Post Processing Techniques To Avoid

“I can fix that on the computer.” Have you ever caught yourself uttering these words?

These are words people say way too often and make workshop leaders cringe while out in the field. If photographers are too lazy to get it right in the camera in the field, what makes them think they’ll take the time to do all of the work involved with post-processing to get it right?

Yes, there are some photographers who love doing lots of things on the computer after downloading their images, but there’s a difference between fine-tuning to bring out the intricacies within a file and correcting mistakes in the field.

An even worse problem with those wanting to do a lot of post-processing work comes with poor techniques. This is especially true with bird photography. Besides the normal work that has to be done with every image, there are numerous others that help bring out the beauty and details found in most birds.

Be careful, though, in how much is done with the techniques used when working on a file, whether in Lightroom, Camera Raw or Photoshop. Here are some common mistakes some people tend to over-do with their post-processing workflow.

Willet feeding
Willet poor crop – When doing a crop, make sure the subject is in a good position. Also look at the whole picture. This crop took off part of the willets reflection in the water and there is very little space in front making it seem cramped. © Andy Long


While it’s better to try and get it right in the field, sometimes the birds are just a bit too far away for that ever desired frame filling action or flight shot.

Other reasons cropping needs to be done is with a bird in flight and it’s too centered in the frame due to the focus square being used or the action is too fast to get it composed right.

The problem occurs when the image is cropped too tight. Several things can happen when excessive cropping is done. One, any softness in the subject is accentuated and the image looks worse than it would have smaller in the frame.

Second, any noise in the shot is made more prominent if the crop is too tight due to the subject being too far away. Just like soft focus being see, a crop will also make the pixels larger and the noise more evident. Lastly, quite often the user crops in such a way as to mess up the composition.

This is done by either creating a square configuration or by not following the rule of thirds and cropping so the bird does not have any space around it and the subject is cramped. A tight crop mat accentuate the subject, but quite often a little bit of the surroundings need to be included and too tight of a crop can eliminate these.

It’s best to keep the normal 2X3 ratio when cropping. Both ACR and Lightroom allow for choosing which ratio is used in association with the crop tool so stay with this and the image will look natural when cropped and it’s then easier to place the subject in a good position in the composition.

The biggest thing to keep in mind when positioning the subject, leave some breathing room.

Egret In Water
Reddish egret clarity – Because there is so much detail in the ruffled feathers of this reddish egret, there could be a tendency to increase the Clarity slide a lot to bring out the details. By doing so, though, it makes the image seem almost plastic.


This is something that is way to easy to do and quite often is. In essence, clarity makes the subject look three-dimensional by adding contrast to edges.

The bright side of the edges become brighter while the dark side gets darker.  Adding too much clarity can add shadows and halos around edges even though it also make the image look sharper and crisper.

Start bringing this slider up and up and pretty soon it seems to keep looking better and better in regards to sharpness and contrast. Remember, any alterations made should be done so that it doesn’t appear any changes were made.

I tend to try and keep the Clarity slider around +30. There have been a few times I’ve gone higher than this but that’s typically as far as you want to go with this slider. As shown in the overuse and proper use in the image below, notice how fake one looks over the other.

bald eagle swooping
Bald eagle sharpening – Some sharpening is needed for all images shot in RAW format. Getting the right amount is a fine line and really helps bring out the details in the subject as seen here with the primary feathers of this bald eagle.


Too much Sharpening does the same thing as using too much Clarity as well as introducing more noise to the image.

It can also put a halo around the subject that is extremely noticeable to viewers. Everyone wants a sharp image, but going too far with these two tools will make for a worse picture than have it just a touch soft. When using the Sharpening tool, I tend to keep it at +75 or less, preferably in the high 60s.

A good thing to do with this slider, and most any slider used, is to go to the extreme and see how bad it looks and then back it down until the effect is reached where it does not look as though it was used.

sandhill bird
Sandhill no noise reduction – Because this shoot was right at sunrise, the ISO was bumped up to 3200, resulting in a bit more noise than is desired as seen in the water in front and above the sandhill crane.


How ironic is it that two of the most overused sliders are right next to each other. Along with too much Sharpening, the Luminance slider in the Noise Reduction section can tend to be used a bit too much.

Quite often this is the case in bird photography because of bumping up the ISO a good bit in order to get fast shutter speeds. The resulting noise is seen more with a bird in flight when the sky is the background rather than with the ground or other growth is seen behind the subject.

When using Noise Reduction for birds in ACR or Lightroom, remember that it’s doing so for the whole image, not just selected areas. The more the slider is bumped up, the more noise, and sharpness, is taken away from the details of the bird. Try to keep this at a minimum, somewhere around +50, so the beautiful details are not lost.

roseate spoonbill
Roseate saturation – To bring out the nice pink colors of the roseate spoonbill and the blue of the sky, most people want to make these pop. Going to high with the Saturation and Vibrance sliders make the colors seem to fake though.


Working hand in hand on the Basic panel are the Saturation and Vibrance sliders. It’s great to get the beautiful colors of the bird to pop, but way too often these are way over done from images I see when critiquing and judging images whether at camera clubs or on workshops.

Remember, if you increase the contrast as a last step in your workflow (which is usually recommended), it will also increase the saturation so it’s getting a double dose. Because these two sliders work on the entire image, it’s a good idea to use the HSL panel and work on the individual colors needing to have them bumped up.

When using the Saturation and Vibrance sliders, not just with birds but all images, try to keep them at a limit of +15. Going too much over that is a bit of overkill.

Egret exposure – For some reason the exposure was off on this great egret shot and the Exposure had to be increased 1.5 stops. By going so far it increased the noise quite a bit and to eliminate this it caused the fine feathers on its neck to become soft in regards to sharpness


For whatever reason, sometimes an image gets under-exposed and a bump in exposure is needed.

Be care in how much exposure is added as the more this is done the more noise is added that has to be taken away, thus having details lost when Luminance is increased. This is where getting it right in the camera is preferred but there are times when things go amiss with settings or composition.

It’s easier and less damaging to have to bring the exposure down a little bit but it’s also nice to have just a little less exposure as this helps with color saturation.

Bald eagles vignette – Adding a lot of vignetting to pull the viewer into the action makes the photographer seem very much like a beginner.


Vignettes can look great on certain images and be very important to keep the viewers eyes within the scene.

However, be careful about overdoing it, because it can easily look fake and over-processed. That being said, some photographers use harsh vignettes as a style and it looks fantastic, so take this tip lightly. Use it when needed, but be aware of overdoing it.

One thing to keep in mind, take a look at images in magazines and calendars and see how many have a vignette effect. Basically you never see any. These are primarily reserved for camera club judging and when done right can look quite nice but when overdone do not look good at all.

Bald eagles shadows too much – When there isn’t light hitting the underneath part of dark wings there’s a tendency to over use the Shadows slider to bring out the detail. Going too far makes the whole image seem a bit flat.


A very nice tool to use is the Shadows slider in the Curve Panel. This is a slider that only effects certain pixels and not the overall image and is a great one not a lot of people know about its capabilities.

It can be used to lighten the mid-tones but taking it a bit too far can make the changes seem unnatural. It’s tough to get everything perfect in terms of exposure with multi-colored and toned birds and the Shadows and Highlights sliders do a great job of slightly adjusting these but as with the case with everything else it’s easy to go too far.


Everyone knows that photography is very subjective and the post-processing techniques used and preferred by one person are not necessarily what another photographer adheres to. The numbers and ranges here are what I prefer.

There are times I exceed these but not too often. These are by far not the only sliders that can be overused but since these are the basic ones that are used on most every image, it’s good to keep in mind there are limits as to how far to go.

Article By Andy Long

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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