This week’s Workflow Friday comes from an exceptional photographer who leads African photo safaris, has his own line of camera gear bags, and whose images can be seen in your local Banana Republic retail store. Andy Biggs of the blog The Global Photographer inspires equal parts creativity and jealousy as he shares his photographic adventures in Africa and elsewhere around the world. Like many of those featured here, reviewing his work makes me want to be a better photographer.
So, without further ado, take it away Andy!
Thank you for the opportunity to share some of my processing steps! I will walk through how I processed an image for my Timeless Africa Collection portfolio, which is an image of a leopard in a tree that was photographed right after the sun went down. We had a wonderful day out on the Serengeti plains, in the east African country of Tanzania. I was out on safari with some friends of mine, and I had not put my camera away yet. I am very thankful, because we saw this beautiful female leopard as we were passing by a tree right next to our path. I had only a few seconds to grab as many frames as I could, but I was only able to nail 1 or 2 frames before she scuttled off into the bush. I had my camera set to ISO 1600, and I was using a Canon 1DsMkII camera with a 500mm f/4 lens on a beanbag.
Here are my steps on how I processed the image.
Step 1) I processed the raw file in Adobe Camera Raw, and outputted the image as a color image in 16-bit mode, full resolution. Saved as a .psd file.
Step 2) After opening the resulting file in Photoshop, I created a new layer and converted the image to black and white. I use the Channel Mixer for all of my black and white conversions in Photoshop, and on this day I chose a +80, +20, 0 (R, G, B) mixture.
Step 3) I created a new adjustment layer to increase the overall contrast of the image. I don’t mind losing shadow detail when I increase the contrast of a scene, as I believe that people respond favorably to contrast. I am definitely not obsessed with the trend of opening up as much shadow detail as possible. Give me a deep black in a scene and I am a happy man. When I look at images that have too much detail in the lower values, the images typically look washed out. When using a tool such as the Shadows and Highlights adjustment in Photoshop, one must pay attention to mid tone contrast when opening up shadows and bringing down the highlights. The reason is that more values are now being moved to the middle of the tonal range, and there is a lack of mid tone contrast as a result.
Step 4) Selective sharpening adjustment layer. I sharpened the leopard’s face with Photokit Sharpener. This sharpening tool does a fantastic job with all things related sharpening. Capture sharpening, creative (selective) sharpening and output sharpening.
Step 5) I then needed to burn down the background a bit, as the bright background was distracting. I created a new blank adjustment layer and used a black brush at 5% opacity for burning.
Step 6) I created a vignette around the edges, using the same technique in Step #5. The key is to use a large enough brush off of the side of the canvas so that the effect is slowly built up. It is helpful to click the ‘F’ key before painting with the brush, which allows you to work outside of the canvas on the image. Minimize the size of the image in relation to the screen, so you have some of the gray area to the side.
Step 7) On a new curves adjustment layer, I created a slight upward curve to brighten up the leopard’s face and body. I had to create a mask so that the adjustment only affected the leopard, and not the entire image.
Step 8 ) I then toned the image using Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro. I have created a custom tone for my wildlife images, and this tone is both brown and red in the shadows and midtones, yet neutral with the highlights.
That’s it! I know enough in Photoshop to get the jobs done for my own images, but I am by no means a huge Photoshop guru or expert. I consider myself a field photographer first and a digital darkroom guy after that. If you have any questions at all, please post them on this blog post and I will try to remember to check back to answer them.
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