Sunday, February 27, 2011

Photographing Birds: Photoshop Basics

Once Capture One delivers my TIFF file to Photoshop, I usually perform a few quick tweaks to my photographs. Some photos require more work, a few require less.

First, almost all photos need to be cropped to at least some degree. Gone are the days of leaving sprocket hole shadows to indicate no cropping occurred when printing a photograph.

Next look for “Adjustments” under the "Image" tab at the top of the Photoshop screen.  Click on "Adjustments" and then click on “Auto Levels.”  This action may result in a rather dark photo.  If so, continue to “Curves.”  There you can manipulate a graph.  Raise the graph's curve with your cursor, and the image will lighten. 

Occasionally Auto Levels gives horrible results.  One fix is to go to “Levels” (also under "Adjustments"). Here you will find a histogram.  Moving the carrots on either side of the histogram closer to both ends of this histogram will improve your photo.

Next in "Adjustments" go to “Hue/Saturation.”  Set the saturation to “21.” This adjustment brightens the photograph, but you do not want to overdo this setting. Several readers comment that a setting of 21 is a tad high.

The next step requires the purchase of a Photoshop add-on called Neat Image.  Check out this relatively inexpensive software.  Once loaded into your computer, it will appear under the "Filter" tab in Photoshop. I have set Neat Image to 100% sharpening.  Neat Image, as I understand it, smooths out the image background, while sharpening the bird in the foreground.  The result is usually noticeably stunning.  If it does not improve your photo, go to “Edit” and click “Undo.”  (Remember you can undo almost any action in Photoshop.) 

If you are planning to publish your image on the Internet, the last Photoshop step is to re-size your picture.  Go to the "Image" tab and select “Image Size.”  For publishing on the web, I make my photos 8 x 6 inches in size and 72 dpi (dots per inch).  (You will want to keep your dpi high for printing files, but 72 dpi is all you need for the Internet.) I then go to the “File” tab and click on “Save for Web.”  I save the file, which is converted to JPEG format, to a folder I have named “blog photos.”

I discovered a robust Internet site that often improves my web-ready files (the program does not deal with large files).  This free site is called Picnik.  Upload your photos to this site and select “Auto-fix.”  I also experiment with the sharpening tab, trying to be careful not to produce thin, white halos around my birds.  I then save these photos back to my “blog photo” folder.

Finally, I back-up all my files on to two external, 1-terabyte hard drives.  (I use two hard drives in case one fails. Backing up also allows me to clear up space in my computer.) Previously I backed-up files on to two DVD disks, but finding files on these disks was difficult--I had 50 disks.  With the external hard drives, searching for files is amazingly quick.  Of course, the main reason for the hard drives is to not lose your photos in the event of a catastrophic computer crash. I back up both my TIFF and my RAW files since you can not predict what advances in digital software may be in our future.

My next, and final, bog post on photography will briefly discuss digital ethics. 

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