One of the things that everyone needs to be aware of is that you will rarely see another photographers image right out of the camera. When you are perusing forums and websites and come across a spectacular bird photo know that the image has probably had some post processing work done to it. Color and contrast adjustments, maybe a little Photoshop to clean things up and a custom filter or action here and there just to make things pop. If you are disappointed that your images don’t look great out of the camera, don’t despair. Learn post processing techniques from the masters and you will be much happier with your work. One of my favorite little techniques for processing bird images is to use Nik Color effects. I use the Tonal Contrast filter. Start at about 1/3 of the default settings and play around. In most cases for me the improved feather detail eliminates the need for post sharpening.
Plug-ins can be very useful if used sparingly. I personally think there are very few that should be used on a regular basis with that Nik Tonal Contrast being one of them. Unfortunately many of the plug-ins for Photoshop, Lightroom, and Aperture can be rather expensive and it is hard to justify the purchase for an occasional use. For example the Nik suite will cost several hundred dollars but you can buy them separately (Color Effects, Silver Effects, Define, etc.) for about $100-300 each and the On-One suite will run about $120(Update: On-One also makes “Perfect Photo Suite 6” that bundles many of their products for $299). There are cheaper alternatives though in software like Topaz Adjust for under $100. On the bright side though, all those expensive plug-ins are not doing anything that you can’t already do yourself in Photoshop. Quite often you can take the time to deconstruct how a plug-in works and build your own action that will give you the same functionality of the effect you desire, having it at in one click just like any plug-in. Here is on video I found about how to create an action in Photoshop.
One of m favorite non plug-in routines in Photoshop that really makes golden hour light pop is to set the overall white balance of an image slightly on the cool side then apply a warming photo filter mask, invert the mask, and paint the filter in the areas that are in direct sunlight. You can also do the same thing in Lightroom 3 by using the adjustment brush with just a touch of yellow/gold added. As with many things a little goes a long way and you really just want to make a subtle change. Of course, it really helps to start with a golden hour image where there are well-defined yellows and blues. Rather than just pushing the saturation this technique seems to work much better for me.
Thanks for reading.
You can see more of my photos at www.ronboyddesign.com