A basic fact of a photographer’s life: you go looking through your image collection, and you see images that make you think I can do better than that. What I normally do is flag them with a rework keyword for later review, but sometimes you just need to sit down and fix them now.
Here are two images that I put into my candidate list for a contest I’m going to be submitting to, and when I went to review the candidates to cull to the final selection, they both immediately stood out — and not in a good way.
This first one is one I’ve always loved but never quite been happy with, and taking a fresh look at it, I realized I’m still not happy with it. A big part of the problem is that the top crane’s face in in shadow so it’s easy to lose detail in it, but I also think it’s processed too dark, and it’s generally drab and muddy beyond what it should be (drab and muddy fits the day I took the shot, after all). So, off to the develop module with it.
And here is the updated version
One major change: I’ve shifted to a square crop because nothing on the edges really improve the image, and I find myself using a square crop more and more for bird portraits and this kind of image to really put the focus on the subjects and less on the environment they’re in.
The birds by the way, are dancing, part of an extended dating ritual younger birds go in the winter through as birds pair off and choose their mates before flying north the next spring. Sandhill Cranes, by the way, mate for the life of the pair and the choice of the mate takes some time and energy — and obviously, enthusiasm — on both of the birds. I’ve been blessed to see birds do this a few times on my refuge trips, and it’s really an entrancing and stunning activity to watch.
In the new image, the contrast is better, the birds are better lit, and I think the detail on the birds is much improved. This is probably an image that suffered somewhat from a poorly calibrated monitor (I probably started work on it in bad light on the laptop, not the home monitor, and never reset in a better environment), but most of the problem is that I just didn’t have a great idea how I wanted to compensate for poor light.
I still don’t think this image is perfect — it likely will never be what I want — but it’s definitely an improvement to me.
The second image bothers me more, to be honest:
Another too dark, muddy image, and this one I really have no excuse, other than I did the processing in poor conditions with a monitor that needed some calibration — it was likely set too bright, which would cause an image like this to look a lot better than it does under proper lighting.
The fixes are fortunately fairly simple, but it’s annoying when you come across something like this in your collection and realize that you basically missed on the processing. With the new one, again, it’s reworking the basic exposures and tweaking the contrast a bit, and the new image is much brighter with a lot better detail rendering:
I still wish the bird was in front of a nicer background, but unlike studio photographers, you take the light and the subject the way you get them, because Long-Billed Curlews don’t take direction well, especially on their lunch break.