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Monday, August 3, 2009

More Photo Retouching Fun

So because we all had so much fun when I posted the steps that it took to retouch a less than perfect original photo and make it into great photo of Phoenix’s eye, I decided to show the steps I took to make this photo, of the Brown Pelican I took, what it is. And let me tell you it started out as a TERRIBLE photo, so terrible that I almost skipped over it opting to move onto better raw photos. But let me take you through a normal photoing day.

Generally on an hour walk I may take anywhere from 250-500 photos, this drives my mother or anyone I am walking with generally crazy, especially when I spend a good 15 minutes on one piece of seaweed. But really I am playing the odds, out of those 500 shots I may only get 10 that I like and out of those 10 I may only get one that I really like. Because I am high maintenance like that and I expect the best. So it is hard to get a photo that I really like, but to get a photo I love, that may only happen once a month. Seeing how I now take my camera almost everywhere and I try to photo almost every day, that basically means that out of approximately 15,000 photos I may take in a month only ONE comes out to what I feel like is a great photo. With those kind of odds the more photos I take the better chance I have of getting that one perfect photo.

Every other day or so I download all the photos I took and I begin sorting them into a keep or a discard bin. Most I don’t keep, they are either blurry, or too dark or a million other things are wrong with them. What I am generally looking for is a great raw photo. Basically the better a raw photo or a straight out of the camera photo is the easier it is to get a beautiful final shot after retouching. If the raw photo is bad it may take HOURS to get it to look right, and some raw photos there is just no amount of retouching that will ever make it look good. Thankfully I am a Photoshop queen and I was able to save this not so great raw photo.

Whew, so first I start out with the original shot of the Brown Pelican. Unfortunatly for this shot it was dusk and with the sun behind the subject I was on the wrong side of the bird to catch the light of the sun, therefore, the Pelican was dark and backlight with light.

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Even though the light was not correct I took the shot anyways because what you learn quickly when you start to photo wildlife is that you freeze and get the shot you can and then you start to worry about lighting. After I got a few shots the best I could I started to slowly circle the bird making sure to give it a wide circle as not to scare it, but then OH, OH NO. The bird.

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Spread its wings and then just flew away.

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So I was left on the shore looking wistfully at its tail feathers with my original dark shot.

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The first step I take when retouching a too dark shot is that I start masking in light in layers. Some may try to do this all in one step and those that do end up with harsh lines out the outside of their subjects. If you mask light in slowly in layers with a large feathered brush then you will get stubble lighting in each step that looks more real and that will look natural. Here I did three layers of painted light.

First I start with the main focal area which usually includes the eyes and any major body interest; in this case it was the wing.

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Once that is brightened I then take it a little bit further painting in more lighted mask on a separate layer. Remember you are going for little changes and not large leaps by building the light on you are creating a more natural look.

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Lastly I highlight just pieces that I feel like need a bit more emphasis until I am happy with the illumination of detail on the bird.

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The next step I color corrected the bird. Especially when you shot subjects by or on water you will get a bounce back effect of light. In this case the blue of the water reflected into the bird blending the subject and the background together by the tone of the color, by taking the blue out of the bird and infusing a warmer color to the bird, making it more yellow and orange, I use color to pop the bird from the background. To break it down further if you look at a color wheel then you can see blue and orange are at the opposite side of the color wheel (they are across from each other) this makes them complementary colors. Use of complementary colors creates just as much dynamism as light and shadow and can really create more focus on your subject.

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Next I used the Unsharpen Mask tool to sharpen the image. I know confusing but basically it takes the pixels and makes them sharper. If you compare the last frame and this frame you can really see the change in the feathers on the breast of the bird. Unsharpen Mask basically makes the feathers POP and look more defined and less fuzzy.

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The next step is something simple but it fixes something in this shot that drove me nuts and it uses one of my favourite tools, the clone stamp. Basically the clone stamp takes a part of another part of the photo and allows you to paint over things that you don’t want. Here I took out the small leaf at the feet of the bird. With the background being so simple and flat and the bird being so complex and vibrant I really felt that that damn leaf messed up the beautiful simplicity of the background and was distracting to the viewers eye.

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Lastly I wanted to make the background less of a focus and give it a little bit of depth. Because it was such a flat plane of color I did not feel like it had enough umpf to hold the subject in space. So I used a little black vignetting to give much needed depth and make the photo a little more interesting.

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I had to spend a good 6 hours on this photo to get it the way it is now. Usually photos don’t take this much work but as you can see the original was pretty terrible and it required quite an extensive amount of work. Mostly the masking in the three levels of light take a good hour and a half a piece because you really have to be careful with what you are doing or it really looks fake. Here is the side by side comparison between the two photos. Ahhh you have to love Photoshop when you see it used like this.

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