Writes Julie Pallant in the current issue of Better Photography, "As anyone who has attempted bird photography knows, it is quite a challenge to get an interesting shot of a bird against a good background. Even if you are lucky enough to capture the birds in an interesting pose, they are often positioned in amongst sticks, branches and other distractions.
"One useful tool for aspiring bird photographers to have in their post-production toolbox is the ability to swap out the background of an image to ensure that all the attention is on the bird. In this article, I’ll take you step by step through the process I used to salvage an image of a Royal Spoonbill.
"The original capture included a group of waterbirds at the Healesville Sanctuary in Victoria, using my Canon EOS R and an EF 100-400mm lens (shutter speed 1/800 second, aperture f5.6 and ISO 250). I had been watching the birds in an open-air enclosure having a bit of an altercation and this was one of a burst of images I snapped. As it is, the image is definitely not a keeper – there are too many distractions, with birds, branches, bushes and concrete all competing for attention.
"It was not until I was reviewing the images on my computer some days later that I realised I had snapped a spoonbill in an interesting posture. Unfortunately, the background was awful – even when I cropped the image, the green bushes behind the bird’s beak distracted the eye away from the bird.
"In an attempt to rescue the image, I decided to experiment by placing the bird on a black background. By editing the image in this way, I could not enter it into a wildlife or nature photography competition, but I ended up with an interesting image which I included in a ‘Bird Portraits’ exhibition at a local art gallery in my home town, Ballina NSW.
"To improve the background, I used a combination of Lightroom and Photoshop to edit the raw image and darken the background. I know many photographers avoid Photoshop, thinking it is too complicated, but it is a very powerful tool to have. In this example, I’ll illustrate the use of a number of key features in Photoshop, including selection tools, layer masks, the clone stamp tool, spot healing tool and the curves and colour balance adjustment layers."
To read Julie's step-by-step instructions, you'll find them in the current issue of Better Photography. You can subscribe at www.betterphotographyeducation.com.