LR5 for Bird Photographers (Free Download)

If you are like me, you are constantly on the lookout for specific information regarding your photography passion.  Whether you enjoy landscape, night sky, bird, or macro photography, it is always helpful to find a resource that goes beyond the basics of ISO, shutter speed, and aperture.  In preparation for a Lightroom 5 (LR5) for Bird Photographers workshop, I wrote a 68-page booklet on my workflow and tips/tricks I use when editing my bird photographs.  I have decided to post this for download so that anyone can benefit from what I have learned.  I began using LR with version 3 and have enjoyed all the many additions since.  When you combine LR’s organization functions within the Library Module, the geospatial tracking within the Map Module, the editing capability within the Develop Module, and the many publishing functions like the Book, Slideshow, Print, and Web Modules, you have just about every post-processing option a bird photographer will ever need.  Sure, on a few occasions, you might need to jump over to Adobe Photoshop for some specialty processing.

I have read many books on LR, watched many videos and asked many questions all to try and find the best workflow for me.  What I hope to do through this booklet is share with you some of those tidbits I have learned.  Of course, it is nothing like the full 8-hour workshop on LR5 for Bird Photographers that I occasionally offer, but feel free to download and share with any bird photographers you may know.  If you have any questions about using LR5 for editing bird photographs, don’t hesitate to post a comment, contact me through email or send me a question through the contact page.

LR 5 for Bird Photographers

(CLICK ON IMAGE TO DOWNLOAD FREE PDF)

Playing around with B&W

Once again, I have been using Nik Software plug-in for LR5 called Silver Effex Pro 2.0 to convert some wildlife images to black and white.  I have been wanting to see the difference when texture is the key communicator versus color.

Here are the results:

Black-tailed Jackrabbit Big  Bend National Park

Black-tailed Jackrabbit
Big Bend National Park

Red Squirrel Pagosa Springs, CO

Red Squirrel
Pagosa Springs, CO

Buffalo Wichita Mountains NWR

Buffalo
Wichita Mountains NWR

Buffalo Dust Bath Wichita Mountains NWR

Buffalo Dust Bath
Wichita Mountains NWR

Buffalo Profile Wichita Mountains NWR

Buffalo Profile
Wichita Mountains NWR

Buffalo Resting Wichita Mountains NWR

Buffalo Resting
Wichita Mountains NWR

The buffalo images were lacking in color but after the conversion they found major new life.  I am really enjoying wildlife images in B&W because I feel like contrast and texture can communicate so much!

Lightroom 5 Tips & Tricks (Setting Your Whites & Black Levels)

If you are like me, you love editing your images in Lightroom (LR) due to the brilliant organization tools in the Library Module, the intuitive editing functions in the Develop Module, and the other modules like Print, Slideshow, and Map.  From time to time, I will share a tip/trick to help you make the most of your LR5 experience.  If you haven’t already updated your LR to LR 5, I can tell you that you are missing out on some amazing features and tools.  Today, my goal was to share the four (4) basic approaches on how to set the white and black levels in the Basic Panel of LR5’s Develop Module.

This image will best be viewed in 1080p mode.

Watch this video to learn how:

Focus Stacking for Greater Depth-of-Field

This morning I went to a local park, Berry Springs, to shoot some macro images of dragonflies, butterflies and insects.  Since I had sent the Canon 7D off to Canon Professional Services for a check and cleaning, that left me with the new Canon 5D Mark III to shoot with so I opted to go with my typical dragonfly setup that consists of the Mark III, (1) 25mm Canon extension tube, (1) 12mm Canon extension tube and the Canon 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 L lens.

An extension tube merely moves the camera’s mirror further away from the lens thus increasing your magnification (which is what we want for macro photography) and decreasing your minimum focusing distance (which is also what we want); however, it also reduces the amount of light falling on the camera sensor (which is what we don’t want, but have to live with).  Therefore, we must either add light through the use of flash (which is what I normally do) and/or we must increase our ISO (I try not to do and generally shoot at ISO 400 or 800) or we must decrease shutter speed and/or our f-stop (aperture).  I have found that for this setup (see photo below) a tripod is required at all times for sharp images.  I generally shoot in the neighborhood of 1/250 @ f/11 to f/14 for dragonflies, large butterflies, and other large insects to maintain sufficient depth of field.  This is because as we move toward an object our depth of field decreases at the same aperture.

Dragonfly Equipment Setup

Dragonfly Equipment Setup

Today I came across many large Yellow-and-Black Argiope spiders and wanted to practice my focus stacking in Adobe Photoshop CC.  I came across a nice looking subject and set up my tripod where the spider was at about a 45 degree angle from the front element of the lens (this isn’t important but just know that I would need focus stacking much more at this angle than if the spider were at a 90 degree angle to the lens).  I always shoot macro in manual exposure mode so I can control my settings.  I wanted to take three (3) consecutive shots with varying focal points to ensure that all eight (8) legs of the spider would ultimately be in sharp focus.  When shooting any images that you plan to “stitch” or “stack” together such as a Panoramic or a focus stacked image, you want to make sure your exposure remains consistent for every image.  This will only change if you plan to add High Dynamic Range (HDR) processing to the mix.  In addition, I focus almost exclusively in manual and on the Canon 100-400 I turn off image stabilization as it has a tendency to “jump” at times.  I believe this is due to the older IS technology in the lens.

I took a shot to make sure my settings of 1/160 @ f/16, ISO 800 and flash exposure compensation of -1 1/3 were spot on.  With a subject like this, if we have our flash set too brightly, we will easily blow out (lose details) on the body of the spider due to the pale yellow/whites and the dark background.  I set up for the first image with focus locked in on the closest front leg and part of the body nearest the camera.  If you click on the image, you can see that the legs furthest away from the camera are blurry due to the narrow depth of field even at f/16.

Focal Point #1

Focal Point #1

I took a second shot with the focal point being the eyes and body of the spider.

Focal Point #2

Focal Point #2

I then focused on the legs furthest from the camera and took a 3rd shot.

Focal Point #3

Focal Point #3

When shooting a series of images in the field where I know I will be stacking or stitching them together, I often take a shot of my hand at the beginning and end of the sequence to help me remember which images I wanted to sequence so that when I upload my images into Lightroom I can easily find them.  This makes it easy to see a series in the film strip at the bottom of Lightroom’s workspace since I know any images found between images of my hand are intended for that purpose.

Once all my files have been uploaded to Lightroom, I can then make a few edits such as lens corrections, sharpening/noise reduction, and other such adjustments.  The key is that I want each of the three images to have the EXACT same settings before going into Photoshop for the image stacking itself.  I select all three images in Lightrooms filmstrip at the bottom and then right click to open the contextual menu.  I then select Edit In ⇒ Open as Layers in Photoshop… (see image below).

Open as Layers in Photoshop

Open as Layers in Photoshop

Once I had my images loaded as layers in Photoshop, I made sure all three were selected (of course, if I had 5 images to stack, I would select all 5 layers).  I selected them by clicking on one layer then while holding the Shift key, I clicked on the last layer and all layers were highlighted as in the image below.

Selecting the Layers

Now, despite the fact I was using a tripod, there was still a bit of movement from one image to the next due to a slight breeze this morning which resulted in a slight change from image to image.  The image below shows the slight blur due to the images not being exactly aligned.

Images Need Aligning

Images Need Aligning

Because the layers didn’t line up exactly (and I highly recommend checking this before you stack your images), I decided to Auto-Align them in Photshop.  To run this function, I simply selected Edit ⇒ Auto-Align Layers…

Auto-Align Layers

Auto-Align Layers

After selecting Auto-Align a box will open and then I chose Auto as the projection type and allowed Photoshop to align the layers.  The other modes are for various types of Panoramic images.  I also made sure that neither the vignette or geometric distortion box was checked.  Once I had done that, I clicked OK.

Auto-Align Layers Box

Auto-Align Layers Box

After aligning the images and ensuring they lined up well, I was ready to blend the images to combine the sharpest part of each image.  Now, honestly, how Photoshop does this is pure magic!!  I won’t even attempt to explain the how, just know it works and it is really quite easy in terms of what you have to do.  Again I went to the Main Menu and selected Edit ⇒ Auto-Blend Layers…

Auto-Blend Layers...

Auto-Blend Layers…

This opens up another dialog box that looks like this:

Auto-Blend Options

Auto-Blend Options

As you can see, my options are limited to either Panorama or Stack Images and for my purposes, I selected Stack Images and then clicked OK.  I saw the Photoshop blending progress bar and waited while the magic happened.

Auto Blending Progress

Auto-Blend Progress Bar

Once the blending was complete, my image was done and all that was left was to save the image to a new name and new format.  Now, Lightroom handles RAW file formats but when we blend layers in Photoshop we can’t keep the images in a RAW format.  Our choice, to maintain the most quality and to have a chance to go back and edit the layers separately, is to either save the image in TIFF or PSD format and check the Save Layers options.  Yes, this does create a larger file and requires more memory, but memory is cheap.  For my purposes, I chose to save as a TIFF file and I renamed the image to Focus Stacked Spider.

Save Image as TIFF

Save Image as TIFF

We can then close the image in Photoshop and if we return to Lightroom we will notice that our image has now appeared in our Lightroom filmstrip.  Now, to make sure our images reappear in Lightroom where we expect them, it is important to make sure that the Save As to Original Folder preference is checked in Photoshop.  This option can be found under Photoshop ⇒ Preferences ⇒ File Handling…

Photoshop Save As Preference

Photoshop Save As Preference

If the box for this option is not checked, I recommend doing so.  Otherwise, unless you pay special attention to where you saved the image, you may have to do some searching and hunting for the image.  In the image below you can see our TIFF file back in Lightroom (note the file name in upper left).  I didn’t have to do anything special to get the image back in Lightroom because I opened the files from within Lightroom to focus stack them.  Now, had I opened the files from Photoshop without going through Lightroom, the file would not have appeared in Lightroom without me having to import the file as a new image.

Back in Lightroom

Back in Lightroom

I prefer to do all the editing I can within Lightroom and use Photoshop only for those functions which are not available in Lightroom.  Once back in Lightroom, I wanted to crop the image from a horizontal to vertical composition.  I applied some clarity and vibrance edits and some further sharpening and noise reduction.

Clarity, Vibrance & Sharpening/NR

Clarity, Vibrance & Sharpening/NR

I felt after that the image was ready.  Here is the final image.

Final Image

Final Image

I will be offering some macro workshops in the summer of 2015 so watch for those announcements to come.  Feel free to let me know if you have any questions on image stacking.