The Great Journey in Photography

Sources of Grief & Post Process Relief

Cooper's hawk sitting in a tree

500mm f8 400iso 1/1,000sec

Remember a while back when I wrote about how important backgrounds are? How about a couple of weeks ago, about trying different ways to process photos, or even last week when I wrote about not being able to make a good shot in weeks? Well here is an example of all three rolled up into one image.

I loathed this photograph the moment I took it. It was my safe shot. I don’t often see Hawks perched only a few feet off the deck. In this case about seven feet. There were other noisy people in the area so I knew my time was very limited. One of my greatest peeves is people who scream on a cell phone while on nature trails disturbing everyone and everything in their wake. There will come a day of reckoning for those clowns, but I digress. This was about as close as I could get before the bird retreated to higher elevations. Here is what I really didn’t like about the photo.
Not close enough. I really wanted to half the distance from this shot but I rushed in and made too much noise probably chasing the bird off before I could have worked my way in to the position I really wanted. Had that bird been watching over a recent kill I would have easily made that position.
I was shooting hand-held at 500mm. In thick brush I decided hand-held would be best. I had the shutter speed up at 1/1,000sec but even then it is really hard to get a very sharp image. Remember effective focal length is going to be about 750mm with the 1.5x crop sensor.
Then there is the fact that the subject is not just close to the background, it is in it! As I approached I was circling around to see if there was a vantage point that separated the hawk from many of the branches but no luck, this guy was pretty much in it.

When I saw the photo on the computer I decided I had to do something with it if for no other reason just to document the days events. I thought a B/W conversion could be all right but when I did it the bird was completely lost in the background, then I thought of the technique I never use because I have always heard it was a cliché. I also remembered that when I make people photos it is one of the things I hear requests for, so it can’t be all bad. Anyhow, this is what I did. Now the image has the separation it so desperately needed. Not by distance or depth of field but by contrast of color and black and white. To the viewer’s eye it has the same effect.

I did this using NIK Color Effects plugin. Just choose the B/W conversion filter and adjust as you see fit, then add a negative control point to the subject and you are done. Back in Photoshop if you notice any areas of the bird that didn’t get colorized just add a mask to the layer and paint the B/W out. You can also do this just with Photoshop rather easily. Simply make a second layer and convert to Black and White with the method you are most comfortable with, add a layer mask and paint away the areas you need to be in color. I recommend a fairly hard edge brush. In Lightroom it is not as easy but still can be done, just de-saturate an adjustment brush and paint the entire area to lose color being sure to turn on auto mask when you are painting close to the subject.

While this technique may have become a cliché in other genres of photography I will add that I very seldom, if ever, I see it used in bird photography, so don’t feel shy about giving it a try once in a while.

Just as a footnote, one other things I would do to this photograph is clone out the one straight line in the entire frame. See that straight branch to the lower left of the Hawk? It should be gone.

Thanks so much for reading, I hope you find this and all my other tips valuable and until next time have a great day.


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