Photo of the Day/Photo Tip – Post processing of a Kudu pair

This photo tip is an overview of capture to web photo adjustment.

Below is the original photo. My son, Justin capture this shot in Chobe NP.  The camera EXIF data showed that for this shot, the image stabilized Canon 70-300 lens was used at a full zoom of 300mm.  From our experience, we learned that this lens gets a little soft at greater than 260mm, but when you need the zoom, you often use full zoom anyway. On safari, we shoot images in RAW format, which means that the camera does not attempt to adjust sharpness or colors and that all of the original pixels are captured.  The alternative to RAW is a .jpg file or jpeg (pronounced ‘jay peg’).  A jpeg  file is somewhat compressed, which saves file room, but ‘loses pixels’.  Further, most camera’s will partially process images.  RAW vs. Jpeg is a debate into itself and I’m not going to attempt it here.  So here is the RAW file, converted to 800 pixels wide for this photo tip.

'as shot' RAW image of 2 kudus - Camera: Canon XT (350), Lens: Canon 70-300 at 300mm, 1/400 sec @ f/6.3 ©Justin Eleazer

Typically, I prefer profile and non-action shots to have the animal facing to the right.  The reason is that the ‘western eye’ tends to flow through an image from left to right.  If the animal faces right, we tend to feel more harmony.  Once flipped, I typically create a new ‘layer’ of the image, which is just a copy, but allows me to not lose the original shot if I want to move back in my processing.  With the new layer, I will first adjust ‘levels’, which essentially sets the white and black limits of my image.  I will next adjust contrast, but I do this carefully as I feel contrast adjustment is a course adjustment vs. a curves adjustment.  For this shot, I considered the background quite distracting due to the many limbs, so I decided to create another layer to adjust the background.  On this new top layer, I applied a Gaussian blur. As one adjusts the Gaussian blur, you can preview the effect.  You may be tempted to really blur the background, but that will look unnatural. I seldom go above the 2.9 setting (in this shot it is 2.2).  I then add a mask to this layer so I can non-destructively ‘erase’ the blur effect on the animals.  On the mask, I ‘paint’ the animals black, which reveals the layer below.  I then go to that lower layer, which exposes the animals and sharpen the image using ‘unsharp mask’.  As with the blur, one can easily oversharpen and for this first selective sharpening, I use a setting of 60 with a radius of 1.0.  Looks pretty good, so I flatten the image, resize to 800 pixels and then lightly sharpen again (same settings as before).

The image now looks like this:

Kudu Pair with selective sharpening and blur added - © Justin Eleazer

With most images, this is all that is needed.  On this particular image, I wanted to play with using Topaz Adjust plug-in.  Topaz Adjust is a powerful tool that allows one to create numerous effects to increase detail, simulate HDR, simplify or just make the photo more ‘painterly’.  The adjustment should be done in separate layers so one can adjust the opacity to gain the desired effect.  For my final image, I used the ‘simplify’ setting on the layer which reveals the background and the ‘small detail’ adjustment for the kudus.  I lowered the opacity on the ‘small detail’ layer to 50% as more distracted from the facial expressions of the animals.  I also slightly (setting of 5) boosted the saturation on the layer showing the bushes.  Finally, I added a small ‘frame’ by increasing the canvas size a few pixels with a black fill.  Now completed, I flatted the image, sharpened lightly (setting 60, radius 0.8) and this is Justin’s Kudus presented as our Photo of the Day:

Kudu pair ... with Topaz Adjust effect added - © Justin Eleazer

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