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Post-Processing Bird/Wildlife Images In Luminar

The goal of post-processing is simple. You want to make your photos look the way you want them to before you share them.

Note I said “look the way you want them to.” There is no right or wrong. There is no absolutely perfect way to process a bird/wildlife photograph. There’s just YOUR way. Don’t let anyone else tell you how to do this. Simply decide what look you are going for, apply that look, and move on.

There is one key decision to make and that decision should be guided by your intended use of the image.

If you’re making images for natural history purposes, i.e., for use in textbooks, or for illustration in field guides, etc. then, you might want to keep the image as true-to-life as possible. If you are simply making art or an illustration for non-editorial use, then the sky is the limit. Let this one decision help frame how you proceed.

As for my own post-processing workflow, it’s pretty basic. I try to get as much right in the camera as possible. This is not because I am any kind of dogmatic photographer who says you can’t use tricks in post. It’s because I am lazy around computers, and besides, I would rather spend time with my finger on the shutter button than on a mouse button. But to each his own.

My main concerns in post are - in no particular order:

  • Cropping
  • White Balance Correction
  • Color Correction
  • Exposure Correction
  • Noise Reduction
  • Details/Sharpening

I just don’t do much in post beyond these basics and when I do these (or anything else) I often rely on a series of presets to help. (See more on presets below.)

You can also use a variety of plugins to adjust your images in Luminar. I love Macphun Intensify filters, and still use them, as well as Tonality (For B&W conversion) even though I can manually accomplish much of the same in Luminar itself. It just saves time.

Back to the basics - Let’s look at each of the above mentioned areas and just touch on them.

Reflection Crop

CROPPING

The main mistake most beginning bird/wildlife photographers make is cropping too much. I say that even though stylistically - I probably crop too tightly for some people’s tastes. I also rarely worry about crop ratios. I simply crop the way my eye sees the image. It’s a creative decision that I make, full well knowing the consequences. Most people will want to crop more conventionally than I do. Here is a basic example. The grebe photo above is the way I saw it in my mind when I shot it, leaving the reflection in the shot because it’s more powerful in my mind. The shot below is a tighter crop that doesn’t quite leave enough room around the bird and cuts off the reflection. But you may think just the opposite. For me, the rule here is - don’t crop too tight unless you have a very specific reason.

Tight Crop
Luminar's crop tool features a fantastic ratio tool that gives you many choices, including popular crops for images destined for use on social media.

WHITE BALANCE

This is easiest to get right in camera, but there may be times you miss the white balance or, that average white balance just doesn’t cut it. If you’re shooting RAW (and you probably should be) then it’s easy to fix this in post.

Luminar offers a filter called TONE and this is the first step in my own personal post processing workflow. You can eyeball this and most of the time you'll be dead on. What if you don't want a perfectly "normal" white balance?

I won’t spend much time discussing this other than to say I sometimes “cheat” the white balance. That is, I sometimes purposely make the picture too blue or too orange, etc., because I am going for a creative effect. Such was the case in the image below.

In the crane picture above, I wanted to silhouette the birds against the sky but I also wanted a dramatic color for the scene, so I set the WB to 2500 degrees kelvin (see the chart below) to make the scene appear even more red.

As long as you know what you want to do with any particular picture, you can set the WB any way you want. Most modern cameras do a very good job of setting a fairly appropriate "average" white balance or auto white balance, but for full control, set it manually according to the conditions at hand.

COLOR CORRECTION

This image has an unnatural blue cast which needs to be removed to make the photo look more realistic

This one is simple. I am going for a starting point that matches what I saw in the field. The biggest problems I have related to color correction are color casts. Since I often shoot outdoors, there may be a blue cast in my photographs from the reflecting sky. This is easy to remove in post, sometimes it can be corrected with a levels adjustment, still others by adjusting white balance, and still others by manually adjusting hue and saturation. I tend to work on this using Luminar's filter called REMOVE COLOR CAST.

After using Luminar's REMOVE COLOR CAST tool the image is no longer too blue

EXPOSURE CORRECTION

The black feathers on the duck are in the shadows and are blocked up. Using Luminar's SHADOWS/HIGHLIGHTS filter I opened up the shadows to balance the image exposure

By shooting in RAW, I give myself plenty of latitude to adjust exposure in post. The biggest worries here are blocking up the shadows or over-exposing the highlights. These problems can easily be corrected in Luminar. The Highlights/Shadows filter is super easy to use, and delivers "what-you-see-is-what-you-get" results.

Shadows opened up to balance the exposure

NOISE REDUCTION

Sometimes, the digital noise in a photograph becomes distracting. When that happens, you need to reduce the noise without reducing detail.

Open up a photo in Luminar and then click on the “Denoise” tool on the far right, pictured as a square of fading dots, just above the “Crop” tool scissors. This will bring you to the denoise screen, where you can control the strength and amount of noise reduction.

Here there are eight “Strength” options you can sample from, ranging from “Lightest,” recommended for blue skies, and “Extreme,” recommended for dark candle-lit interiors. You can also control the amount of each strength using the bar slider on the top right.

The image will automatically zoom in so you can view the effect in detail. You can easily zoom back out to see the whole scene by using the plus or minus zoom icons in the top left. The screen also offers an orange slider to drag over the photo so you can easily see the before and after effect. When you have the result you’re looking for, simply press “Apply” and the effect will be applied to the entire image, adding a new layer called “Denoise Layer.”

DETAILS/SHARPENING

While most of the steps I've outlined can be done in any order, I do like to sharpen last. I don't generally sharpen my master image. Since I will make different versions for web, social media and print - furthermore making different sizes of prints - I only sharpen on output unless I already know exactly how the image will be used going forward.

I use two different methods. The first is to use the Luminar Sharpen Tool.

How The Filter Works

Amount - Adjusts the amount of sharpness applied to the image.

Radius - Adjusts the distance away from contrast edges that the effect is applied. A lower number relates to more micro-sharpness.

Masking - The dynamic masking feature allows you to reveal details only in appropriate areas and helps refine the sharpness in your image.

This is an eagle photograph straight out of camera, without details or other processing in Luminar

The second method I use involves working with DETAILS as opposed to sharpening. For bird photographs I generally prefer this method. I use the ABSOLUTE CLARITY or BOLD DETAILS filters from Macphun Intensify - running as a plug-in, or I just use Luminar's DETAILS ENHANCER filter.

This is the same eagle photograph after adding details and basic processing in Luminar

FINAL THOUGHTS

Each photographer approaches the editing process differently. For me, speed is very important. I've always preferred fast workflows leading to increased field time. With that in mind, here are some final thoughts on how to speed up your workflow.

Adjust Your Workspace

Luminar Workspaces are a new and innovative way of working with your photos. By using one of Luminar’s built-in workspaces (or creating your own) you and the software can quickly adapt to the photo editing tasks at hand.

I created a custom workspace for my bird photo editing.

Use Presets

Some photographers have disdain for presets and consider that "cheating." My response is "How can I cheat if I do not compete?" This isn't a contest. We're trying to make images that are beautiful. Make it easy on yourself. Use presets. Presets allow you to make instant changes to your image with one click of a button. Each preset is made up of all the saved filters as well as the settings used for each of those filters.

The good news is that Luminar ships with tons of incredible presets that can help you find your own creative vision. These presets can be modified and you can make your own. Beyond these presets, you can download additional presets at the Macphun website and most of them are free.

Use A Consistent Workflow

Whatever your workflow, be consistent. If your goal is to save time, the important thing to remember is that you need to have a typical routine that you run through every time. The more often you use a consistent workflow, the more familiar you will become with the process and thus the speedier your edits.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Scott Bourne is a member of The Board Of Advisors at Macphun, an Olympus Visionary and a professional wildlife photographer, author and lecturer who specializes in birds. He was one of the founders of This Week In Photo, Founded Photofocus.com and is co-founder of the new Photo Podcast Network (photopodcasts.com.)

Scott is a regular contributor to several photography related blogs and podcasts and is the author of 11 photography books.

Scott is available to speak to your birding group, photography group and for both private and small group bird photography workshops. For more information on engaging Scott as a speaker or workshop leader, or for image licensing and print information, e-mail scott@scottbourne.com.

Credits:

Copyright Scott Bourne 2017 - All Rights Reserved - scottbourne.com - scottbourne.photography

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