Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Making of “Still Watchful”

Yesterday I shared a reprocessed version of a photo I took this last summer of a juvenile bald eagle.   While I loved the original image, I wanted this version of the image to really accentuate the magnificence of this bird and convey a sense of loss that I felt when I learned of its demise.

Here is a copy of the original image.  The eagle is perched among the tangles of a dead branch in the morning sun.  There is a nice catch light in its eye as well as nice lighting on is head and stomach with a strong shadow cast by an out of frame branch across its chest.  As many of the branches are without bark the light is reflecting and appears a little hot, detracting from the main focus – the returned stare of this incredible bird.

With that in mind, I wanted the background to disappear.  The branch in the foreground was important to convey the surroundings of this wild bird, but I wanted to make it gradually fade into the background and leave you with that incredible expression. 

Here are the steps I took to reprocess the image:

  1. From within Lightroom, right-click on the image and “Edit In > Edit in Adobe Photoshop CS6…”
  2. Ctrl+N to create a new layer positioned above the original image.
  3. Shift+F5 to fill the new layer with solid black
  4. Add a new “Reveal All” Layer Mask to the new black layer
  5. With the Layer Mask selected, reduce the opacity until you’re able to see the original image through the black layer.
  6. Set the foreground color to black and then select the brush tool to begin painting the bird at 100% opacity as well as some of the foreground branches.
  7. As you paint, you’ll see more of the background show through the black layer.  I paid particular attention to the edges of the bird to be sure I didn’t allow any of the green foliage to show through.
  8. When I had most of the image showing through the layer mask I then reduced the brush opacity to around 30%, set the brush color to white and changed the opacity of the layer mask back to 100% before tracing around the edges of the subject.  This allowed me to “clean up” any areas where I was too aggressive and made for a smooth transition from black to the colors of the subject.
  9. Using this same technique, I made multiple passes along the tree branches, especially toward the ends where I wanted the branches to fade to black, until I was satisfied with the results.  If at any point I got too “heavy handed”, I simply changed the brush color to black and “undid” the wrong.
  10. When I was happy with the results, I saved the file and returned to Lightroom where I applied some additional exposure adjustments and used the spot removal tool to eliminate a few more hot areas in the branches.

And that’s it.  The end result is what I feel is a much more dramatic and compelling image without the additional clutter.

What do you think? Which of the two images do you prefer?


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