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:
- From within Lightroom, right-click on the image and “Edit In > Edit in Adobe Photoshop CS6…”
- Ctrl+N to create a new layer positioned above the original image.
- Shift+F5 to fill the new layer with solid black
- Add a new “Reveal All” Layer Mask to the new black layer
- With the Layer Mask selected, reduce the opacity until you’re able to see the original image through the black layer.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?