Pushing their equipment to the limit, Khushboo And Rahul has mastered the art of low-light wildlife imagery. They reveals the stories behind some of their most successful shots
Always shoot with the sun at your back’ is a trick popular with many wildlife photographers. Not us. While front lighting can be attractive and is easy to work with, we prefer to photograph our wildlife subjects at the very edge of light, pushing the limits of our equipment and our creativity. Extreme and low-light wildlife photography presents many unique challenges, but the rewards for your efforts are moody and expressive images that really stand out from the crowd.
we have been a professional photographer for 12 years, and along with landscape and travel photography, wildlife is one of our specialities. we love it because it adds an expressional dimension that is often missing when shooting landscapes; with wildlife, your subject’s pose, behaviour and expressions can enhance the overall visual design of your photographs, and connect emotionally with viewers in a way that is completely different from other types of photography. With all of our imagery, however, we look to move beyond the literal, getting creative with composition, light, and exposure, to transform our subjects into something artistic and unexpected. When shooting wildlife, we work with extremes of light to help me create images that bring our vision to life.
Read more at https://www.amateurphotographer.co.uk/technique/wildlife_photography/low-light-wildlife-photography-tips-116740#Ohq8y16PHXgeWEOx.99
Post-production of wildlife images: Getting the best image from your RAW file using Adobe photoshop cc
There are those wildlife photography moments when you just can’t believe your luck – you’re at the right place at the right time, your camera is dialed in and working, and you’re getting some of the best shots of your life…or so you think until you get home and look at your images on a bigger screen. Now, you see your subject is smaller than you recall, is perhaps obscured by foreground elements you didn’t notice in the moment, and your exposure…well, it just seems off. In short, your images just don’t seem to have captured that moment in the way you remember experiencing it. In my experience, there are few if any wildlife images that are not improved by some post-production work. In this article, we will walk through a typical workflow for processing photos in Adobe Lightroom and illustrate how to get the most of any photo.
Photography is complicated enough to get your head around, without throwing in the need to process images on the computer after a shoot. That’s an entirely different kettle of fish. Opening up Lightroom or Photoshop can be pretty daunting for those who aren’t tech-savvy or seasoned post production veterans. We’ve all been there, but constant practice helps you to develop a general workflow that can be applied to all of your photos.
Aim towards the light
When working in strong light, we shoot at extreme angles for dramatic effect. For this shot of a desert fox (see above), we waited until the setting sun was low enough for the light to be warm and colourful, but still high enough for the light to be much brighter than the shadows, resulting in a significant amount of contrast. we aimed my camera towards the light, creating strong backlighting. we intentionally underexposed the image to show the highlights but allowed everything else to fall into deep shadow, revealing only the colourful rim lighting around the edge of the animal. The outline is instantly recognisable.
Work with flash
we love working in low light as well. we recently went on an extended backcountry trip to the Kedarnath wildlife sanctuary , home to the beautiful civit cats. . One evening, one came down to a dramatic wilderness gorge, getting ready to climb down the cliffs to their nighttime roost. we took many pictures of cooperative geladas poised on the edge of the cliff overlooking the gorge, using fill flash at low power (-2 or -3 flash compensation) to gently illuminate the animals against the darkening landscape under a dramatic twilight sky. we have found that the combination of creative exposure and supplemental light can yield moody and expressive wildlife pictures. When working with flash, we often use a number of accessories to avoid an obviously ‘flashed’ look: a flash bracket allows me to angle the light, for example, and attachments such as a flash grid or snoot allow me to narrow the flash beam so that we can selectively illuminate my subject. It’s always worth experimenting.
Simplify the composition
So, the next time you are out taking photographs, don’t be afraid to push past the ‘safe’ light so often utilised by others. Delve deep into extreme and low-light situations. If you embrace the technical and artistic challenges offered by these conditions, you will end up with shots that challenge perceptions and show viewers something they have never seen before.
Step 1: Cropping
The first thing we will do to an image is to fine-tune the composition with some cropping adjustments. This might not always be necessary, but it is difficult to get it entirely perfect in the camera. This might be because you are limited in how far you can get close to, or zoom in on, your subject. It may be that you were handholding the lens, and without the ability to hold the camera rocksteady like a tripod, a general swaying motion will render compositions slightly ‘off’.
Step 2: Lens Corrections
This is something I’ve only relatively recently started to do to some of my photos. They don’t all get this treatment, but removing vignetting and distortion caused by your lens is very easy in Lightroom.
Just look at the ‘Lens Corrections’ module in the Develop window. Select ‘Enable Profile Corrections’ and you should see the brand and model of your lens pop up underneath. If you pay attention to the photo, you’ll see that it removes any distortion caused by the lens, and appears to ‘flatten’ the image. It’s almost as if you’re looking at a print of your photo that isn’t entirely flat on the table, and the lens corrections module just spreads it completely flat against the surface.
Step 3: Sort the Exposure
The following adjustments are going to be using the ‘Basic’ module of the Develop window. This is where you can make your standard raw adjustments.
When we first started taking photos, we would find myself making fairly drastic adjustments to the exposure slider in order to brighten and balance an exposure. This was due to poor technique, but nowadays we rarely touch the exposure slider itself. This is a good thing, meaning that we am getting fairly good at achieving proper exposure in camera, if we may say so! It just comes with practice though, so don’t worry if you need to move that slider to properly exposure your image.
For this shot though, the highlights on the white feathers are a little blown. This is unavoidable sometimes, and I’ve chosen to expose the rest of the image properly at the expense of the feather details. It’s no trouble though – that detail is still there hidden away. Pulling back the ‘Highlights’ slider slightly calms down the burning whites. Take a look at this before and after close-up.
It’s a slight but noticeable difference. If you’re going to make adjustments like this though, it is important that you calibrate your monitor. Otherwise, you could find yourself overexposing or underexposing an image within seconds. we recommend using the Spyder 5 from Datacolor for this.
If I’m being honest, this image doesn’t need much adjustment at all for the exposure. But we will usually find myself playing with the shadows slider too, to bring back detail lost in the blacks. Highlights & Shadows are a big part of any photographer’s workflow, and they are a gift when it comes to recovering detail in a photo. It’s amazing what kind of information is retained when shooting in raw.
If you’ve hugely overexposed an image in raw format, take it into Lightroom and pull the Highlights to -100 and the exposure slider down pretty far. You’ll be surprised how much information comes back. If areas remain burnt out white, then that information is lost forever.
Step 4: Check the White Balance
One of the great things about a raw file is that you can adjust the white balance in hindsight, rather than having to get it perfect in camera. Altering the white balance has no negative effects with a raw file, but can degrade a JPEG.
For this photo we haven’t needed to make an adjustment, but if your photo appears to have an orange tint, then pull the ‘Temperature’ slider to the left a bit. If it appears to have a blue tint, then pull it to the right.
A great way to sort your white balance is to use the dropper tool. If you use it to select an area in the photo that should be perfectly white, it’ll adjust the temperature and tint sliders to reflect a proper white balance. You can fine-tune this of course, but it’s definitely a good starting point.
Step 5: Bring Back the Colour
Now is the time to make the image pop! we love this stage of my workflow. It’s when the image really starts to resemble what we saw through the lens.
Raw files always look washed out, so to bring back the colour you need to harness the power of the ‘Vibrance’ and ‘Saturation’ sliders. Always start with adjusting the vibrance. It pulls out and enhances the colours that are already there. The saturation slider should only be used if you need to, effectively, introduce more colour into the image. It’s kind of like splashing your photo with a bucket of paint – it can go wrong very quickly!
If you pull these sliders too high, you’ll burn out the colours. This is when they appear very ‘hot’ and as one solid colour across the pixels of the file. For this shot, the vibrance is set at +27, and the saturation at +18. That’s actually a fairly extreme colour adjustment for me.
Step 6: Sharpening and Noise Reduction
It’s always good to give your photos a little sharpen, and reduce any apparent digital noise. It’s important not to go overboard, although that could be said for any stage of your post processing workflow. Sharpening increases the contrast between edges in an image, and too much of it makes a photo almost look like it has been neatly outlined all over wherever there is detail (such as feathers).
The sliders you want to pay attention to mostly are the ‘Amount’ and ‘Masking’ ones. This is with regards to sharpening, so the highlighted ‘Luminance’ slider is for noise reduction. We’ll look at that in a minute.
You can see the values that I’ve used for this photo. we rarely ever go above 50 for ‘Amount’ when sharpening. 30-40 tends to be a good mark to get a crisp shot. Any more than that and you’ll run the risk of ugly sharpening, but you can experiment and see what it does with your own images.
The ‘Masking’ slider allows you to limit which parts of the photo receive sharpening. If you hold down the Alt key on your keyboard whilst you pull the slider, the image will turn all strange and the white areas will highlight what is being sharpened. This means you can avoid sharpening areas without detail, such as the background, and introduce unnecessary noise.
Take a look at this close-up of my puffin photo. You can see the grainy details in the background – that’s digital noise. We want to get rid of this. Make sure to do your sharpening first though.
The luminance slider is perfect for this. Holding the Alt key again whilst moving the slider will put the photo into black and white temporarily. It allows you to see the noise much better – and make sure to zoom in to 100% as well, that way you’ll get a better representation of what’s going on.
Pulling up the luminance slider, you’ll see the noise disappear. Pull it up all the way and it’ll make the entire image really smooth, eliminating all the noise. But you’ll do this at the expense of sharpness. Instead, go for a balance. Luminance makes a big difference early on, so just 23 on the slider is enough to strip the photo of noise. we also like to pull the ‘Detail’ slider (underneath Luminance) up to 100. we have never read about or noticed a reason not to, and it seems to retain some of the clarity in the shot. Look at the difference now:
we hope this has helped you understand what is ‘expected’ of post production. This is a relatively simple workflow, and there are plenty more complex adjustments you could do, if you so wish. But these basic adjustments keep your post production efforts ‘pure’ and ‘accepted’ in the industry – at least with nature photography it is expected that adjustments are fairly minimal.
Post production can seem like a chore, but if you get to grips with your own workflow things tend it speed up. It’s almost like you are writing yourself a little instruction manual, and before long it’ll be almost instinctive. You won’t need to refer back to guides or ask for help when processing, ultimately reducing the amount of time you find yourself stuck in front of editing software.
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