a little more of an artistic edit, so I'm really not going to pay attention to the histogram, because it's not gonna agree with me at all. First things first, let's go ahead and crop it. For this one, I have five ducks in a row, and I want all all these sparkling effects, I want as many bugs as possible, so it's gonna be a bit of a bigger crop. It's not gonna be tight. This is more about looking at the scene, and this is more artistic composition. And again, I'm doing a custom crop, because I don't go with the aspects that Lightroom has available for you. This is the angling, so when you have it in the corner, I don't always take straight-on photos, sometimes they're a little crooked. So this is the angling method here, you just grab the corner and wait for your arrows to kind of go like that. And then you can switch it. The other cool thing you can use is this angle tool. You just grab that, click one point that you think is straight with another point and drag the mouse to the other point. I'm gonna guess these two are about straight. And then it'll rotate. I actually got it right, turning it on my own, but it'll rotate to where it thinks it's straight. So I like that crop, that's cool, I have all of these sparkles down here at the bottom. I have all these bugs up here. She's swimming a little bit out of the frame, but I do have all of the other ducklings behind her, so it's still leading you into the frame, because you're naturally drawn to the edge, the first thing you see is this baby on the right here. And then that just follows you in, and then what's even better is the momma's looking right at me. So it actually just stops your focus right there. If she was looking left, you would actually keep looking left, and then that would kind of draw you out of the frame, which is not something you want. So let's go ahead and adjust the exposure a little bit. So you can see as it gets brighter, you see here, here are the red spots that I was telling you about. And here, I'm gonna ignore those. I'm not gonna make it that bright. I actually liked it a little darker. There we go, but we still have some of the red spots. You see on her bill and some of the babies' necks, and that's fine. So I'm not gonna worry about those. What I want, since we were looking directly into the sun, and because it was morning, it was still quite warm, but the camera couldn't capture that, so what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna adjust the temperature, and the temperature is up here at the top. We didn't look at that one last time, because it just didn't need it, but the temperature essentially, if you move it to the right, it just makes everything warmer. So you can see everything got a little warmer there. Warmer is more of a yellowy-orange color. And then if you move it to the left everything gets cooler, which is a bluey-purple color. Just as a helpful tip, if you ever need to get back to the default, or how you took it, just double click on the slider arrow and that'll put you to the default. So I'm gonna make it a tad warmer here, because I want a little more warmth. That's nice, okay. Now the big one here that's gonna effect this is contrast, because we were shooting right into the sun. So you can see how the contrast really washes that out if you move it all the way to the left. We definitely don't want that. So I'm actually gonna move it up a tad, because I want some serious edges in this shot. Once we've don that, we're gonna play with the highlights. I kind of actually just like to slide the highlight around like willy-nilly, just to kind of see what it does, and then kind of stop where I think I like it, and then slightly adjust from there. So I actually like the highlights a little up. And again, we've got the red marks, but that's okay. We're just gonna ignore those. For the shadows, we definitely don't wanna bring those up, because that's gonna give it a washed out look. And actually, I'm bringing it down, and I'm noticing that it's not changing that much, because my shadows are pretty much as dark as they're gonna get, so that's fine. Whites, same thing. We don't wanna bring those up too high, but actually the higher up we bring them, the more the spots become prevalent, so we do want it up more, but just not too much to where we lose all the darkness, because the darkness is actually what makes this photo very fun. The dark, the yellow, and the light is very beautiful. Okay, so once we've got that, the blacks we're gonna move back down to get everything nice and dark, awesome, okay. And then clarity. Clarity on this one is tricky, so you don't wanna lose too much of the definition from all of the sparkling aspects, but actually the softer they look, the more kind of heavenly they look. You know what I mean? So you actually do want to decrease. I'm gonna decrease the clarity a little bit, not too much, but then I'm gonna counter it with the dehaze, which also adds this fun, serious depth kind of effect. Vibrance, again I'm gonna boost that up a little bit, and I'm gonna drop my saturation down a little bit. Again, that's just something that I prefer. You can totally do whatever you like there, but I prefer the look of more vibrance and less saturation than more saturation and less vibrance. All right, so that's the basic edits and I think it's looking really good. Again, to get rid of the blue and the red that you're seeing there, just click on the triangles. And then you can see you image unimpeded. And I'm looking at it, and it's actually still a bit crooked. So I'm gonna go back into crop, and I'm gonna re-angle it just a little bit. There we go. Sometimes you need to lean back a little bit, I find that helps a lot. I think this is looking really cool. So let's go ahead and go down to sharpening and noise reduction. We don't need to do any color correction or anything like that. So again, I'm having trouble finding it in the little screen by dragging it, so I can just use the square. I'm gonna go over to the mom. Look at how many bugs she's got around her. That's very cool. All right, this one was a little further away, so we can give it a lot of sharpness and it won't affect the image too much, because everything is further away, so you can actually just sharpen a lot. Bring down the detail a little bit, and definitely bring down that radius for this one, because we don't want them highlighted. We want the highlights and the bugs highlighted in this one. All right, so for noise reduction, this one, again, also is not too noisy, because let's see what ISO. By hitting I, again, I took this one at 400 as well. So the camera is fine, so remember I'll give it a little bit, just because, honestly, I'm really liking this one. I may want to have it on my website, so I'm gonna spend a little more time on this, making sure it's really, really nice before I put it up there. So I'm gonna give it a little bit of noise reduction. I'm gonna up the detail just a tad, just to keep a little bit of what was lost. There's a very fun trick with the paintbrush tool on noise reduction. Essentially, what you do, it's pretty advanced, so I'll just explain it really quickly, but essentially, you move your luminance and noise reduction up to a certain value. Say it's 70 for the entire image. And then you go into your paintbrush, which is up here. It's the one on the very end. And then you paint your subject, and then you move the noise slider, you move that down to the exact same value that you put your luminance at, that means, what it's essentially done, is it's noise-reduced everything but your subject, keeping your subject nice and detailed. Because that's what we want in the end. I won't do that, because that takes some time, and for this one I'd have to do every single duck, and this is just not an image that's very close, so there's not gonna be a whole lot of detail anyway in this image anyway, this is more of an artistic edit. So that's not necessary for this one. But okay, so once you've got your sharpness and your noise reduction done, go ahead and hit fullscreen. And wait for it to load. And I think that looks pretty cool, I've got a lot of sparkles here. All the ducks are looking at me, that's very cool, even the last baby. They've all got their head turned. Nice dark background. Great composition with flow. And it's just a very interesting photo to look at, rather than just a bird in the water, so to speak. So that's pretty much my process for editing. Again, this was a little longer than normal. Normally, they're about three to five minutes, unless it's a super, super edit, in which case it's about 20 to 30. This is something that you're gonna only get better at with practice. Editing is just as much a part of bird photography as the actual photo taking. It's how you make your image what you saw out there, because your camera can't capture what you can with your eyes.

Ratings and Reviews


I liked this class. It gives beginners a great place to start photographing birds. I especially liked his lesson on post-processing. Too many classes skip that part. The use of bird calls is what it is. To be competitive in bird photography you probably have to use them. I personally won't; it's just not worth it to me. So nice to see a young person active in this field!

Colleen Church

This class is wonderful. Ben give you some very helpful information to starting your photo birding adventures. The apps he suggested are very helpful. The tips for scouting and what to look get you going. I will definitely be watching it again.

a Creativelive Student

I really enjoyed this course. The instructor doesn't beat around the bush. He gives you useful information that you can implement. I especially loved that he talks about apps on your phone that could be used to make your experience more fruitful. The only thing I didn't like was the advertisement for Olympus, but you can just skip that part.

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