Purple Sandpiper – Post Processing Walk through

Purple Sandpipers are the daredevils of the shorebird world. They are winter visitors to the UK, and can only be found in the most treacherous of conditions, such as jetties and rocky coastlines. These birds like to stay on the rocks, waiting until the waves roll back to quickly grab an insect or seaweed.

 

Me photographing a Purple Sandpiper at Southsea Castle – notice the steep shooting angle, distance to the subject, and terrible light direction.

Note: Although I could’ve gone just slightly lower, the rocky slope got in the way of the shots. Instead of creating a soft, pleasing foreground blur, it transformed into a light, pervasive distraction.

Anyways, I came away with a couple of images from a 2-hr photography session. Both shots were slightly back-lit and had a green color cast, and processing was a challenge. In this blog post, I’ll explain how I edited one of my personal favorite shorebird images.

 

The RAW image as viewed in Capture One Pro (C1Pro) 20.

A very important aspect of processing an image is to look at the areas that need correction/enhancement, and to deal with each issue step-by-step. In this case, the 3 main problems that I identified were:

  • The bird is under-exposed by 2/3rd of a stop. I set the auto-ISO limit to ISO 4000 on my Nikon D850 as that’s the maximum ISO that I’m comfortable shooting under normal circumstances. The fast shutter speed helped freeze the action (these birds are highly dynamic), and the max. aperture of f/8 was caused by the 1.4x tele-converter on my lens.
  • The image has a slight color cast. The green colors of the moss were reflected onto the bird, causing it to turn unnaturally green. The whites on the bird need to be treated.
  • The crop is awkward as shot. There’s a lot of foreground and a bit too much space behind the bird. The secondary bird does not add to the scene.

 

The Crop interface in C1Pro 20.

This is where a camera with 45 MP is helpful. I cropped most of the distracting foreground and shifted the bird further back in the composition. Even though the bird’s quite low in the frame, this image is as much about the waves and the habitat as it is about the bird. Now, let’s get to the boring part of adjusting exposure and the shadows and highlights.

 

Global Exposure and High Dynamic Range adjustments in C1Pro 20.

This step was fairly straight-forward – just a few basic changes to the overall brightness brought this image to life. Next, let’s perform a few localized adjustments.

 

A gradient layer to make adjustments to the foreground.

Using the gradient tool (top row, highlighted in orange), I darkened the distracting foreground.

In a different layer, I added clarity to the water to make the waves and droplets pop.

 

Selecting the bird using the Brush tool.

Now, I selected the bird using the Brush tool (Auto-mask enabled). I took my time in making the selection, and after I was satisfied with the mask, I applied a hint of Clarity and Structure to the bird.

 

Noise Reduction in C1Pro 20.

Normally, I use Neat Image to apply Noise Reduction to an image, but I wasn’t able to find a detail-less area in the scene to calibrate the Noise Profile for the picture. Instead, I used C1Pro’s native NR sliders, and I have to say that although Neat Image is certainly the superior option when a noise profile can be obtained, C1Pro does a decent job at reducing noise while maintaining detail. There wasn’t a whole lot of noise in this image anyway, so that probably helped.

Time to head into Adobe Photoshop to apply the final touches.

 

A Levels adjustment layer in Adobe Photoshop CC.

Using the Levels adjustment tool, I set the Black and White point for the image. I dropped the Black point on the Purple Sandpiper’s eye, and the White point on a bright water droplet.

The next step is to apply some selective NR to the background. To do this, I masked the bird and inverted the selection as shown below.

Applying a layer mask to the background - Red represents the area that's excluded from the selection.
Noise Reduction using ACR.

Think of the comparison between Neat Image vs Adobe Camera Raw’s NR as gourmet vs fast food; Neat Image is more calculated and accurate while ACR applies a more generic NR to the image. I applied a high amount of NR to the background – my aim was to minimize noise, not detail preservation. At this point, we’re almost done!

Applying a Curves adjustment to lighten the bird.

I lightened the bird very slightly using a Curves adjustment to make it pop a bit more. The final step is correcting the green color cast prevalent in this frame.

Correcting a color cast using the Color Balance tool.

Using the Color Balance tool, I added 6 points of Magenta to this image, which eliminated the green cast. I also added a couple of points of Blue to remove a slight Yellow cast. Finally, I saved this image as a TIFF file. Then I downsized the file to 2048px on the wide end for web use, sharpened using Smart Sharpen at amount – 100, radius 0.5, and exported as a JPEG. Let’s have a look at the final Before/After comparison.

As you can see, it’s a pretty decent change. Quite happy with the end result considering the difficult shooting conditions. I particularly like the waves and the view of the habitat in which these bird live. Hope this post was informative and helpful! For the latest images and BTS, follow me on Instagram (aditya.sridhar), and let me know your thoughts and suggestions for future posts!

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