Quick Adjustments to a Dark Bird Image using DxO PhotoLab

While I was out recently photographing some green herons, I captured some images of one perked on a branch inside a tree. This article provides some progressive images and commentary about doing some quick adjustments to a dark  bird image using DxO PhotoLab.

The sample photograph was captured using a Nikon 1 V3 and 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 258 mm, efov 697 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-1250. I shot using Manual mode with Auto ISO 160-6400.

The objective of this short article is to demonstrate the improvements that can be made to an image by doing some very quick and simple adjustments in DxO PhotoLab. Similar results can be achieved with other photo software.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

First let’s look at an out-of-camera jpeg.

Out-of-camera jpeg

As we can see the image is underexposed and quite dark. For comparison purposes the next image is a jpeg made from an unprocessed RAW file.

Jpeg made from RAW file, no corrections done

As you can see there isn’t much difference from the out-of-camera jpeg and the one made from an unprocessed RAW file. Now let’s have a look at the auto-corrections done when using DxO PhotoLab and working with a RAW file.

Jpeg after DxO PhotoLab auto corrections done

When a RAW file is opened in DxO PhotoLab with auto corrections enabled, the program makes a number of instantaneous corrections as you can see in the above image. Now let’s see what can be done with some minor corrections done in DxO PhotoLab.

Jpeg after additional corrections done in DxO PhotoLab

I made the following adjustments in DxO PhotoLab that resulted in the jpeg above: Highlights -20m Shadows 10, Black -10, Vibrance 15, Microcontrast 7(auto), Lens Sharpness Global 1.20 and Details 70, and PRIME noise reduction.

Jpeg after Spot Weighted DxO Smart Lighting (slight) applied to wing and chest area

Since the green heron’s chest and wing needed more definition I applied the DxO Smart Lighting Spot Weighted adjustment at a ‘slight’ level.  Obviously all of these DxO PhotoLab adjustments would have been done at the same time. I showed the impact of the Spot Weighted tool to demonstrate that specific adjustment.

Regardless of the photo software you may own, images can be improved a great deal by using some very quick and simple adjustments.

Technical Note:
Photograph was captured hand-held in available light using Nikon 1 gear as noted in the second paragraph of this article.

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10 thoughts on “Quick Adjustments to a Dark Bird Image using DxO PhotoLab”

  1. Hi Tom – I realize this is an old post, but hopefully you’ll see this question…

    Do you know of any good tutorials for using DXO Photolab for bird photography?

    I have been using the Nikon 1V2 with the 70-300 for a while and while I’ve gotten some good shots my post-processing skills are lacking.

    I’d tried learning the recent versions lightroom/photoshop, but I have an adobe aversion from their very early days – i still don’t like how their software works….

    I’m looking at different software now: Affinity, Luminar, RawTherapee, and DXO. I also do landscape, but what you’ve been able to pull from small sensor cameras like the Nikon 1’s, EM-1’s and even the Tough are very impressive. I plan to keep using small sensor cameras for my wildlife/bird photgraphy, though I am probably going to keep my AP-C Pentax for landscape.

    Thanks for any suggestions…

    1. Hi Dori,

      Thanks for your comment… always a pleasure to try to help a reader!

      In terms of DxO PhotoLab, there are some tutorials on their website. Here is a link: https://www.dxo.com/dxo-academy/

      I’ve written a number of articles on this website that deal with post processing. Here is a link to the category: https://smallsensorphotography.com/category/post-processing

      I have a rather unorthodox approach in post. It is outlined to a degree in a number of my articles. I use three different programs. I start by putting all of my images through DxO PhotoLab… I use this software as my initial RAW processor. I then export a DNG file into CS6 and make some adjustments in that program, then finish off my files with the Nik Collection. While this sounds a bit convoluted it is actually fairly quick as I only use the parts of each program that I like. It is hard to explain it from a process standpoint since every image is different. My overarching approach is best summmarized by “TAB”… i.e. ‘thicken’ ‘adjust’ ‘brighten’. When working with RAW files from small sensor cameras I’ve found that they take a different approach than I used in the past with my full frame Nikon D800 files.

      I have created a number of custom presets in DxO PhotoLab. These tend to be subject specific, but I also have some that vary by camera. I don’t try to finish my files in DxO PhotoLab… just get them started. I do apply PRIME noise reduction to all of my images, even those captured at base ISO. With most of my small sensor images I ‘double bump’ them… I adjust shadows and highlights in PhotoLab, then adjust them again in CS6. Depending on the camera and subject matter I have been known to take my adjustments in CS6 to extremes… highlights to -100 and shadows to +100 for example. Often times my images look terrible part way through the process that I use. Once they get to the final stage, i.e. ‘brighten’ everything seems to come together in the way I see the images in my old, porous brain.

      Not sure if this has helped…


      1. thank you Tom – that is helpful. I will go back and re-read your post-processing posts. And thanks for being willing to look at questions on an old post.

        Your blog is one I check-in at on a weekly or more often basis. Thanks for having it.

        1. Not a problem Dori! I do my best to respond to all reader questions no matter how old the article may be. If you want to be notified when I publish a new article you can subscribe to the website.


  2. Thanks, Tom.

    A follow-up question on the issue of exporting from PL (eg. to CS6 or Nik), if I may; which export type and options do you apply ?

    John – TKA

    1. Hi John,
      After making adjustments in DxO PhotoLab I select ‘Export to Application’, then I select ‘Process as DNG and export’. My ‘Export to’ option is set to Adobe Photoshop CS6.

    1. Hi Ed,
      We likely would have gotten a better exposure on the bird with perhaps a blown-out background. The photograph was purposely captured using Matrix metering to create the situation that we dealt with in post. Your comment was quite helpful as it got me thinking about another potential article using Matrix, Centre Weighted Average, and Spot Metering on the same subject, then experimenting with DxO Spot Weighted Smart Lighting to see how it could be used in post.

  3. Hi Tom,

    It’s always fascinating to read about your PhotoLab tweaks – esp. on the topical subject of “brightening” under-exposed captures … Thank you for sharing your settings with us.

    From previous posts on your site, I get the impression that Global = 1.20 and Details = 70 (with Bokeh = 50, presumably) are your standard settings for Lens Sharpness.
    Q. Is this related in any way to the specifics of your Nikon gear – or are these simply the settings that produce your preferred results ?
    Q. What options/settings do you use when you Export-to-Disk (from PL) – Do you apply any additional sharpening (via resampling) when you do so ?

    Notice of a typo: You state that you “applied the DxO Smart Lighting Spot Weighted adjustment at a ‘Sight’ level” … where you actually mean at a ‘Slight” level.

    Note: Given you’re a DxO PhotoLab user, you are no doubt familiar with the new Local Adjustments module, which makes use of U-point technology – – that I have found to be *very* effective in targeting specific parts of an image. Have you made much use of this yourself, as yet ?

    Regards, John TKA

    1. Hi John,

      Thanks for adding to the discussion and for your questions! I’ll try to answer your questions as best I can.

      1) In terms of Lens Sharpness settings, this really depends on the camera I use and the subject matter. Global 1.20, Details 70 and Bokeh 50 are my typical bird settings that I use when shooting with a V2 or V3, and occasionally with a J5. When shooting with a J5 if the bird is against a bright blue sky I would not usually use any Lens Sharpness at all. I seldom use any Lens Sharpness in DxO when shooting landscape or flower images when using a J5. In general I don’t use a lot of sharpening with my images as I prefer to adjust contrast, microcontrast and the black/white sliders instead, to get the look I want.

      2) The settings I mention in articles usually pertain to my Nikon 1 gear only. It has been over 3 years since I shot with a full frame DSLR and my memory has faded in terms of how I used to handle images shot with that gear in post. I can tell you that I wasn’t anywhere nearly as aggressive with various sliders with photographs captured with full frame gear as I had a lot more dynamic range and colour depth with which to work.

      3) I typically finish my images in CS6 with some tweaks in the Nik Collection, then export a jpeg for my web postings here, or for images I use in my eBooks. I don’t typically use any sharpening adjustments in CS6. On some occasions, depending on camera/lens used and subject matter I may use a bit of clarity in CS6…but not that often.

      4) Thanks for catching the typo…I fixed it.

      5) While I’m aware of the new Local Adjustments module in PhotoLab I haven’t used it with any of my images. I use the Spot Weighting adjustment with DxO Smart Lighting for almost all of my images. Other than that I very seldom use any any spot adjustments with my images at all. When I process an image I’m usually more focused on the overall impression that an image creates, rather than worrying about small parts of it. I usually would only spend about 3 minutes in post (which would include computer processing time) when I work on an image. If I can’t get an image to where I see it in my mind quickly I usually just move on to a different photograph, and try to learn what I could have done better with the original capture of the photograph that I’ve moved on from, rather than struggle with it in post.


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