Category Archives: Safari Photography & Post Processing Techniques

Tips on how best to photograph the African wildlife: Planning the shot, capturing the image, then getting the digital photo into your processing system, and finally how to make the most of your photos with post processing and creative techniques.

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


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


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


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


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.


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

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.


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.


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

2015 My year in Images – Black and White Theme

Each year I pull together a collection of images that summarize all of the wildlife photography and wildlife encounters I had this past year.  This year I thought I would  try a theme of Black and White / Monochrome.

hammerhead Black and White in Lightroom

There are many tools that will help you process your digital images into monochromatic images; Photoshop, Lightroom, and numerous third party and plugin softwares.  Even within Photoshop and Lightroom there are dozens of ways to achieve the black and white look and spirit.


For this collection of images I challenged myself to use many of the different techniques available to me in the Photoshop and Lightroom toolset.

The first challenge was which images to choose: not every image is powerful in monochrome / Black & White.  Contrast, range of tonality (black to highlights), sharpness , and separation of subject and background / features are all important for making a successful monochrome image.  Color can be necessary to understand the subject and the setting, but sometimes it is just a distraction. It is these times when the image can be elevated by removing the color (or most of it)

Here are the highlights of my year and a bit about how I processed the images.

January: Hammerhead Sharks in Bimini

hammerhead Black and White in Lightroom
Processed in Lightroom: In the color tools I desaturated on most of the individual color channels but to a less extent on the Aqua and BLue channels to leave a tint. I use the overall Saturation slider to remove more color . Increase contrast with the exposure sliders or curves. The fish eye lens has made it very dark on the edges so I compensate for this with a crop and a Post Crop Vignette to lighten the edges and take some of the circle effect away. Finally I use Clarity and Sharpen


February:  Manatees (for my new book

March:  Tiger Sharks and Caribbean Reef Shark,  Bahamas

Duotone Tiger Shark processed in Lightroom
Processed with Lightroom: Here I used one of Lightroom’s Black and White Tone presets – “Creamtone”. I then went under the Split Toning adjustments and changed the colors to cool tones in silver and blue. I increased Contrast and Clarity to sharpen the subject

Quadtone Mode in Photoshop

Processed in Photoshop: I want to use Quadtone: 4 colors assigned according to tonal range Black, shadows, whites, highlights. First change to 8 bit and Greyscale mode. Then choose Duotone Mode. I set 4 colors all in grays and browns and set the curves of each to assign them to a tonal range. I then used a Highpass filter to sharpen. Convert back to RGB before saving.

Shark image in Photoshop
Processed in Photoshop: I used the Black & White adjustment layer first. Then I added a Color Balance adjustment layer to boost the blues and add a cool tint. I used Levels adjustment for sharpening and contrast

April – May:  South Africa

Black and White Vulture processed with Lightroom
I isolated the subject through cropping and further brought it out with darkened background achieved through an adjustment brush. I did a simple desaturation with the Desaturation slider and reducing the Vibrance. Both were reduced to around 15% leaving traces of yellow and red for a tinted effect
Waterbuck in Photoshop
Processed in Photoshop: I used the Mode command to convert to Greyscale. Then used HDR Toning adjustment to starting with the Contrast preset then tweeking it to my liking. I then used dodge and burn layers to bring out the eyes and other details in the face. The HDR tone adjustment provided plenty of contrast and perceived sharpening.

June: Wild Dolphins in the Bahamas

Dolphin Split Tone Lightroom
Processed in Lightroom: This utilizes Split Toning to do the same effect as Duotones in PS. I first optimized contrast and exposure, desaturated the image, then set tones for the lights and darks and balanced between the two as well as controlled the saturation of each.


July: Whale Sharks in Mexico

Whale Shark Black and white in Photoshop
Processed in Photoshop: I used the Channel Mixer to remove the color and adjust the tonality. Here I used the BW + Red filter preset to make the water dark. I used a multi layer technique to add lots of sharpening: I copy the image several times, invert one of the layers then do a surface blur on it. Two different blend modes and a mask to limit the sharpening just to the subject. I also added a Curves layer for added contrast. and some targeted dodge and burn on places like the eyes.

Sept – Oct:  South Africa

Monochrome rhino in Lightroom
Processed in Lightroom: This was misty and low contrast. I wanted to preserve this feeling. I achieved the tint through a White Balance adjustment and dropped the Saturation and Vibrance sliders to subdue the already subtle colors. I used a local adjustment brush on the rhino to add contrast, sharpening, and clarity to the subject. Finally I added a Post Crop Vignette to dark the edges and center attention on the rhino.

I hope this has sparked your creativity and you will start to experiment and explore ways to enhance your photos in the monochromatic realm.  


Some other posts about Post Processing and Black & White

But first get some Great new Images on a Photo Tour in 2016 – 2017

Creative Black and White Techniques

Boosting Color with Split Toning

Correcting a Leopard Image in Lightroom

Using the Shadows / Highlights Command in Photoshop to add Contrast to an image

Adding contrast to an image is a great way to boost the impact of the image, especially African images shot in full sun and those where the animal is camouflaged.


Between the Development tools in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, there are many ways to achieve increased contrast. Here I will employ the Shadows/Highlights Adjustment in Photoshop and compare it to results using the Curves Tool and to using a combination of Development Tools in Lightroom.

Original w wb adjustment-1
Original Image with White Balance Adjustment

My starting point is this image of a male lion who has just fought for his pride females: he is clearly injured,  but still has a regal air. I start with a small white balance adjustment in Lightroom (I used the eyedropper on the white fur of his chin to set the balance).   Using the right-click to get the menu, I select Edit In Photoshop to open the image and Photoshop. If promoted, choose to edit the image with the Lightroom adjustments. When I am all finished and saved the results, Lightroom will display the two images together – like a before and after. I can then stack them or otherwise keep the two files related.


Use Photoshop for more sophisticated tools and the ability to limit adjustments to certain areas of your image using layers and masks.


For comparison, This image is processed for contrast and sharpness entirely in Lightroom. I started with a Medium Contrast Curve which I tweaked slightly. I added Clarity of +22 and Vibrance of +18 then sharpened with an amount of 56, radius 1.1, Detail of 17, and a high masking value of 85 to limit sharpening to the subject and foreground. This is a great quick result that is good for social media, but if I want to print this or display on a large monitor, I want more specific control.

lightroom results
Lightroom Development Tools results
LR results detail-1
Lightroom results details

While the Lightroom tools are very good, Photoshops layers and masks gives you so much more ability to control where the adjustments happen.


I also liked the control and results I achieved with the Shadows/Highlights command better than those I got from Lightroom and the Curves command in PS.

PS curves only copy
Photoshop Curves contrast adjustment
Photoshop Curves Detail


The Shadows / Highlights Adjustment – Found under the Image – Adjustments Menu


This tool has multiple uses including improving images with too much contrast, those with subjects shot against bright backgrounds, and images in need of more contrast (such as this one)

Inside the dialogue box are separate controls for working with the Shadows and in the Highlights.


Each Tonal area has 3 options:


Amount: The amount of adjustment you wish to make


Tone: This asks “how much of the image comprises Shadows (or Highlights)

Here you are setting the definition of Shadows and Highlights based on this specific image and its needs


Radius: Sharpening is achieved by adding a “halo” of light around areas where dark and light meet enhancing the transition.  The Radius is how large or how distributed the halo is. If you set the value high, the halo is large and spread and the effect is not has noticeable on smaller areas of change.


Overall you can control the following factors:

Color: This is equivalent to controlling saturation and boosting color saturation along with the exposure contrast changes. Setting this to zero would limit the effect to contrast only: no boost to color contrast.

.Black clip / White Clip   Here you are setting what will clip at each end of the light to dark gamut. Clipping is when a value that is not pure white (or black) is now increased to become all white. This is a loss of detail unless the clipping occurs in unimportant areas such as sky or shadow where there was no detail anyway.


Shadow / Highlights tool results
Shadow / Highlights results detail

When I use the Shadow / Highlight adjustment, I like the distribution of the contrast and the boost to color in just the places I needed it.


Of course you can also boost color when using Curves or any of the other tools to add contrast, but this would involve other tools and adjustment layers. For this image, I can achieve my desired results with just the one command.


Add a final Punch of Sharpness


With the contrast increased to a level I am happy with, I can add a final touch of sharpness.   Photoshop has the tools that allow me to add the sharpness to just the areas I want it and to provide it in lesser or not at all to other areas by way of Layers and Layer Masks Lightroom has an adjustment brush that adds Sharpness and Clarity to where you apply it, but this tool is no where near as refined or precise as what you can do in Photoshop.


There are many tools for adding Sharpness in Photoshop – including all the tools under the Filter – Sharpen menu. I will use a High Pass Filter Layer and a Blend Mode to bring out details on the lion’s face and some of the foreground .


High Pass (under the Filter Menu: Other – High pass) makes a monochrome version of your image. The higher the setting the more the edges of items in your images will be highlighted. When combined with a blend mode from the contrasting group (Overlay, Soft Light, etc) it will sharpen and pop details.

Create a copy of your background layer and place it above the layer with your Shadows and Highlights adjustments. Go to Filter – Other – High Pass and adjust the amount until. A setting of 5.0 makes some good edge detail. I can set this tool high because later I can temper the results with layer opacity and the blend mode. I like the effect of Soft Light as the blend mode – Overlay is a stronger effect that also works.

Now to limit the sharpness to just the subject. Add a layer mask and use a soft edged brush at 100% to paint black in the mask at the top of the image then taper the brush opacity down below 100% as you move down the image then work in detail around the lion and select specific grass on which to mask out the sharpness. You can even choose to mute down the sharpening on specific features of the lion and leave other areas at 100% (pure white on the mask). Using a mask, and layer opacity gives you very specific control.

Curves and High Pass filter
Curves and High Pass details



Shadow / Highlights with High Pass filter
Shadow / Highlights and High Pass filter details

A final touch on the image would be a further color balance adjustment. You can even mask out some of the contrast effect in the Shadows / Highlights layer; for example in the background.

Final Image

Now save the image as a PSD , layered Tiff, flat Tiff, or jpg and the adjusted file will appear next to the raw (original ) image in Lightroom.


Lightroom tools are very good, but you can gain more artistic control with a few of the very smart tools in Photoshop. Combined with layers and masks, you can achieve precise and professional results in a very short time.

Post Processing Creativity: 1 Photo Presented 3 Ways

Digital photography and its post processing tools offer so many creative possibilities for making a final presentation of our RAW files.   Here I demonstrate the same photo presented 3 different ways mostly using Adobe Lightroom / Camera Raw and a little bit of Photoshop.

A Basic Processing

From a corrected and optimized image we can progress to ever more creative interpretations.  The first step is always to take the RAW file and apply exposure and color corrections to it to replicate what we saw and felt in the field.

Step 1 : Exposure
style a step1
The RAW image out of the camera lacks contrast and has a bit of a color cast
style a step1 histogram
Histogram showing lack of contrast

Examining the image shows it lacks contrast (as most digital images do). Looking at the Histogram backs this up.

My first move is to temporarily remove the color information so I can concentrate just on exposure and contrast.  I do this by moving the Saturation slider to -100 (desaturated).  Now it is very clear that the image needs darker darks, more highlights and more separation in the midtones.

I will use the Curves Tool to increase the Highlights and Darks.  To check for the threshold where I begin to get too light/dark and start to loose detail I click on the little triangles up in the Histogram. These will turn on display of red or blue in the areas where detail is lost.  I adjust Shadows  down until I start to see some blue warning color in the spots, back it off a touch , then do the same for the Highlights. Lights are made brighter and Darks are made darker until I like the detail and contrast.  Note that in my Curve I have changed the region markers at the base of the curve to “change the definition” of Lights, Darks, Highlights, & Shadows to fit this image and my edits.

styleA step1 curves
Tone Curve Tool in Lightroom with my adjustments

When I am happy, I put the Saturation back on (to 0) restoring the original color setting.

Step 2:  Color

The exposure settings have made the colors more present and contrasted, but there is still a color cast and the tones are not how I want them to set the mood of late afternoon.

styleA step2a
The colors are more bold, but still off a bit

The image appears too cool to me: it was taking in late afternoon and should be a bit more flooded with “golden hour” light.  Also a clue lies in the color of the grass: the dead grass leaves look purplish.  Moving the Temperature towards yellow (warm) changes the overall tone of the grass to a yellower green and the dead grass to a more wheat color.   Then moving the Tint slider toward magenta improves the fur color of the cat and lets the grass become more muted into the background.

The corrected white balance
The corrected white balance

That is as far as the White Balance can take me, but there are more specific color tools to use  down in the HSL / Color Section.

I take the edge off the grass (which is a bit distracting for a background right now)  by desaturating it a touch and darkening its Luminance  resulting in the subject standing out in contrast against the background.

The Yellow and Orange I adjust in order to improve the color of the cat: desaturating the yellow out of the grass makes the cat pop up more and saturating the orange, which is the main color in the coat, does the same.   Desaturating the blue gets the blue cast out of the shadows like around the white of the tail .

Color settings
Color settings

Now my image is how I envisioned it: an authentic take on my memory.

2nd Style: High Contrast

This processing pops out the cat
This processing pops out the cat

To achieve this look I started from my previous settings.  I wanted to downplay the slightly distracting background.

Step 1 : Creating a mask

The Targeted Adjustment Tool  in Lightroom will let me work on just the background.  I can set features of the tool and change them at any time so I use this ability to help me “paint” in where I want to make my changes.   I use extreme settings  to help me see where I am apply to tool. I can change the brush size and softness to make an accurate “paint”.  Sometimes I switch to Photoshop and use their Mask tools to accomplish this.

styleb step 1
Applying the Adjustment Brush to the areas I want to effect while using extreme settings to help me see where I am applying it

When I have my area covered, I reset the tool and put in my intended effect.  I slighting increase the Exposure then desaturate.  I use a negative Clarity setting to decrease midtone contrast and give a gauzy “blur” effect. All of these settings are to vanish the grass and background so the Leopard attracts all attention.

styleB brush
Adjustment brush settings


Step 2:  Finishing Touches

To complement the brightening of the background, I add a Post Crop Vignette  with Highlights . The effect is the corners and edges brighten and fade to white.

Post Crop Vignette settings
Post Crop Vignette settings

My last touch is to further contrast and attract attention to the leopard.  I use the Targeted Adjustment Brush again on the cat with increased Clarity and Saturation settings.

Adjustments to boost the leopard
Adjustments to boost the leopard


3rd Style :  Split Tone Portrait

I want a close – cropped portrait of the cat’s head where the eyes and intense stare are the main point of interest.

Step 1 :  Crop the Image

I crop the image so that just enough of the coat and spots shows ( so there is no doubt it is a leopard) placing the eyes and line of stare and other features draw the eye to a point other than the center.

The image cropped
The image cropped


Step 2: Change to Monochrome

I want to give this portrait a classic look. Instead of just a straight Black and White treatment via desaturation, I will use the Split Toning method.  I start with one of the Lightroom presets. My favorite is Creamtone.  After I apply the preset I tweak it a touch with the sliders.

Split tone settings
Split tone settings
Split Toning applied
Split Toning applied
Step 3:  Make the Background Vanish

To complete the portrait effect, the background needs to be flat and not draw the eye.  I need to blur it and brighten it.  For this I choose to use Photoshop because of its layers and masks.  I left click in Lightroom and choose “Edit in Photoshop”.

In Photoshop I duplicate the image twice. Then on the topmost layer I create a mask around the  leopard using various selections tools and a soft brush for near the fur.

On the layer below, I use a blur.  I use the Gaussian Blur at a pretty high setting – until there is little detail left  in the grass.

The mask on the layer above will let the detailed leopard show through.  You may need to blur the mask itself a bit so the transition between the leopard and background is subtle.

style c with blur
with the blurred layer and mask
Step 4 : Contrast the Subject

To further pop the leopard I add a Levels adjustment brightening the whites a touch.  To apply the adjustment to just the leopard and not the background I make it a “clipping mask”.

stylec  with levels

Step 5 :  Final Touches on the Eyes

The eyes can use a bit of a “Dodge and Burn” effect.  I create a layer above all the others, set the blend mode to Overlay to control how the lights and darks interact between layers, then paint.  I paint with white and dark tones at low opacity until the eyes have a subtle intensity.

layer in overlay mode
layer in overlay mode
The Final Look
The Final Look

Star Trails Time Lapse Video of African Tree House Lodge

Timelapse is a hot new trend in photography/videography.  I found a new devise to use with my camera that makes planning, setting up, and shooting a timelapse video much easier.


Michron is a device that plugs into your camera and allows you to take time-lapses. The Michron intervalometer is special because it has no buttons or screens: instead the user interface is the Michron App that runs on your Android or iPhone. You create your settings with the app then upload them to the unit on your camera by attaching it your smart phone using the programming cable. Once you plug the Michron into the trigger port, it will tell your camera to take photos with your settings. The battery life is over 2500 hours.


Michron for Timelapse
Michron device on the camera

I can program my Michron to take photos at a regular interval such as 1 photo every 5 seconds. I can also can control my time-lapse with some advanced features

Bulb Ramping: exposure is altered to capture changing light conditions

Interval Ramping: the interval between photos changes throughout

HDR: take multiple images  at different exposure levels for each frame for later HDR processing

Find out more on the Michron website:

Michron is one of the nifty product ideas for photographers that I have found on Kickstarter. Not all of them get funded and get produced, but this one made it.  I just received mine and had some fun with it while in South Africa at my lodge.

 My First Michron Project

I decided to try a nighttime starscape as my first time-lapse.   I set up the shot with one of my tree houses in the foreground.  The nights are totally black where I am and this makes for some great star gazing,  but I needed a powerful light on the tree house to make it show.  I rigged that up and compensated for my lack of a tripod by straping my camera to my ATV.

Michron Timelapse
My camera secured to the ATV for the photo shoot


I programmed the Michron with my Android phone.   I set the camera to Manual and switched to autofocus so the camera would not keep adjusting focus for each shot: this could lead to missing a photo or a difference in focus points.  I choose the settings on the Michron App on my phone and use the program cable to transfer it to the Michron unit on the camera.  I can then take my phone away with me.  My timelapse was set for  3  hours with an image captured every minute.    The Michron calculates how long the final video will be to help you design your video.


I left it to do its thing and came back later to collect my camera and download the images.

Processing the Images and Turning them into a Video.


Those familiar with full video editing software will want to use those advanced software tools to turn the stills into video.  But most will appreciate something a bit easier such as the video capabilities built into Photoshop.

First Steps:  Move the raw files off the camera, process for exposure etc, save as tif or jpg files.

If you use Lightroom, you can do these first steps with Lightroom.  If you just have Photoshop, you can do this through Camera Raw (which shares much of the same functionality as Lightroom).  You want to open all of the raw files then make any necessary changes to exposure, white balance, sharpening, etc to the first image then copy / synchronize the adjustments to all of the images. Lightroom and Camera Raw both have this capability.

Next you want to save the images in either a Tif or Jpg format.  For the rest of the process to work in Photoshop,  you will need to do two things:

1)   save all of the processed files into a Folder containing only the processed files

2)   Apply names to the files that are sequential.  Avoid dates. Make sure there are no missing numbers so PS does not mess up.

I had my files named in the format: GS_sequence#_date.tif  and PS didn’t work properly until I renamed then to treehouse_sequence#.tif

I also converted them to 8 bit from 16 bit when I processed them out to TIF from raw and renamed them.

Using Photoshop for Assembling the Video

Open Photoshop and  choose File: New

In the dialogue box under Preset:  Film & Video

Assign a name

For Size: choose HDV/HDTV 720p/29.97 – this is a good format for tablets and phones.  There is loads to learn about codex and broadcast formats, but here I am just aiming for something to host on my website or have on my phone: something nice looking but not a huge file too large to share around.

Click OK

Using Photoshop to make a timelapse video
Opening a new Video file in Photoshop


The next step is to load the images or that  PS treats each one as a separate video frame.

Go to the menu and choose Layer:  Video Layers: New Layer from Files…

Navigate to folder where you saved your processed time lapse files and choose the first image in the sequence  and choose Open.  Make sure there is no gap in file numbers  and the names are simple and obviously sequential or PS will mess up.

What you have now is a set of instructions   pointing to the folder with the rest of the images in it.  It probably does not fit in the space, but dont worry about that, we will fix it soon.

Open TImline Panel:   Window: Timeline

Adjust settings in the Timeline  menu which is at the top right corner.

Set timeline frame rate   :  23.976  This is best choice for tv, tablets, etc  broadcast use 24 or 25(pal)

Photoshop for time lapse
TImeline settings


Convert clip to smart object so you can adjust it to a size that fits in the frame. To do this right click on the layer and choose it from the menu.   Use Edit: Free Transform to resize the clip.


Time lapse in Photo shop
Fitting the video frame in the working space

To make further adjustments to the clip images you can add adjustment layers above the clip layers, such as for color effects.  I do as much adjustment as I can in Lightroom before I export the images. I find it easier to do my corrections there and use PS or another video program for fun and special adjustments.

If you have experience with video you can add fancier effects  such as employ ing keyframes to similate a camera move over time, fades, etc.  You can also adjust the speed of playback and thus length of video in the Timeline. There are many other editing controls available in PS .


Export the video out  to use  or process further in another editing program.

File:Export:render video

Method:  H.264  is for web or devices – use  with High Quality preset

Use Quicktime if you are going to use another editing tool (use JPEG2000 or one of the uncompressed options )

Animation Codec is the ultimate quality, but has an enormous file size.

For web or social media go with H.264 and High Quality preset as a starter

If you know your delivery format you might find it under the Size box.  Push Render and let Photoshop make the video file.   After it processes and saves the file,  you can go to your file browser, click on it watch it play.

Though it is just a simple timelapse at this point,  adding fades, titles, audio, and zooms can really make it more exciting.  Michron also has another product which pans your camera while taking the timelapse for added motion and drama.

I will try this again on our May 2015 safaris, perhaps there will be guests who also want to give it a try.

Correcting a Leopard Image in Lightroom

Taking a Good Photo to the Next Level

leopard in a tree raw file
This is the raw image right out of the camera as displayed in Lightroom. Good but it could be better so lets do it!

The first step is always to analyze the image with both my artistic eyes and “the numbers” provided in the histogram.  I can make a numbers analysis a whole post just by itself, but the short version is that I am looking for a wide tonal range with something close to a 0 value in the darks and a 100 in the lights.  My artistic eye is looking for  composition improvements through the crop tool and it wanting dramatic color and a pop to the subject.


This image of a leopard in a tree has a nice neutral color scheme and a decent tonal range, but I want to do some adjustments to make the leopard pop and take attention as  the subject.


I want to brighten the highlights and light tones with the  brightest  whites in the leopard’s fur.  Right now the brightest tones are in the sky instead of the fur, so my first adjustment is to darken the sky and perhaps add a bit of blue at the same time.  I came to this conclusion by passing my cursor over sections of the image and reading the values under the histogram as they change.


Using the Graduated filter to darken sky
Adding the graduated filter to darken the sky and detract attention away from it

I use the graduated filter tool to darken the highlights in the sky and saturate the sky using the white balance and saturation sliders.  Adding a color to the filter (at the bottom of the options list) does not work in this instance, but it is a good trick to remember for sunsets, etc.


Exposure and Curves adjustment
I like to desaturate the image when I use the Curves Tool. It helps me concentrate on subtle tonations

Now I want to adjust the exposure of the whole image.  I use the Tone Curve for this using the Targeted Tone Adjustment tool right on the areas I want to adjust.  Sometimes it helps to desaturate the image temporarily to help me more easily see areas lacking contrast.  I brighten the white fur in the tail and darken the black spots and shadows on the tree.  To improve midtone contrast, I  darken  and lighten areas in the grass.  With that finished I use the Exposure slider to brighten all over – just a touch.  Then I revisit the Highlights and Lights on the Tone Curve tool until the white fur reads in the 80”s or low 90’s.

The image after the Curves adjustment
The image after the Curves adjustment

The colors were more intense before I brightened the Exposure.  I could increase the Vibrance and Saturation, but the whole image would be increased.  This is an opportunity to help pop the leopard by increasing saturation, vibrance and clarity just on the leopard.

Now I want to work on adjustments to just the leopard.  Photoshop is the best tool to use for extensive  and specific adjustments, but Lightroom has added a few good Targeted Adjustment Tools to the Development Module.  They can do an easy job where the selected area need not be too specific and of course they are limited to just the abbreviated list of adjustments contained in the tool.  With patience and practice you can make a decent selection for applying the adjustments and you can come back and change it if you want.

Using the Radial Filter Tool in Lightroom
Using the Radial Filter Tool on the leopard to add some specific adjustments just to this area aimed at making the leopard pop out as the subject

I use the Radial Filter Tool  in an oval shape centered over the leopard.  First make sure the Invert box is checked so changes happen inside the oval instead of outside.  For settings I use a small amount of Exposure increase, increase in Highlights, Temperature +11 to the warm tones, -13 Shadows, increase in Clarity and a small amount of Saturation.  Now the leopard pops from the background.


For finishing touches, I can add a graduated filter to darken the grass in the lower right corner and a Post Crop Vignette to darken the corners to further  draw attention away from details in the background.

Using a Post Crop Vignette to bring attention to subject
Adding an edge vignette to further downplay background details

One last touch is to use the  Target Adjustment Tool to brighten and pop out the eyes and possibly some other face details such as the nose.  Zoom way in and add some subtle brightening and Clarity and a color shift to the eyes.


leopard image after adjustment in Lightroom
The final result: as vivid as the memory

Now I have a great image I can use online.  If I print this I will more refined adjustments especially to the leopard after using Lightroom (or Camera Raw) to do the curve and some color adjustment to the entire image.  Sharpening is also required before printing – the Clarity Tool and Lightroom’s sharpening are just not enough for a good print.

I hope this run through has been both advanced and basic enough to help you out.  I have other posts which so more into adjustments to specific color ranges – a great technique  for lion in the grass shots



Using the Curves Tool in Lightroom

Adobe Lightroom’s Develop module has a powerful Curves tool that can correct both the tone and color of your image.  The Curves Tool in Photoshop is a bit more sophisticated, but the Lightroom version can do a good job on most images.

I open this image of a cheetah and immediately notice a color cast toward blue and a lack of contrast.  The first instinct might be to grab the White Balance tool,  but we can make a better adjustment with Curves.

To concentrate myself on just the tonal range, I move the Saturation Slider all the way to the left to -100. This gives me an undistracted view of the tone of this image.


The Histogram confirms that the contrast is low: there is not much happening at either end of the graph and the Highlights do not reach the end of the graph.




Improve Contrast by setting True Black and White

The Curves Tool has 4 predefined regions with sliders: Shadows, Darks, Whites, and Highlights.  They are set at equal spacing according to a scale of 100.  Not all images fit this so you can adjust the placement and thus the definitions of the regions.

We need to find the darkest and lightest point in the image then set our definitions of Shadows, etc so we can use the sliders instead of doing all our work on the actual curve line.

Set the Black

Now I need to decide which part will be black . In this image, all of the blackest points will be on the cheetah with the darkest either the end of the tail, in the nose, or corner of the eye.

Pick up the Direct Adjustment tool (the circle with up and down arrows to the left of the Curve),  drag it over the image noting where on the curve the value registers.

Also look at the Histogram at the top of tool panel to watch the numbers.  I notice the cat’s right nostril to be the darkest point.  Note also the range on the curve where all of the spots register. I will use all of these (except the small spots on the forehead) to define “Shadows” for this image.


I want the left tear pattern to be the brightest limit of the “Shadows” so I drag the left most marker under the curve a little to the right.

The value numbers for the dark areas show that none are a true black.  Drag the slider  titled Shadows under the curve so the darkest spot in the nostril falls to the corner of the curve.  You can turn on your color indicators for Black Clipping (the triangle on the left in the histogram) so you can see if you go too far.  A little loss of detail is ok.

Using these sliders are tone range definitions are easier than using the Direct Adjustment tool or working directly on the curve.

Set the White

Here again, pass the Direct Adjustment Tool over the image on the light parts while watching where on the curve it registers and the numerical values.  There are white spots on the face, but using the numbers displayed in the histogram and curve I find a spot on the leading leg to be the brightest, but not true white.

Once again I want to change the definition of “Highlights” to suit this image. I want to adjust all the brightest areas on the cat (and this will also include a few tips of the grass) together towards true white. Use the measurements along to curve to decide where to move the slider.  I decide the darkest place I want to include among my “Highlights” would be the area just over the right eye.  I move the slider to the left to include part of this fur coloration. You can use the Direct Adjustment tool by placing it on a spot of highlight and dragging it up to make the tone brighter or move the slider to the right.

Adjust the Midtones


Now the view the image full size looking at the subject and details in the foreground to decide where you want to create more contrast.  There is some detail in the grass to bring out, but more important is the color variation of the fur on the face.

Use the Direct Adjustment Tool on the image to push up and down on the tones on the face for very fine control over the curve.  Once you are more familiar, will be able to work right on the curve and fine tune the sliders. Be careful not to push too far, this should be subtle.  Follow up this adjustment with a move of the Clarity slider to the right.

Adjust Color Using Curves

Return the color to the image by putting the Saturation slider back to 0. The color is much improved, but still has


a cool, blue cast.  Confirm this by passing  the curser over areas of neutral color (white and black ) while watching the number values in the Histogram. The grass looks too blue as well.

Since the color cast seems to be all over and present in all tone levels, you could use a White Balance adjustment, but  using the Curves (and refining with the HSL Color controls later) will give you much more control.

Convert your view of the Tone Curve to one where you can choose one of the three color channels. Click the little graph image at the bottom of the box and the sliders disappear.  Click the arrow next to Channel to select Blue from the list.


Use the Direct Adjust tool on an area of white to pull down the pull just a little bit. Don’t go as far as you think it should.  Now switch to a shadow area and pull down the blue watching the color value changing under Histogram. Go back to the light area and finish it off. For this image an adjustment in the Blue Channel is enough, but another image might require doing an adjustment on the other channels in either the shadows, highlights, midtones or all of them.

Finishing Touches

Color and contrast look much better, but perhaps I can adjust the color so as the separate the cat from the similar tones of the grass.

A Saturation adjustment works here (Vibrancy will not because what we want to enhance falls into the “skin tone” range that Vibrancy protects.). Another way is to go under the Color controls and use the Saturation and Luminance under the Reds, Oranges, and Yellows to get the look you want.


I pushed the Yellow Hue toward green to differentiate brown grass from brown cheetah, popping him out from the grass. I also brightened the yellow grass to move it tonally away from the tones of the cheetah. The cheetah is mostly in the Orange range so I saturated that and brightened the orange component of the fur a bit. The shadowed fur has some red so I did the same but subtly to it as well.


The last step would be to work on the eyes with a dodge and burn effect.

Lightroom Color Correction: Beyond White Balance

The morning light on this nyala  is a nice touch, but the image could use a bit more contrast and the warm light is making all the colors in the image a bit off.  The White Balance tool in Lightroom will help, but using a few more advanced tools will really make this image look great.

The original image before adjustments
this image needs midtone contrast and removal of a color cast

I want to fine tune the exposure and true up the colors while keeping a little bit of the warm character of the light on the nyala.   I always work on the exposure first.

Fixing Contrast and Exposure

From the histogram we can see a pretty good spread of tones from dark to light, but there is no pure black to serve as the darkest point. histogram

To help me evaluate the image exposure without distraction from color I temporarily desaturate the image with the Saturation Slider (move to -100)

Adjusting exposure
Selecting areas to darken to black

I picked two spots I thought should be the darkest in the photo: under the nyala’s chin and under the trees in the background.   I will use the Curves Tool because I can use the target tool right on the spots in the photo I want to darken.   Next I want to bring out details in the fur.  Using the same target tool under the Tone Curve Panel, I concentrate on the different tones of fur on the neck: drag the tool up to brighten some  of the darker tones in the neck.  Now there is more detail.  Now to brighten some of the lighter tones such as the fur fringe on the back.  Use the tool to push these tones brighter.  The over all result is the “lights” and “darks” of the curve have both been brightened.   A final touch is to increase the Clarity slider a little bit. This will pop out the details in the fur.

adjusting the midtones
Adjust the midtones

Now there is more details on the subject and the grass it brighter.  The adjustments to exposure are done so it is time to turn to color.  Place the Saturation slider back to 0.

Adjusting the White Balance

The color cast is still present. First I will try some adjustments with the White Balance tool.  The grass is way too red  and the leaves on the trees are not a nice shade of green so this is my clue to start with the Tint slider .  I move it left away from the red end and toward the green.  While I slide it I am watching for a realistic color in the grass and trees.  Now I want to take some of the warm yellow tones away – just enough to give a more accurate color to the fur without loosing the morning light  feel to the light on the face.  I move the Temperature far enough to the left to make the fur less red but not too much as to make the foliage go blue green.

White Balance adjustments in Lightroom
Reduce the red cast by adjusting the Tint slider

Now the colors seem accurate but the white accent fur on the nyala’s back is very blue looking – the result of being in the shadows.  I can use a more advanced tool to target and correct this area.

Refining the Color Correction

Scrolling down to the HSL/Color/B&W panel, I like to set the panel by clicking on Color then selecting All to show all the attributes under each color.   In this photo there is no other area with blue tones other than the shadow area we are wanting to alter, so I can use the Color panel tools to globally eliminate blues from the whole image.   I move the Saturation of both Blue and Aqua to -100 and it clears up the cold shadow tone nicely.  Nothing else in the photo seems to be negatively impacted by this change.  I can also add more subtle color changes such as darkening the Luminance in the Yellow tones to restore a touch of the warm morning light.

using the color adjustment tools
Desaturate the blues and aquas from the shadow areas of the photo

If this image had other areas that were blue that we did not want to alter, I would have to use the Adjustment Brush  to do a spot White Balance or Saturation adjustment or for more exact control bring it into Photoshop to correct it. Luckily this image  works well just in Lightroom. The image  now has improved contrast and color while still preserving some of the morning golden light qualities.

adjusted with Lightroom
The image after adjustments