Trumpeter Swan Flapping its Wings
Bird Photography,  Photo Processing,  Software

How to Post Process Your Bird Photographs in Lightroom and Photoshop

It is difficult to develop a detailed, step by step recipe for post processing bird photographs as every image is different.  But in this blog, I’ll describe my processing steps at a higher level and my decision process for how to edit bird photographs in Lightroom and Photoshop. I have also included several links that provide more detail for some of the post processing steps.

Many photographers utilize mainly Lightroom for editing their photographs.  I like using a combination of Photoshop, Lightroom Classic, and a few plug-ins for my post processing workflow.  Using Photoshop, especially in cleaning up backgrounds and selective editing helps to produce a better quality bird photograph.

Topaz Labs

These are my steps in birds photography post processing.  There are plenty of other workflows for bird photography post processing.  My suggestion is to look at several photographers’ processes and pick the steps that work best for you.

Bird Photography Post Processing Steps

Crop Tool in Lightroom
Crop Tool in Lightroom

Crop the image in Lightroom (R Key)

I like to crop first so I don’t waste time in post processing / cleaning up areas of the image that I won’t be keeping.

Lightroom Basic Panel
Lightroom Basic Panel

Lightroom Basic Panel Edits

I like to make the basic panel slider adjustments in Adobe Lightroom Classic while working with the RAW image.  I adjust the Temp, Tint, Exposure, Contrast, Shadows, Highlights, Whites, Blacks, Vibrance, and Saturation.

These adjustments will vary depending on the image.  But, a couple of sliders that I almost always adjust are the Shadows, Highlights, and Whites.

Seagull - Before & After - Background Replacement
Seagull – Before & After – Sky Replacement

Background Decision

Next, I make a decision on how to process the background.  This will vary based on the state of the background.  If the photograph has a clean background with a nice blurry bokeh, it may just need a little clean up in Photoshop.

If the background is clean but doesn’t have a nice blurry bokeh, I will blur the background in photoshop.  Visit my blog on How to Blur the Background of your Bird Photographs.

If the background is just not usable (plain gray sky, way too many branches), I may choose to replace the background.  I use both Adobe Photoshop and Luminar AI Sky Replacement to replace the skies on my bird photographs.  Here is more information on using the Photoshop Sky Replacement tool on bird photographs.

Background Clean Up

To clean up the distracting elements in the background, I use 3 main tools.

  • Content Aware Fill (Shift F5)
  • Clone Stamp (S Key)
  • Healing Brush – (J Key)

I use the Healing Brush and Clone Stamp to remove smaller objects.  For larger objects, I start with Content Aware Fill.  You may need to use Content Aware Fill several times.  I find that it works better if you work on smaller pieces of the image vs. trying to fill larger areas.  If you select Content Aware Fill from the Edit Menu instead of the keyboard shortcut, you can select the area you want Photoshop to use in replacing your selection.

I also use the clone stamp to clean up parts of the image.  This is especially useful when you are close to the subject or an area of the photo that you want to keep.

Topaz DeNoise Sliders
Topaz DeNoise Sliders

Remove Noise and Sharpen Your Image

My favorite tool to remove the noise from my image is Topaz DeNoise AI.  The DeNoise AI algorithm will remove noise from your image and also sharpen your subject.  You can have the software automatically determine the amount of noise reduction and sharpening or you can adjust the Remove Noise and Enhance Sharpness sliders to your liking.

If you don’t have Topaz DeNoise, you can use Adobe Camera Raw Noise Reduction and Sharpening.  On some photos, I find that this works better than Topaz DeNoise AI.

You can also add a Layer Mask to selectively apply the noise reduction and sharpening in your image.  You paint on the layer mask with a white or black brush to selectively apply sharpening and noise reduction (white – reveals, black conceals).

Selective Sharpening using a Layer Mask and White Brush
Selective Sharpening using a Layer Mask and White Brush

Selective Sharpening

If find the head or eye of the bird is not sharp enough, I use selective sharpening only on those areas that require additional sharpening.  To do this, I use the sharpening in Adobe Camera Raw or the Unsharp Mask filter with a layer mask.

Selective Sharpening Steps

  • Duplicate the background layer (Command + J (Mac), Control + J (Windows)
  • Sharpen the layer using Adobe Camera Raw or the Unsharp Mask filter
  • Add a black layer mask to the layer (Option + Click Add Layer Mask (Mac), Alt + Click Add Later Mask (Windows)
  • Using a White Brush, paint over the area you want to sharpen.  You can use the brush opacity slider at the top of the window to control how much sharpening to apply to each area of the image.
Darken / Lighten Center Filter in Color Efex Pro 4
Darken / Lighten Center Filter in Color Efex Pro 4

Add a Vignette

Darkening the edges of an image and brightening your subject can bring attention to your subject and make it pop in the photo. My preferred method of doing this is using the Darken / Lighten Center filter in Nik Color Efex Pro.

With the Darken / Lighten Center filter, you can brighten the center of the image as well as darken the borders.  Color Efex Pro 4 also has control points that you can use to prevent the filter from applying to areas of the image.

If you don’t have the Nik Collection, you can also use the Vignette Filter in Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw to darken the edges of the image.  The Radial Filter in Lightroom can be used to lighten the subject and center of the image.

Select Color Range Tool in Photoshop
Select Color Range Tool in Photoshop

Apply Selective Edits in Photoshop

I may want to draw more or less attention to certain parts of the photograph.  I do this by selectively editing certain areas of the image. 

  • To draw attention to an area of the image, I will normally lighten or add saturation to only that area
  • To draw less attention to an area of the image, I will darken that area or reduce the saturation

I normally use the following adjustment layers for these edits.

  • Brightness / Contrast
  • Hue / Saturation
  • Vibrance
  • Curves

I use the following tools to create selections to edit specific areas of the photograph:

Background Clean Up Part 2

When I’m finished editing, I like to take one last look at the image for any for any distracting elements in the background.  I remove the distracting elements using the same tools that I used in the clean up step above (Content Aware Fill, Healing Brush, and the Clone Stamp).

Written by Martin Belan

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