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Improve your wildlife photography without breaking the bank: Editing

Throughout this series I will be providing some tips and advice on how to significantly improve your wildlife / nature photography without breaking the bank. It will involve reevaluating your approach to the craft and implementing small but effective steps which will elevate your photography to the next level.

In this instance we will be talking about editing / postprocessing and an incredibly important role it plays in defining your photography and, if properly executed, making a huge difference and enabling you to set yourself apart from the crowd Editing can make or break your image, it is hard to emphasize enough how important it is and yet so many people don’t pay attention to this aspect of wildlife photography. We can talk about different "schools of thought" regarding the editing in photography but I won't be dwelling on that too much. My stance is, art is quite largely subjective, and what you decide to do with your images, as long as you are transparent, I couldn't care less. I don't subscribe to purist train of thought in this context and it's up to each artist to decide where they want to take their vision ultimately.

Let's jump into practical side of the story and talk about direct steps that you can take right now while editing your images to get the best possible results. I will touch each notion briefly as it would take too much time to go into detail with each editing technique, but if you want to learn editing in absolute detail and master it I do offer individually tailored one-on-one editing courses, please do get in touch. OK, so much about selling myself, off to the tips.

Important notes to have in mind in relation to editing process:

  1. Already consider the editing process while out in the field and taking the photograph. This will drastically change your editing process and enable you to get more refined final result. This will also force you to think differently (modular) and ultimately make editing process easier and more streamlined. Too many people don't consider editing while out in the field and taking the image, also, I often see people taking "bad" images thinking "nothing to worry about, we'll sort it out in postprocessing" only to be completely disappointed afterwards and realizing it's not always that simple.

  2. Always shoot in RAW format, this will give you incredible file flexibility compared to compressed formats such as .jpg. What's more, it will enable you to store your images in optimum format for editing for later, when your editing skills will be sharpened. Sometimes you can go back to your old images and squeeze so much more out of them years after you shot them, just because your editing skills have advanced and you can tackle them with new perspective and tools.

  3. Before you start post processing, have a final goal, or vision, where do you want to get your image visually, don't just start aimlessly moving sliders (even though that can be fun too). Analyze what is the most important part of an image, where do you want to steer (guide) the viewer to, where is the light coming from, are there any distractions that you want to minimize (remove), what are the weak points, how is the white balance, how is the color balance and are there any colors you want to emphasize and others you'd want to subdue, etc.

  4. Analyze your image and determine its visual focus, its strengths and weaknesses and how you can minimize those weaknesses (distractions) and accentuate the strengths. Where do you want the eye of a viewer to go?

  5. I always advise you to edit locally and not globally, or you can do the combination of both. Localized editing is more powerful as it will give you more control and enable you to tackle certain aspects of the image individually and avoid affecting the parts of the image that you don’t want to be affected, which is the case when using global adjustments.

  6. After you edit your image, don’t post it online or print it straight away. Take a moment to remove yourself from the screen and return back to the image and you will see it with fresh eyes. This will enable you to notice if you over edited or did something that you could do better. Maybe you’ll notice that white balance is a bit off or that there’s too much contrast, etc. While we’re editing an image our eyes get adapted to the colors and tones on the screen and it’s easy to misjudge if we went over the board or haven’t done enough, taking a little break (or a long one) can be very beneficial in this regard.

  7. Attention to fine details is what will set you apart from other photographers. Sometimes minute details can significantly affect your image and it's final visual impact, so don't be sloppy.

  8. Pay special attention to eyes - if there is an eye contact in your photograph, of course. Eye contact is of utmost importance when trying to establish emotional connection between the subject and the viewer, therefore pay attention to the eyes and see if there is a room for improvement or enhancement through editing. For example, I usually like to emphasize a catch in the eye in my photographs, because it makes eye look more "alive" and provides for a 3d effect. There is multitude of approaches/techniques to do this, for example, using Adobe Lightroom, you can select a brush, set appropriate opacity, let's say 40%, increase whites a little bit, exposure a little bit and clarity, and then brush it in on a lightest part of the eye (reflection), you can do the same thing for the other parts of the eye, select the brush, but instead of increasing the whites and exposure, you can now increase clarity, contrast and shadows a bit to give darker part of the eye more "pop".

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