Post-processing and work flow

Raw images can be downloaded from your CF cards to a hard drive, and a back-up copy made on another hard drive. If desired another back-up can be made. Then the card can be formatted in camera.

I use BreezeBrowser Pro to judge and sort raw images – any similar program will work. This program allows me to rank images, compare like images easily and choose the best ones. I put those in a separate folder on one hard drive and make a copy of that folder on another hard drive (and another, if desired). I label the folder with the date of capture, but you can label them in a way that makes sense to you. Then I delete all of the original downloaded images and back-ups. I try to do all of this on the same day I captured the images – as possible. So I am left with chosen best images for the day and back-ups of them.

I process songbird images with the intent of recreating the look of what I saw in-the-field. Noting the colors and tones of the birds and their environment at the time of image capture is very important, because during image processing I will nearly always need to make adjustments to re-create that look.

There are many newer programs that make converting raw images and image processing simpler and better. I use DxO PhotoLab Elite to convert raw images. There are YouTube videos showing how this program works and what computer requirements are necessary to run the program. I use relatively few of its features with songbirds, but they are excellent when used properly, and they save a lot of time. I demonstrate the use of those features for songbirds at workshops:

Using one of my chosen best images in DxO (after navigating to its folder), I click the “customize” tab along the top, and automatic adjustments for your camera and lens combination (for which you will have to approve a download – of those adjustments) are shown in the view of the image. Some of those adjustments correct for lens distortion for your particular camera and lens combo, and this makes for a sharper image.

The first thing I do is click the “compare” tab right next to the “customize” tab, holding it down to see what the image looked like before automatic adjustments, which are pre-set and detailed in a column along the right side of the screen. I sometimes see that the program blows out the highlights of a songbird, and if so I easily fix that by adjusting the intensity slider of the “DxO Smart Lighting” adjustment to zero or near zero, from its pre-set value of 25.

If the image needs a slight exposure adjustment because it is slightly dark I do it at this point with the “exposure compensation” adjustment.

Next: scrolling down to the bottom on the right side column I find “DETAIL” and sometimes check the “purple fringing” box, and tweak the strength of the adjustment. I demonstrate this in specific examples at the workshop.

Next: I scroll up to “Noise reduction” which will be on raw because you have a raw file. Just under “Noise reduction” I click on “PRIME” and adjust the slider to 80. I have experimented extensively with this setting and found that 80 consistently does the best job for noise reduction. PRIME noise reduction is a very valuable aspect of DxO PhotoLab for songbird images, especially those taken at higher ISOs.

Some images have much more contrast than the scene I witnessed and photographed in-the-field. In those cases I will use “DxO Smart Lighting” and its “Spot Weighted” feature to lessen the contrast, and I will save a lot of time that would otherwise be necessary – making selections and adjustments in Photoshop. This requires experience and practice with many images, and knowing what else can be done easily in Photoshop to fine tune the contrast. I go through examples at the workshop.

At this point I hit the “Export to Disk” tab on the bottom right, and a pop-up folder appears. I choose “Tiff – 16 bit – full size”, making sure the standard output is the same and designate that the image go into a custom folder labeled “DxO” (and with the date) which is the DxO converted image file folder.

Then I open Photoshop and navigate to that folder and open the image (which now has a “_DxO” file extension). First I open “shadows/highlights”. I usually set the “shadows” slider to a value between 3-12, and leave the “highlights” slider at zero. Then I may fine tune brightness/contrast, with a new layer or use “curves” to possibly get a better result. Again, I go through this at the workshop.

At this point color adjustments are almost always necessary. Often there are color casts and they are unique to each image. They depend on lighting conditions at the time of capture and the adjustment made in DxO. It takes experience to recognize them and adjust for them. Also, there is no way to entirely prevent them at the time of capture – that is why I shoot with automatic white balance – it doesn’t matter.

The best way to show you color casts is with many individual examples, and video of the process. Workshop clients witness this first hand, as I process images on my computer.

The most common color casts are with blue, cyan, and magenta, but they also occur with red, green, and yellow. They can occur throughout the image or within certain parts of the image (such as the sky). Often they occur throughout the image and you can adjust for the color cast using “hue/saturation”. For example a Black and White Warbler in cloudy conditions with forest background can have a blue cast in its black. I choose blue (in hue/saturation) and decrease saturation to 50-60, and the cast dissappears. It may also have a cyan cast, so I can choose cyan and decrease saturation 30-40 and the cast dissappears. Those are typical number ranges for those 2 casts.

When finished with Photoshop adjustments I flatten the image, convert it from 16-bit to 8-bit tiff (image – mode – 8-bit), and save it as a processed full sized tiff in a folder labeled “master tiffs” within the folder of raw images from the day. I make 1 or 2 copies in external hard drives. The master tiff can be cropped and sized for print-out. Usually images at 12″ x 18″ (or less) do not need any sharpening.

At this point I may make a jpeg image to share. I usually crop slightly at 8″ x 12″ ratio with the crop tool. But the ratios can vary depending on compositional elements and distracting elements creeping into the image. I go to “image size” and set size at 8″ x 12″ and set resolution at 100-110, and choose “Bicubic Sharper (for best reduction)” and hit OK. I might use the horizontal type tool to put my name on it, then merge layers, and save it as a labeled jpeg at maximum quality in a folder for the day labeled jpegs with the date.

My folder labels in an external hard drive for the day of Jan 1, 2020 (for example) would be: 1-1-2020 raw; 1-1-2020 DxO converted; 1-1-2020 master tiffs; 1-1-2020 jpegs

Lately I have been deleting the DxO converted folders entirely – to save space, and because I am sure of the adjustments made in DxO and they are easy to duplicate if it were ever necessary.

If I am going to organize images according to songbird species, for example, I would do it with the jpegs by copying them into organized species folders. Then if I refer to them the date information is embedded in the jpeg file and shown in BreezeBrowser Pro. I can easily navigate to the master file using the date. This takes up way less hard drive space than organizing species folders using master tiffs.

Male Black and White Warbler in late summer; ISO 800; F 7.1; 1/400 sec; exposure compensation -2/3. This is the full frame image (converted to a jpeg for illustration) – the only thing done in DxO was noise reduction. It looks the same as the raw image otherwise.

This is the image (converted to a jpeg for illustration) after processing the DxO converted raw image in Photoshop. What was done in Photoshop? shadow/highlights: +12 on shadows. Hue/saturation: desaturate blue -55 (to get blue cast out of the black of the bird). Select white of wing bar and similar whites; select inverse and feather 4 pixels. Use levels to brighten rest of image slightly. This is one example of what can be done to get the image to look like it did in-the-field. Other examples for warblers with bright highlights are similar because I expose for the highlights (to not over expose them), and often the rest of the image is slightly dark. With DxO and Photoshop post processing is very quick.

Here is the cropped image; I cropped it at 9″ x 12″ for composition.