Making the Best of a Bad Situation
Sometimes photography can be about trying to make the best of a situation that is less than stellar for what we are trying to accomplish.
We don’t always have the opportunity to set up lighting or place the subject in the best position to take advantage of natural light. When birding you can’t ask the bird to move to another branch with more favorable light. (well you can ask but I suggest you get your hopes up) In a captive situation like a zoo, the same applies. You need to capture what you can and then work it in post-processing. This is different than working your photography where you have control and saying, “I’ll fix it in Photoshop!” You are using Photoshop to correct an imperfect scene but, it is an entirely different situation.
You will be using a different set of skills that require all the knowledge you have of how light and shadow play together in any particular situation. You also need to leverage all the intricacies available in Photoshop. Let’s take a look at a tough image captured at the Phoenix Zoo.
This photograph was made of the orangutan through the thick colored glass. There was dirt. There were reflections. Of course, there was no opportunity to pose the simian in an interesting light. The best I could hope for was to capture an engaging expression and go to work.
Straight out of Camera Capture
You can see there are reflections in the glass and a very low contrast due to that plus the back-light in the scene.
Straight out of Photoshop after a bit of manipulation in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) followed by a little cleanup of some stray grasses on his lip.
A versatile new tool has been added to ACR, which allowed some extra control in getting rid of the reflections. It’s called Dehaze and was designed to help control the blue cast off in the distance when capturing landscapes. I’ve found it can work a bit like a polarizing filter in damping reflections. I also dialed in some contrast and a little boost to clarity.
Then the real work begins.
Layers Pallete for image
First up there was a conversion to Silver FX Pro 2. Extra sharpening using the structure sliders was dialed in during the conversion. Notice the mask holding out some of the detail because it was a little blocked up in those shadow areas. With the area blocked out to allow that detail to come back through the color was brought back as well. The next layer is a Black & White Adjustment layer to get back to a full monotone image.
The next layer is a Black & White Adjustment Layer to get back to a full monotone image.
All the layers below were combined to create Layer 1.
A 150-pixel vignette was added using a Levels Adjustment Layer to darken the outside edges of the image.
A blank Layer was added, and the Blend Mode changed to Soft Light. In this mode painting with pixels that are darker than middle gray darken the image and pixels brighter than middle gray lighten the picture. I’ve found this to be a way to have more control and better quality when dodging and burning.
Again the lower layers were combined into a single Layer. This layer was taken back into Silver Effects Pro 2, and structure was used quite heavily including the Fine Structure slider to accentuate the hair. This Layer was changed to the Luminance Mode, which will only change the Luminous information on the Layer. The Mask was filled with black to hide the information on the layer and sharpness was applied by painting with white. Selective sharpening is an excellent way to help lead your viewer through an image, second only to areas of high contrast.
Another Layer set to Soft Light Mode was added for more density control of the backlit area.
Last but not least a Curves Layer was added to darken the entire image.
Yours in creative Photography, Bob
PS – Questions, thoughts, ideas, and comments are welcome.
PPS – The original capture was with the Panasonic Lumix FZ1000. A handy camera with a zoom range of 25-400 with an f2.8-4.0 Aperture. Handheld. Camera settings 1/40th sec f4.0 ISO 200 at 146mm (35mm equivalent 432mm) It’s possible to hand hold at this zoom range due to the incredible image stabilization built into the body.
PPPS – I am a Lumix Luminary and Panasonic sponsors me for speaking programs… Need a speaker on Photoshop? Get in touch.