Photo Tip: You can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear

You may not have heard this phrase before.  It may be a little too southern US and country, but this colloquial phrase is right on the money.  What it means is that if you start with inferior raw materials (the ear of a butchered pig), you can’t expect to produce a high quality end product such as a high fashion silk purse.

Below is a photo taken by Justin Eleazer.  I am using one of his shots because I don’t take bad photos.  KIDDING – we all do.  No, I am using his because it was handy and will help me make a point.  This photo looks very similar to the one’s many of my friends show me following a safari trip or that I see posted on flickr (www.flickr.com ).

Photo of elephant on Sedudu Island in the Chobe River,  Copyright 2009: Justin Eleazer

Photo of elephant on Sedudu Island in the Chobe River, Copyright 2009: Justin Eleazer -Equipment and settings: Canon 40D, Canon 400mm f/4 DO IS at 1/500 sec, -2/3EV and f/8

What is right with this photo?  TIP: The old elephant is an interesting subject, especially caked in mud.  TIP: Also the basic left to right composition is pleasant with the right side tree.  TIP: Further, the elephant is moving left to right which is more pleasant to the western eye.  TIP: The background is also free of distracting clutter.

What is wrong with this photo?  Deadly things from a photographer’s perspective.  First and foremost for wildlife, we have a “three legged elephant”.  By this, we mean, the shot was taken when the forth leg was obstructed in the gate.  TIP: Shoot 4 legged animals.  The next problem that is deadly is that the sun is not in a good position.  For this shot to be effective the sun should shine on the animal’s face or the overall animal should be in light or shade.  TIP: Avoid lighting that puts harsh shadows on the animal’s focus point (the head).  There are also some correctable flaws.  For example, the horizon is in the middle of the image.  TIP: In post processing, the upper portion of the sky or some of the foreground can be cropped to place the horizon closer to the rule of thirds.  In this case, the sky is featureless, so I would recommend cropping it.  Also, the image is a bit flat.  This is related to that “sun to high in the sky/wrong sun angle” comment from earlier.  While this cannot be completely corrected, the image can be improved with tools such as HDR (I use PhotoMatrix) or working with a layer in LAB mode in your Photoshop software (I use Adobe CS3.).  So here is my edit.

HDR as a layer, Crop and Curves added to improve Justin's sow's ear.  Copyright 2009: Justin Eleazer

HDR as a layer, Crop and Curves added to improve Justin's sow's ear. Copyright 2009: Justin Eleazer

Okay, but still not great.  I still have a 3 legged elephant and the shadows on the animal are also distracting.  I am pretty good at post processing, but, at the end of the day, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

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