Egret Landing on Branch – Post Processing Considerations

Yesterday I was able to capture a nice AF-C run of an egret landing on a branch. This article shares some of the post processing considerations and approaches I used when working with this series of images.

I think it is important to state a key point upfront. Each of us has our preferences when it comes to the software that we use. The intent of this article is not to try to convince anyone to change from their current choice of software. It is simply to discuss some of the factors I considered when developing my game plan for the featured image, and demonstrate how that approach was implemented based on the software that I happen to use.

The photograph in this article was captured hand-held with a Nikon 1 V3 fitted with a 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 zoom lens. It was the 16th image captured as a part of a run of 28 photographs, shot at 20 frames per second. I shot in Manual using an aperture of f/5.6, a shutter speed of 1/1250, and Auto-ISO 160-6400. ThisĀ  particular image was captured at ISO-1250. I used continuous auto-focus with subject tracking. The photograph was captured at a focal length of 300 mm, or an equivalent-field-of-view of 810 mm.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Let’s have a look at an out-of-camera jpeg along with a jpeg made from the unprocessed RAW file.

Out-of-camera jpeg.
Jpeg made from unprocessed RAW file.

When we look at the two images above a couple of things are very apparent. The first is that there are some wing and feather details present in the image that we can enhance in post. As we all know, white birds can be difficult to photograph as the strength and direction of the available light often can blow-out highlight details. This image was captured at 7:30 in the morning under somewhat diffused light which helped retain many of the highlight details.

The second thing that is instantly noticeable is that we have a darker, monochromatic background which can be levered to help emphasize the details in the bird. While the white-on-dark nature of this photograph is a potential positive, we also need to keep in mind that this combination can push the dynamic range performance of our camera’s sensor.

All digital cameras regardless of their sensor size lose dynamic range as ISOs are increased. For example, according to DxO testing the small 1″ CX sensor in my Nikon 1 V3 has dynamic range of 10.7 EV at its base ISO. This drops off to 9.4 EV when shot at ISO-1600, a loss of 12.1%.

By comparison a Nikon D850 has 14.8 EV at base ISO and 11.6 EV at ISO-1600 (a loss of 21.6%). A Nikon D500 goes from 14 EV at base to 11.4 EV at ISO-1600 (a loss of 18.6%). A Canon 5D Mark IV goes from 13.6 EV at base to 11.5 EV at ISO-1600 (a loss of 15.4%), while a Canon 7D goes from 11.8 EV at base to 10.2 EV at ISO-1600 (a loss of 13.6%). A Sony A7R III goes from 14.7 EV at base to 12.1 EV at ISO-1600 (a loss of 17.7%). The Olympus OM-D E-M1 II goes from 12.8 EV at base to 11 EV at ISO-1600 (a loss of 14.1%).

When we shoot at higher ISOs, we need to remember that we will have less dynamic range and colour depth available to us when working in post. This will likely have a direct impact on the amount and level of adjustments that we use with our photographs.

Jpeg made from RAW file with automatic DxO PhotoLab corrections done.

Most software programs have automatic corrections that can be applied to an image depending on the camera equipment used to capture it. The image above shows the automatic corrections done in DxO PhotoLab, which have resulted in some subtle image enhancements.

Many software programs also allow users to custom design their own presets. Let’s have a look at the photograph after I applied my standard V3 bird preset to it.

Jpeg made from RAW file after custom V3 bird preset was applied.

How you choose to develop your own custom presets is a matter of personal taste and preference. My V3 bird preset tweaks highlights, shadows, lens sharpness and applies PRIME noise reduction.

I’m not sure what kind of adjustment may be available to you with your preferred software in terms of shifting dynamic range. When working with a white bird image it can be helpful to make this type of adjustment on the wing and body of a bird.

Jpeg made from RAW file after DxO Smart Lighting Spot Weighted adjustment done, and microcontrast added.

I used the Spot Weighted DxO Smart Lighting adjustment on the image above. I drew a box across the bird’s wings and body and applied a ‘slight’ level of adjustment. I also used the automatic microcontrast adjustment. After this was done, I exported my work into CS6 as a DNG file.

Jpeg made from DNG file after Highlight, White and Black slider adjustments made.

As you can see in the image above, my approach in post has been to ‘thicken up’ my image with the intent of enhancing the highlight details in the egret’s wings. I also wanted to create a bit more contrast with a slightly darker background. This was done by reducing the slider settings for Highlights and Black, and increasing the White slider setting. The image still needs a bit more definition and is a bit too dark to be considered finished.

Let’s have a look at the photograph after a bit of structure was applied in Viveza 2, a bit of Brightness was added in CS6, and the image was cropped to 4500 pixels on the width, then resized for web use.

Final jpeg made from DGN file after some structure was added in Viveza 2, brightness adjustment done in CS6, and the image was cropped.

If you click on the images in this article and compare progressive steps, you’ll be able to see how the various adjustments used impacted the image.

Again, these adjustments happen to be in the software that I prefer to use. You may need to determine what similar adjustments are provided in your software of choice. Including computer processing time this image took under 4 minutes to process. That was a bit longer than is typical as I did some spot healing in CS6 to remove some small, distracting white blobs on the surface of the water. These were likely out-of-focus floating bird feathers.

As is the case with all photographs, when working with a white bird image in post, it is important to develop a game plan before we start making any adjustments. For this specific subject matter it often involves working with the highlight details and with other adjustments that can enhance edge acuity and add some contrast to our image.

Technical Note:
All photographs were captured hand-held in available light using Nikon 1 gear as noted in the article. All images were produced from RAW files using my standard process of DxO PhotoLab, CS6 and the Nik Collection.

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2 thoughts on “Egret Landing on Branch – Post Processing Considerations”

  1. Beautiful capture. Considering you were on Auto-ISO, I wonder how you set the exposure metering on your V3. Metering only on the center (white wings) can result in a good starting point for the RAW file and lower the ISO. (I’m an OM-D E-M1 II user, so don’t know the V3 metering settings – also note there is no M1 III yet)

    1. Hi Colin,

      I’m glad you enjoyed the image. I may use the entire image run for a future article. If I do, you’ll see a number of interesting wing positions.

      Thanks for the catch on the Olympus model number…I will go back on DxO to get the correct one and update the article.

      I typically use Matrix metering with my Nikon 1 gear. There are two other metering options, Center Weighted Average and Spot, which I use on an occasional basis. I was actually more focused on photographing great blue herons and osprey during that morning and grabbed the run of egret images on an unplanned basis.


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