Trumpeter Swan Processing Tricks

It starts with a solid image that has some interesting action going on – in this case my Trumpeter Swan is shaking water off its head.  This image was taken in Yellowstone along the Madison River this fall just east of the big Bald Eagle Nest along the road (marked by cones and warning signs when active) or just west of the bridge over the Madison as the Madison River Valley begins to open up.  There always seem to be some active swans in this area.

Trumpeter Swan along the Madison River - Yellowstone.

This image was taken as a RAW file and initially processed in ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) 6.2.  It was shot with a Nikon D2x body, 500mm F4 lens, ISO 200, F5.6 @ 1/640 second.  -.5 eV.  Bogen Tripod and ballhead.  It was a fairly dark, rainy overcast day.  With flat lighting I wasn’t too worried about the white swan burning out, figuring I could add some snap in processing.  My initial Camera Raw settings were to reduce the white balance setting to 5400 to reduce the yellow, and then tweak the settings for the best effect.  In the Tonal Curves Tools I had settings of -17 Highlights and +3 Lights, -8 Darks and -9 Shadows.  I didn’t add any color saturation or sharpening in ACR – both better controlled in CS5.

Once the image was open in CS5 I used the Smart Sharpen Filter at 25% to sharpen my image initially, then I used the Quick Selection Tool to select the swan.  I checked the selection carefully to make sure I had just the bird and not the reflection.  I tweaked the histogram by using the Levels Dialog Box and added some contrast to the bird, not a lot, but brightening it up some.  I then applied my own action that I call Contrast Adjustment.  It is the Unsharp Mask (USM) applied with settings of 20 sharpening and 50 Radius and 0 Threshold.   It darkened and sharpened my white feathers with just a little extra contrast. I didn’t want to apply it to the whole image as the continuous tones in the water didn’t require sharpening – which would pixelate them.  I used Imagenomic’s Noiseware Standard to apply a small amount of noise reduction – setting of 25/25 – on the Swan.

After that I inverted my selected area so now I had the rest of the image selected and applied a greater level of noise reduction here – settings of 50/50.  My Nikon D2x does not have the newer high-ISO low-Noise technology and noise reduction is an important processing tool for me.  The noise reduction helped add a little blur to the background and foreground – making the swan pop just a little more in the overall image.  The dull sky resulted in a dull swan reflection that works fine to force the viewers eye up to the swan.  I like the composition’s strong oval shape (with the swan’s reflection).  One tool I’ve come to like is the CS5 new crop tool with the rule of thirds grid displayed on the image as the crop tool is dragged across a photo.

I like the results.  View more of my wildlife images at my website:  Wildlife Gallery.  Please comment on the work flow, if you think you know a better way I’d love to hear it.  Photographers should always crave critiques that can show a core principle in photography or photoshop in a clearer way.

About brentrpaull

Professional Photographer
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