Correcting an Underwater Image Taken Without Flash

My underwater image of a tiger shark swimming over eel grass needed some processing to make it into something worthy of the cover to Underwater Photographer Magazine Issue #97

Here is how I used Adobe Lightroom  to get it ready for the cover.

Images taken underwater without a flash will have a color cast due to the loss of the red spectrum of  light as it travels through water.

This is a method I use to process my photos that adds back in some of the red and corrects for exposure.  I prefer to leave a bit of a blue cast to the images – they are depicting underwater after all. The trick is to correct it to a point between what your brain saw during the dive and what is technically “perfect” according to the color values.

I use the tools in Adobe Lightroom to do the initial work: they are great tools and easy to use.  I might move later into Photoshop to utilize layers for adjustments to specific areas taking advantage of layers, masks, etc only offered in Photoshop. I definitely will do more detailed work on the image before printing it.

By the way, Lightroom tools are the same as in Camera Raw, but I find LR’s presentation of them easier and I have the bonus of all the organization tools in LR.

The Method

Analyze then Correct Exposure

The first step is to optimize the exposure.  I like to eliminate the distraction of color so I can really analyze what needs to be brighter, darker, and more contrasted.  To do this I temporarily desaturate the image to black and white using the Saturation Slider (Basic Panel under Presence)

 

Desaturate image
To concentrate on the Exposure and Contrast, convert to Black and White (desaturate)

 

Now it is time to analyze the image:  The Histogram is the first step.  According to the graph, there are clear shadows, midtones, and highlights,  but the whole image is too dark: there are barely any areas registering on the right hand (bright) side of the graph.

Exposure: I move the Exposure slider up until the lightest bits of water  read around 62 (pass the curser over areas and read the numbers under the histogram).  The overall change was +.55

In Lightroom the group of tools under Exposure (Highlights, Shadows, Whites, Blacks) are adjustments with smart logic behind them that helps the tool adapt and decide what is “whites” or “blacks” in this specific image.

Curve adjustment tool
Pick up the Curve Adjustment Tool and pass it over the image to read exposure values and see it on the Curve graph

For this purpose they are not doing exactly what I want so I will try the tools under ToneCurve first. Tone Curve is a degree more sophisticated and gives me the option of defining what I want to be considered Highlights, etc.  In this tool, Highlights, Lights, Darks, and Shadows are marked by regions on the tone graph.  I want to adjust the pointers to change the default “definitions” of Highlights, etc.

Curve adjustment
The image after a Curves adjustment

The dark edges of the fins  need some contrast between them and the lighter colored body. To do this I first measure the value of the darkest areas watching where on the graph this area registers by picking up the tool at the top left of the ToneCurve (“adjust the tone curve directly”). I want to define everything darker than the “spots” of the body as “shadow”  so I move the marker at the bottom of the graph over to the this spot on the graph.  Now the Darks tab needs moved to the left. Using the slider for Darks you can detect what it is adjusting – I want it to just do the spots on the body and tones on the fins.  Same with the Lights tab. Lights should be  working on everything light except the shark’s belly and some of the sand and fish.  I have now defined my exposure areas. It is time to make the adjustments.

Now I add a touch of the Clarity slider to pop the midtone contrast – this really brings out the stripes on the tiger shark.

Local adjustment brush
Adjustment brush used to brighten whites and highlights on the shark’s belly and face

For spot exposure corrections, Lightroom  has a Radial Filter tool which can brighten or darken an oval area in the same manner as a graduated filter or a free form brush type tool that can “paint” on adjustments.  I find the radial  tool better and easier to use than the Adjustment brush.

Correcting Color Using White Balance and HSL  Panel Controls

return color
The image has better contrast but still a color cast

Everything is brighter and more contrasted,  the colors look  more intense, but the color cast is still there.  I use the White Balance eyedropper tool and pass it over the image.  You want to choose a place that Should Be either black, white, or neutral grey.  In the Navigation (on the left fly out panel) window it shows you a preview of the white balance correction if you click in that space. When I choose a spot on the belly of the shark it makes the correction, but it is too much for my taste. After the correction,  I back off the sliders under White Balance a little bit back to the left toward the original cool tones.

White Balance adjustment
Use the White Balance tool on the shark’s chin – the change is too extreme but we will adjust it down
back off white balance adjustment
back off the White Balance adjustment by moving sliders back toward blue and green

Now I have the problem of the water not having as nice of a color – it has gone a bit dull –  so I go down to the panel labeled HSL/Color/B&W tools.  I like the presentation of the tool that they label Color,  so click on where it says Color and the tool changes to show each color and all three characteristics under it: Hue, Saturation, and Luminance .

Dropping Saturation on the Aqua slider a bit helps  the  color cast and increasing the Luminance to +20 helps the contrast as well.  On the Blue slider I increase the Saturation to make the blue water pretty again and then a decrease of the Luminance darkens the water and makes it a richer tone with more contrast to the whole image.  I also push the Hue of the blue up a tiny bit  without going too much or the water becomes purple. Since there is quite a bit of green in the image, I darken then Luminance on the green channel, desaturate it a touch then shift the Hue slightly to the yellow side of green.

Color adjustment HSL panel
The HSL color adjustment panel and adjustments to Aqua (desaturate), Blue (darken and move toward purple) and Green

A few final touches:  use the adjustment brush on the shark with some desaturation and white balance adjustment to take some Aqua/Blue out of the shark.  Also edit the first adjustment to the white belly and chin that you did earlier to add in desaturation to move the white closer to white.  The final adjustment is a tiny bit of the Dehaze tool.  This bumps up the contrast and intensifies the colors.

Dehaze adjusment
Final image with a small Dehaze adjustment and a little Post Crop Vignette

You can also add a bit of   Post Crop Vignette to darken the edges.

 

Also See:

Tiger Shark & Hammerhead Dive 2017

Using the Shadows / highlights command in Photoshop

Tiger Shark and Hammerhead Trips for 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photographing Elephants: 10 Ways to be Creative with Elephants

10 Creative Ways to Photograph Elephants

Elephants are frequently our photo subjects while on safari.  Their size, shape, intelligence, and trunk are just a few things that make them great subjects and very interesting.  There are many opportunities for unique, beautiful, and descriptive images of elephants.

Close details

Elephants are very unique in shape and texture. Images showing the whole elephant(s) are great to show the elephant in its environment, but can not describe the all the unique features and details of an elephant. Taking close up images of the trunk in action, tusks, skin, eyes, and ears gives your audience a chance to focus in on details and discover shapes and colors and learn about elephants in more detail.

         

Photographing Elephants
Elephant eye

Using perspective and symmetry

elephant family walks in a line

Elephants come in all sizes and travel in herds so highlight these different sizes and ages in a way that gives geometric order and symmetry to your image. Contrast of size creating perspective lines vanishing into the horizon is a pleasing effect. Elephants will often line up and if you are patient you can grab moments when trunks, ear, etc are pleasingly arranged symmetrically.

Interaction with other elephants

Elephants are social animals and this gives many interaction moments to photograph. Sometimes the golden moment is a hidden detail in a wider image. Cropping can highlight this “picture in a picture” moment between two elephants. Elephants also have greetings, reassuring gestures, and rank showing moves that you can watch and wait for then highlight through cropping and framing the images

A tender moment between mother and calf is hidden inside the wider image

 

Interaction with other species

An elephant chases zebras out of the watering hole

Showing how elephants interact with other species is capturing their role in their environment. Other species feel safe near elephants and trust their strength, awareness, and intelligence. You can photograph mixed herds, birds that groom elephants, and when they assert their dominance.

Showing scale

Obviously their size is a major feature of elephants. Showing large and small elephants together is not always enough to communicate their size. Try to show other animals such as zebra which are a familiar size to your audience to show how large they are. Manmade objects like vehicles are a good contrast as well.

Movement / Behavior

With their unique body form and parts, photographing how the elephant and its parts moves adds another dimension to your illustration of elephants. Also try to isolate and highlight unique behaviors of the elephants such as mock fighting, and the million ways they use their trunks for different things

Take the usual front view and side views to new levels

Front and 3/4

¾ is a flattering angle that has been drilled into us for portraits, but a straight on frame filling front view is eye catching. A creative crop creates interesting negative space and also increases the impact

Side

Elephants have an interesting shape so a side view shows off this shape. Think about negative space and other elements to contrast the rounded lines of the elephant such as straight trees or grass

Rear

Elephant rears are unique and large with great tails. A nicely framed rear shot shows the elephants in and interacting with their environment. Walking off “into the sunset” communicates that these elephants are wild and free.

Personality / Cute Babies

Elephants appear to have individual personalities and we often can see some of ourselves in their movement, behavior, and interaction. Anytime we can photograph this connect to ourselves it makes a more impactful image. They show happiness, companionship, nervousness, and aggravation through their actions and interactions. Capture moments of joy when they are in the water or doing something crazy.

You can see the joy when elephants get into the water
This elephant is using a very short scratching post – we had a good laugh at this

Elephant babies are very cute and are well looked after by their mothers and other herd members: it is not hard to capture intimate moments between mothers and babies.

Shape Silhouette

Sometimes lighting on a safari is challenging, but taking bad lighting and turning it into a silhouette shot can give you a special image. Elephant’s unique shape works very well against a sunset.

 

When you get out on safari and see elephants, get to know them and capture some images that illustrate everything that is fun, interesting, and unique about them.  There are not many subjects so expressive and charismatic.

Other Related Posts

Safari Story: Elephants at the Mudbath

Post Processing: 1 photo 3 ways

Dynamic Black and White Safari Images

Our photo Safaris in 2018

 

Tiger Shark and Hammerhead Dive 2017

Tiger Sharks and Hammerheads Dive Trip in Bahamas

see our trips for 2018  at www.TigerSharkDive.com  and www.GregorySweeney.com

Trip Report 2017

This year was our first year combining Tiger Sharks at Tiger Beach and Hammerheads in Bimini.  Of course we also had the bull sharks, lemons, caribbean reefs sharks.

Hammerhead dive liveaboard in Bahamas
Hammerhead eating some fish
Hammerhead dive in Bimini
Hammerhead in a cloud of fish
Tiger Beach Bahamas
Tiger Shark
Tiger shark diving in Bahamas
Tiger Shark

Tiger Shark

Shark diving
Lemon Sharks attracted to the back of our boat
Bull Shark
Bull Shark
Bull Shark
Bull Shark
MV Dolphin Dream
Our Boat

 

 

Sailfish & Sardine Adventure for Feb 2018

A Special Opportunity to Join a Most Exciting Marine Wildlife Encounter

Sailfish Hunting Bait Balls in Isla Mujeres

January 29 – Feb 4 2018

* Preliminary Dates

5 boat days for sailfish

Limited to 5 guests

swim with sailfish and sardine run
A guest snorkels while photographing sailfish

Photograph and free dive with sailfish hunting sardines in the blue water off the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. Our private charter leaves daily from the docks of Isla Mujeres for an 8 hour day of maximum time in the water photographing and enjoying this incredible encounter.

Only snorkeling gear is required and the action happens at or a meter or two below the surface. We charter the most experienced sport fishing guides who know the water and patterns of the sardines and predators.

Limited to 5 passengers on boat plus guide and crew. This is an excellent opportunity for photographers to capture dramatic images and video.  Freediving and excellent swimming skills are recommended in order to enjoy this athletic experience.

sailfish and sardine run Mexico
A sailfish has snagged a sardine from the bait ball and eats it, Gulf of Mexico

Read my article about Swimming with Sailfish  from Underwater Photographer Magazine Issue#71

 Images and Trip Reports:

Trip Report 2016

Trip Report 2017

Sailfish Image Gallery 

Trip Details on my Website

Comments from our Guests:

The trip was fantastic.  Excellent itinerary and well organized.  I saw way more sailfish than I ever expected and was much closer than I thought possible.  My friends are amazed by the photos I took.  I got a really good shot of you that I attached.  Many thanks to you and Karen.  Michael and I are spreading the word about a trip to Africa.  Great trip and hope to see you again” ——- Kurt Bitters

“Had a great time in the water and topside. And, I salute your restaurant selections! I’ll be back for more… you’re a topnotch guide and host.  I will be back for more.”

— Bob Pooley

 

sailfish-4

The hotel has a private beach with pool and deck. The rooms are ensuite with a balcony, AC, and wifi. Upgraded rooms are available at extra cost. The town of Isla Mujeres is safe and features many great restaurants, shops, beaches, bars, and a park. It is an easy ferry ride from Cancun.

I will need a minimum of 4 guests to make this trip happen and a max of 5 to allow for uncrowded boat and encounters.

 

Please contact me soon with your interest so I finalize bookings and make sure I get space on the fleet’s and hotel’s busy in season schedule. Contact Me

Get more details & images on our website

Contact us to reserve your spot 

Scuba with American Crocodiles in Chinchorro, Mexico

Crocodile in Mexico

I am offering a new trip in 2017

Photographing American Crocodiles at Banco Chinchorro, Quintana Roo, Mexico (Cancun area)

With Reef diving at Chinchorro

This is a place few people have been to and a chance to see and photograph pristine Caribbean reefs and also get close to the rare and endangered American Crocodile

Video Snorkeling with Crocs
Visit my website

photography trip Crocodiles Mexico photographing American Crocodiles photograph crocodiles

Summary:

Chinchorro Atoll (Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve) is the best place in the world to get close to American crocodiles. Located south of Cancun, Mexico and near the Belize border. The Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve is the largest stand – alone reef in the Northern hemisphere and one of the healthiest. Currently only 1,928 hectares of the 144k hectares are zoned for diving and fewer than one thousand divers get to see these remote and unspoiled dive sites per year. It teems with fish and other sea life, and contains more than 100 shipwrecks as well as the largest population of American crocodiles found in the Americas.

Chinchorro Atoll photograph crocodiles in Mexico American Crocodiles in Chinchorro Mexico

This July, photographer host Gregory Sweeney and 6 guests will travel on a unique adventure to see American Crocodiles and dive these beautiful and remote reefs. This is a safe encounter with guides who have done years of experimentation and careful planning to make this safe. Our outfitter and guides in Xcalak were the first operator to organize croc encounters in Chinchorro and they remain the only dive operator with an official concession. They are committed to sustainable tourism and conservation.

On the Chinchorro Banks, we stay in utilitarian fishing shacks on stilts over the shallow waters in a lagoon surrounded by the reefs: 36 nautical miles off shore and across from Xcalak, Mexico.   (2 -4 hours boat ride)

photograph crocodiles in Mexico underwater photography Crocodiles rustic fishing hut Chinchorro Atoll

Each morning we dive and while taking in the pristine reefs and marine life, we hunt lionfish. There is a duo purpose in this; to help eliminate the invasive lionfish population and to get food to attract the crocs. Guests are also invited to participate in the spear fishing of the lionfish and will be equipped and taught the safest techniques.

This is a remote adventure at its best: The fisherman’s’ hunts have no wifi, cell phone, mobile services, no running water, only marine toilets, and 2 or more hours from shore. Guests sleep in hammocks in the huts and delicious food is prepared and cooked by our boat captains with the aide of a small generator and ice storage chests (all food must be transferred out with us). We also might have the chance to buy fresh catch from passing fishermen to make a special, though rustic feast.

At Chinchorro, we are surrounded by water and 700 American crocodiles and a few fishermen. We photograph the crocs when they show up at midday (after they warm up) in the 1.2m deep water around our huts. We are able to maintain a level of safety even when we are getting up close due to the experience of our guides. A safety diver and guide are nearby with a pole to ward off any advances from excited crocodiles. Generally they are extremely well behaved and tolerant of divers getting close.

When in Xcalak we have a chance to enjoy some diving on excellent reefs in the shallows and some deep walls covered in healthy sponges and large stands of black coral. Sometimes manatees are spotted on these reefs and there are several wrecks and plenty of large and small fish species.

photograph crocodiles in Mexico American Crocodiles in Mexico Photo trip Crocodile in Mexico

We start and end this adventure in the Cancun area which has its own fair share of exciting diving, whale sharks, cenotes, and Mayan ruins.

If ancient reptiles and remote adventure is calling to you, get more information on price and availability from Gregory Sweeney at www.GregorySweeney.com

 

Trip Specifics

Included

2 Days scuba diving (2 tank dives) in Xcalak in the Reef National Marine Park

3 days snorkel with crocodiles at Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve

3 nights accommodation in Xcalak

3 nights accommodation in Chinchorro in rustic/ basic fishing huts

Morning dives at Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve to gather invasive lionfish

Tanks, weights, dive master, guide at Chinchorro

All meals while at Chinchorro Atoll

Breakfast and Lunch while in Xcalak

Transfers to/from Cancun Airport ( or other location TBD – 6 hour journey)

 

All fishing huts are shared and we sleep in hammocks. A single room is available while we stay in Xcalak – before and after the Chinchorro portion.

 

Itinerary

 

July 2 Meet up in Cancun – Transfer to Xcalak – Hotel night 1
July 3 Two dives in Xcalak Reef National Park – private boat Hotel night 2
July 4 Transfer by boat to Chinchorro Day 1 Crocodile Encounter at Fishing Huts – 2 hour boat ride
July 5 Day 2 Crocodile Encounter – morning dives for lion fish – night 2 at Fishing Huts
July 6 Day 3 Crocodile Encounter – morning dives for lion fish – night 3 at Fishing Huts
July 7 Transfer back to Xcalak – reef diving, Xcalak hotel 3
July 8 Transfer back to Cancun area

Limited spaces – contact me with questions or to reserve your space

info@gregorysweeney.com

http://www.gregorysweeney.com

Using the Lightroom Dehaze tool on Safari Images

Last year Adobe released a new version of Lightroom CC which contains their newest adjustment tool: The DeHaze slider.  It is found in the FX menu of the Development module (way down toward the bottom of the list).

You must have  the CC version of Lightroom to use it,  but if you have Photoshop, there is a way to access the tool and take  it further using a few medium/advanced PS techniques. (see at the end of this article for details). Also this tool works on the entire image – in Photoshop you can target the area where the effect takes place.

The purpose of the Dehaze slider is  to either add or remove atmospheric haze from a photo.  In Adobe’s words:“The Dehaze technology is based on a physical model of how light is transmitted, and it tries to estimate light that is lost due to absorption and scattering through the atmosphere.”  The obvious use is for adjusting landscape images, but I have found it useful with safari images where there was quite a bit of dust in the air and even for some underwater images where the water was not clear. (the underwater equivalent of dust)

Using Dehaze with an Underwater Image

image-1-final

For me, it is a tool that combines Contrast, color saturation,  and midtone sharpening into a single tool.  Using a combination of tools it is possible to achieve similar results to the Dehaze slider, but if time is an issue, you can get great improvements with just one adjustment.  Investing a bit more time you can build on the improvements Dehaze adds to your images by combining it with further adjustment tools.

Here is an example of how I used Dehaze for an image that was not a landscape.

the original image with no adjustments
The dry, dusty air makes this image lack contrast.

The drought has made everything very dusty and it really effects this image taken in the mid morning light.

image with dehaze adjustment
The image with just a Dehaze adjustment

With just one adjustment, the colors pop and the contrast is greatly improved.

Now I experiment with doing some Exposure adjustments first before applying the Dehaze.

My method for this is to temporarily Desaturate the image so I can analyze it without the distraction of color.

bw version
The unadjusted image temporarily desaturated so I can adjust exposure

I used the Tone Curve tool (you can also use the 4 sliders under Exposure) to add contrast by darkening the Shadows and Darks and lightening the Lights. I left the Highlights as they were since there is a bit of bright light in the mane and sky. I then restored the color to see the following improvement.

Image with exposure adjustments
Image with exposure adjustments

Now I add the Dehaze adjustment – a little bit less than I used when it was my only adjustment.

image-1-exposure-and-dehaze

Dehaze has taken the image a step better than exposure adjustments alone.

Looking at the results in detail,  I want to bring some lightening back to the Shadows range of the midtones.  I go to my Darks slider in the Tone Curve tool (or the Shadows in the Exposure section) to lighten these tones up. I can now see the details in the lion’s face better.

small adjustments after the dehaze tool
After the exposure and dehaze adjustment, I back off of the Shadows adjustment to bring light back to the lions face.

Now my image is acceptable or I can add details such as small color adjustments (to saturation or hue) or some targeted sharpening or highlighting on places like the eyes.

Here are a few other images with a simple Dehaze adjustment.

leopard image
Image out of the camera
with a dehaze adjustment
The image after a small Dehaze adjustment
elephant image
Image with no adjustments
elephant image adjusted
Image after a Dehaze adjustment

For those without Lightroom CC who have Photoshop or those who take the technique further with more targeted results:

Open the image in Photoshop.

Make a duplicate of the background layer.

Go to the Filter Menu and find Camera Raw Filter

Dehaze appears under the FX tab

Make your adjustments and choose OK to return to Photoshop.

Now you will make a Layer Mask which will hide the effect where you do not want it. – in my example I will mute the effect in the background.

Add the layer mask to the layer which has the Camera Raw Filter adjustments.  Use a paintbrush and black color to mask out the effect.   You can soften your brush and/or lower the opacity at the transition points.

limiting the effect
limiting the Dehaze effect to just the foreground and not the background

If I had turned my copied layer into a Smart Object, I would be able to return to the Camera Raw adjustments and amend them as I  wish.

The Dehaze tool is now my go to tool for images that need contrast boost – especially if it was taken in dusty conditions.

Check out more of my Post Processing Techniques.

Using Shadows Highlights tool to add contrast

The Dehaze Tool for underwater photos

Safari Story: The Life of a Leopard

During our small group photo safaris we travel an hour and half south of our Tree House Lodge to the Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve.  This is a very old reserve (one of the first to be decided as a nature reserve) and we stay in the section which is bordering the Kruger National Park.  There is no fence so wildlife is free to range into both areas.

Leopard in Sabi Sands
Leopard Tingana is paused to watch and listen for prey or other predators

We come to Sabi because they have the rivers and tree conditions that leopard prefer and thrive in.  They also have a long history of tracking and knowing their leopards very intimately so the rangers quickly find the leopards and can tell us each animal’s story.

We had many wonderful leopard moments over the course of our 3 September 2016 safari groups.  This evening game drive was especially nice:  we tracked a male leopard named Tingana while he went on his early evening rounds

leopard in sabi sands
He observes every smell, sound, and movement ever vigilant for the presence of lions.
small group photo safari
patrolling his territory
photographing the big 5 on safari
Our leopard crosses a road on his rounds. We often get very close sighting of big cats who ignore our vehicles
photo safari with leopards
The leopard is checking an area with holes where there might be warthogs
photographing leopards on safari
checking for warthogs in a hole
photographing big cats in Sabi Sands
he pauses in a comfortable spot to take a short nap

We catch back up to our leopard after the sun has set.  There are lions moving through near by.  A leopard can be harassed or killed by lions so he is becomes very alert and circles back to his tree where he had a kill stashed away.

male leopard
A lion is nearby and our leopard is suddenly very alert to the danger
leopard in a tree
Resting after a meal stashed in a tree

After a snack in the safety of a tree he goes back to resting.

The next morning we catch up with Tingana and he is on the ground under the tree still guarding it from lions and others who would steal it.

photo safari with leopards
The male keeps thinking about and checking on the impala carcass up in the tree

photographing-leopards-in-south-africa-3

On a previous visit to Sabi Sands we saw Tingana with a zebra kill up a  tree.  It is amazing to think of the strength this animal must command in order to drag a small zebra high up a tree.

See our photo safaris which include a visit to Sabi Sands in 2017 & 2018 on our website  Africa Wild Safaris

 

 

Make a Dynamic Wildlife Portrait with Adobe Photoshop

before and after the effect
The image before and after applying the adjustments

A South Africa photo safari will be full of opportunities to photograph animals at close distances. These images have all the details and interesting poses found in modern (human) portraits. You can apply current portrait processing techniques to your wildlife portraits. This technique gives the image added depth and dimension and adds the illusion of the face coming forward.

The key characteristics  of this technique are Light, Contrast,  & Sharpness

waterbuck portrait Cheetah Portrait

Areas with contrast and sharpness draw the viewers attention and lighter areas seem closer to the viewer building intimacy and connection between subject and viewer.

Begin in Camera Raw or Lightroom

Start with a basic White Balance adjustment if the image is too warm or cool.

Also quickly adjust the tone for good exposure and add some contrast. We will add more contrast later and do further work on the overall Tone.

You can also add punch to the eyes now, but I like to leave this as the final touch.

add dodge and burn layer
Add a layer then fill with 50% grey and set to Soft Light. Use the Dodge and Burn Tools on this layer

Dodge and Burn

Dodge and burn will increase contrast and bring out specific details that you think are important. Details around the eyes and character features on the face are good targets.  For animals with facial markings, it is good to bring these out.

This step is done in Photoshop since it will be achieved using a layer mask. Switch To Photoshop from Lightroom by accessing the left click menu and selecting Edit In – Photoshop.

Create a new Layer with blend mode of Soft Light

Fill with 50% gray

Choose Dodge tool

The Dodge/Burn tool has controls which limit the effect to specific tonal ranges: Highlights, Midtones, and Shadows

Start with the Dodge Tool: Set range to Highlights with Exposure between 5 – 10% Paint over areas on the face to brighten highlight areas and other areas you with to appear closer to the viewer. Repeatedly go over areas to make the effect stronger or raise the Exposure setting higher.

Switch to the burn tool and darken midtone and shadow areas in the same way.

dodge and burn layer
Painting with the Dodge and Burn tools creates the following mask which can be edited

It is a bit of a pain, but try to burn and dodge in the whiskers and eyelashes: they are unique to the animal and thus important to present to the viewer.

Contrast and Sharpening

If you are familiar with using Smart Objects, you can duplicate your image layer and convert it to a Smart Object. Then choose Filter – Camera Raw Filter.

Camera Raw Menu
add a Camera Raw Filter to the Smart Object

The alternate method is to run the Camera Raw Filter on the layer. The difference is that with the Smart Object, you can go back and fine tune your Sharpen and Clarity values.

Camera Raw adjustment layer
Use the Adjustment Brush to increase midtone contrast with Clarity and sharpness sliders

In the Camera Raw tool, choose the Adjustment Brush, then set Clarity to around 25 and all other sliders to zero. Check the Mask at the bottom of the dialogue box and paint over the face where you want the effect. Click it off to see the effect, then also increase the Sharpness around +10 – +25. Press Ok to return to PhotoShop.

Desaturate

Press D to set Foreground and Background to default colors of black and white.

Create new Adjustment layer and choose Gradient Map Adjustment Layer .  In the properties panel click on the gradient ramp to open the gradient editor

gradient map menu
Map a Gradient Map Adjustment Layer
Creating Gradient Map
Adjust the gradient to increase the contrast in Highlights and midtones

Drag white color stop left toward the center to intensify the highlights.

desaturate using a Gradient Map
Reduce the Opacity of the Gradient Map layer to temper the desaturation effect

Drag midpoint slider to the left or right a small amount. ( you might want to try midtones both to the left and right on separate layers to see which you like best.) Click OK . Reduce layer opacity to 30% or a percent that gives the look you want. You still want a hint of color instead of a completely monochrome image. The amount that looks good to you will vary depending on the image.

Add some Fake Depth of Field

If the image could use more depth of field, this step will add some.

Add another merged layer to the top of the stack

Use the Filter Blur Gallery Iris Blur and place the oval over the face

Adjust it to fit and so none of the sharp areas are covered

Increase the blur amount. Since animals do not have oval shaped faces (ears etc. ) you can add a mask to the layer and paint black to remove blur from these areas.

Sharpening

Make a merged copy and name it Sharpen. You can make this layer a Smart Object f you wish. Choose Filter Other Highpass. Add radius of 1 – 5 pixel: enough to be able to see the hairs and whiskers, but without a large halo around edges. Change the Blend Mode of the Sharpness layer to Overlay. If the effect is overdone you can reduce the layer opacity or adjust the radius.

High Pass Layer
A Highpass Filter is a monochrome mask which emphasizes edges creating a sharpening effect

At this point you can also add a layer with texture to add a gritty effect. Use a mask to block the texture effect from the eyes so they stay sharp.

Adjusting the Light

The idea here is to darken the background and leave the face bright.

Curves layer
Create a Curves Adjustment Layer and darken the background. Use a mask to keep the subject light

There are several ways to achieve this. One way is to add a curves adjustment layer then mask out the areas you want to remain bright.

Another method is to add another Merged layer to the top   called lighting

Do a Camera Raw filter and choose the Radial Filter tool to  draw oval to encircle the main part of the face. Adjust Exposure to darken outside the oval. Alternately use the Adjustment brush to navigate the non oval face.

Add punch to the eyes

dodge and burn eyes
Go back to the Dodge and Burn layer and add pop to the eyes

If you have used all Smart Objects and Adjustment Layers, you can go back to the Dodge and Burn layer and add some contrast to the eyes. If you have used stamped layers, you simply add a layer at the top, fill with 50% grey and set the Blend Mode to Soft Light. Use the Dodge and Burn tool.

A vignette or cropping might also be a good edition.

Finished portrait
The image after applying the adjustments

Use this series of adjustments on several images to give a consistent look to a collection.

impala portrait Lion portrait

Favorite Moments from My May 2016 Safaris

I hosted 2 wonderful photo safari groups in May 2016 .  We had fun and adventure among some really great wildlife sightings.  My guests returned with many great action, predator, and close up shots. One guest told me he had over 3,000 photos to sort through.

Photo safari Group

After each series of safaris, I reflect back on the moments that made the most vivid memories while I sort through my photos. Each moment spent out in the wild spaces of South Africa is special, but I have selected a few to share that stood out for me.

The majority of these images were shot with my Canon 70 – 200 lens on a 5D MK3 – this is my workhorse setup for safaris in South Africa

Burchell’s Coucal in Kruger National Park

coucal

I had had a great and active morning in Kruger, but things were slower in the early afternoon.  This coucal brightened things up by landing on a branch near my vehicle and stayed in a perfect pose.  I was even able to move the truck to get shot from different angles and sun exposure.  This species of cuckoo does not deposit eggs in another species’ nests.

Leopard Cubs at Play

We were lucky enough to find these cubs and their mother on a morning game drive with perfect weather and again on other drives.  They played with each other and often their mother would join in the fun.

leopard siblings

Every so often they would sit to rest and survey their surroundings as young predators in training.

leopard cub fight

Then the fun would erupt again for another round of pouncing and wrestling

Rhino Establishing Rank

Rhino fight

White rhino are usually pretty stoic when we encounter them: they keep at eating or close ranks to stand in an alert defensive position. This group of 3 males and one young (probably) male were agitated and active when we found them.  The 3 older rhinos were engaged in some intense battling with their horns with one male defending his dominance in the herd. The youngster was quite stressed by the whole affair and ran around in panic.

Very Young Hyena Puppies

GS_9976_160601

This is a very large and active den site for spotted hyena.  On this visit there were several adult females around and some adolescent and older pups. Out of the den came 2 very young  pups. These are the youngest I have ever seen. The female in charge (not sure if it was the mother) kept them close to the den by picking them up in her powerful jaws using a gentle touch.

Lions with their Kill

Lion snack

This was one of several very good sightings we had through the two May safaris.  This time the females were resting nearby and the male was there too. The buffalo meal was mostly consumed, the previous night, but this male lion was still hungry and working with the carcass to get all the meat he could. It is hard work for the lions to pull the meat apart and they frequently take a rest in the shade.

 

Mother Leopard Having Fun

Leopard mother

It must be stressful to try to feed, train, and defend two active cubs. This is why it was so delightful to be there to see the mother leopard play with her cubs.  No of them took any notice of our vehicle and cameras and just stalked and mock attacked each other in the open and right in front of us.

Antics in the Mud Bath

elephant humor

elephant mud bath

As the rainy season water drys up and becomes mud, these spots become a favorite place to visit and photograph. When elephants come by it is a funny mud flinging  spectacle with bodies rolling and splashing.  One elephant pushed his younger sister in the mud.  Rubbing follows the mud bath. At this water hole the favorite rubbing tree had become very short and elephants had to contort to funny positions to use it – such as this youngster doing a face plant in order to get a rub.

 

Moving Herds in Kruger

wildebeest herd on the move

Parts of Kruger National Park open up into wide vistas where you can see far into the distance.  This herd of wildebeest was on the move and created a nice sight line and vanishing point for my photo.

Game Drives in the Dark

bush baby

I enjoy the end of our afternoon game drives when we return to the lodge after dark using spot lights.  This time we found a bush baby.  I am still hoping to see a pangolin or aardvark by night.  We also find chameleons , small cats, and hear the night calls of birds and herd animals.

Lions Seeking Shade

lion with a kill

This kill was in a great spot for feeding at night, but as the morning wore on it was getting hot out in the open defending the remains of the meal. The female lion – who was covered head to toe in blood and guts – tried to drag the carcass to a shady spot.  It was a bit too heavy for her and the other lions just watched from the shade.

 

Drama in Kruger – all in the first 10 Minutes

Black Backed Jackal

This was the start of one of our all time best days in Kruger. A hyena chased after a leopard cub while the mother fought to defend it and this black-backed jackal stood at the ready to take advantage no matter who won.  The jackal was probably following either the hyena or leopard to wait for chances of stealing a meal.  We also saw elephant, lion, and rhino all before the welcome center.

We also had beautiful and interesting skies that day.  Sometimes you forget to take some wide shots to illustrate the vastness of the park.

Kruger National Park

 

Safari Story: An Afternoon at the Elephant Mud Bath

Our Photo Safari Dates for 2017

My Favorite Moments from our 1st September Safari

My Favorite Lens for a South African Photo Safari: my Canon 70 – 200 mm f2.8

New Tree House Complete at Tree House Safari Lodge

Safari Story: An Afternoon at the Elephant Mud Bath

south africa photo safari seeing elephantsWe are on a game drive in the Balule Game Reserve in the mid afternoon. We had just left a very nice leopard sighting and we were now in search of our next wildlife encounter. Our driver took us to a favorite spot for rhino, elephants, and buffalo to have a mudbath. Today a family of elephants was enjoying the baths.

photo safari sightings: elephant in a mud bath

The season has become dry early this year so a good water hole and mud have been a rare find for the animals in the area. Here there is a small area where the water is still at the surface, but elephants can find water by digging.

photo safari game drive elephants

As we arrive, two juvenile elephants are digging in the small pit to enlarge it. Their sides are caked with fresh mud and dried mud covers their faces and trunks. You can see the enjoyment as the two use their front feet to dig deeper and bring up more water which they stir into mud.

Nearby, a mother elephant and her infant calf eat leaves and rest together in the shade.

photo safari photographing elephants South Africa safari elephants elephant in funny position while scratching

Now the juveniles have had enough mud and turn their attention to a tree stump which functions as a favorite scratching post. Each has a go at it displaying crazy poses as they maneuver their bulk to reach the short stump. Each has a try at pulling the stump out in hopes of making it taller and a more excellent tool.

photographing baby elephants

Meanwhile, the baby and mother have a go in the mud followed up by their turn at the scratching post. The little elephant is completely covered in mud and very pleased with her adventure in the mud.

Young male elephants sparing

The juveniles have gone back to eating and two older males, still juveniles practice some mock sparring. These playful fights and twisting of trunks is also a bonding and an exercise is establishing and acknowledging rank in the group.

young elephants mock fighting

The elephants had some good fun, but they never stop eating for long, so soon they return to eating.

 

We continue on to watch the sunset and prepare for the wildlife action after dark. We had several encountering on our way back in the dark including a bushbaby (a type of subprimate) and a chameleon.

 

If you would like to join us on a photo safari visit our safari webpage or check out other posts and links on this blog site.

Our Photo Safari Dates

Know Your Subjects: Elephant Bonding and Greeting with Their Trunks

Gregory Sweeney Underwater Photography Trips

A New Tree House at our Tree House Lodge

Follow our adventures on safari in South Africa and underwater