Working with Feather Details in Post

Many people enjoy bird photography for a range of reasons. Some folks like exploring nature, finding and photographing birds in the wild. Others love the challenge of capturing birds-in-flight. And, some of us enjoy getting in close and personal, capturing the intricate beauty of birds. Regardless of our orientation to bird photography, most of us spend time working with feather details in post, as it can greatly enhance our bird images.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Jpeg made from RAW file, no corrections in post.

This article discusses some common considerations and approaches that can be used when working with feather details in post. The image above was shot hand-held with a Nikon 1 V3 and a 1 Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 zoom lens @ 183mm, efov 494mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-450. It is a 100% frame capture without any cropping done to the image. As you can see, even without doing anything in post, the photograph has a lot of feather details. Let’s consider a few things that can be done in post to further enhance the image.

Jpeg made from RAW file. Adjustments made with DxO PhotoLab including auto lens corrections.

The jpeg above was run through DxO PhotoLab with the auto lens corrections done by the software. As is my standard practice, I applied PRIME noise reduction to the image even though it was shot at ISO-450. To help bring out some of the feather details Highlights were adjusted to -20, Shadows were lightened to +10, a ‘slight’ Spot Weighted DxO Smart Lighting adjustment was made to the head of the bird. These adjustments were made to try to achieve a better balance between various areas of the bird’s body. I used the auto setting for Microcontrast which resulted in an adjustment of 12, and also tweaked Lens Sharpness settings, taking Global to 1.20 and Details to 70. You can see that these modest adjustments are starting to better define feather details.

Jpeg made from RAW file, corrections done in DxO PhotoLab and CS6

The jpeg above includes some adjustments made in CS6. These include taking Highlights to -40, Shadows to +60, Black to -20 and Vibrance to +20. Since the body of the bird has a predominance of mid-tones, I also applied +15 to Clarity. As you compare the three images you’ll notice a bit more feather detail emerging, notably on the bird’s chest and back.

Jpeg made from RAW file, adjustments made in DxO Photolab, CS6 and Viveza 2.

The jpeg above has had some small adjustments done in Viveza 2 with contrast taken to +6 and Structure adjusted to +20. These small tweaks have squeezed a bit more detail out of the feathers.

Jpeg made from RAW file, adjustments made in DxO Photolab, CS6 and Viveza 2. Final adjustments made to Levels and Brightness in CS6.

The last jpeg in the series had final adjustments done in CS6 in terms of Levels and Brightness.

Everyone has their own approach to post processing based on the software that they use and the vision that they have for a specific image. Regardless of the software that an individual photographer may use, it is important to remember that a number of factors can affect the feather details in your bird images. Only applying ‘sharpness’ to an image is typically not enough to get all of the feather details out of a photograph.

It is important to consider the amount of highlight and shadow adjustments that a particular image may require. Perceived sharpness is impacted by edge acuity, so considering adjustments to Black and White sliders is important, as are contrast and microcontrast considerations. Making some adjustments to Levels, Brightness or Exposure settings can also have an impact. Every bird image has its unique characteristics, so there is no ‘magic formula’ that can be universally applied to all bird images.

Hopefully this article has provided some basic considerations that may help you work with feather details in post.

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6 thoughts on “Working with Feather Details in Post”

  1. Hi Tom
    Great article with very useful info! I’m trying out your workflow on a couple eagle photos and have a question . When you open your .dng file in photoshop does in open in adobe camera raw? And is this when you do your second highlights shadows adjustments?

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