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Stepping Into the Digital Darkroom #2 – Cardinal Rules

November 24, 2013
Nothern Cardinal (Male)

© – Northern Cardinal (Male)

This weekend’s wintery weather gave me the opportunity to step once again into the digital darkroom.  I’m not making a lot of headway because frankly there are a ton of great shots from my last shoot at Pedernales Falls State Park, located between Dripping Springs and Johnson City, Texas.

On the agenda for today’s walk into the darkroom was picking the best two of the Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) images from that particular day of shooting.  This was not easy by any stretch of the imagination.  It was a very good summer for my NOCA’s as it was the dominant species in the bird blind while I was there.

Northern Cardinal (Female)

© – Northern Cardinal (Female)

To maintain some degree of gender equity, I chose one female and one male to work.  I started with the female because it was the one that caught my eye first.  This image started out in a landscape or horizontal orientation.  But the strength of the image was very vertical.  So out came the cropping tool in Lightroom and voila, one vertical oriented bird.  I also slightly rotated the image to line things up with a nominal true up and down.

After doing a little bit of noise reduction to compensate for the grain created at ISO 400 I pushed her into Photoshop.  There I adjusted a bit on the top, bottom, and middle portions of her exposure.  I dripped in just a bit of vibrance and saturation and she was good to go.

The image I will eventually print will be in my standard 4×5/8×10 orientation rather than the 8×5 orientation that I use for my blog posts.  At a point in the future I will revisit this image at the original landscape format because there was plenty of empty space for the lady Cardinal to look into.

I then moved over to the males.  Here there were more images to choose from.  There were a few classic crest/tuft straight up in the air sitting pretty on the ground or another perch.  But I’ve made plenty of those (though I will probably still go back and snag another one of those classic stereotypical NOCA shots).  Instead I took the one that leads this post.  I thought it showed better energy than a lot of the other images, with him getting ready to pounce into action.  You will likely also notice the bits of gray in his feathers.  This is very normal, especially this time of year.  The fresh feathers have that bit of gray to them after the Cardinals go through their molt.  Between now and spring they will wear off that gray when they are flying in the brambles, making close calls with trees, etc.

To work this image I first cropped it a bit down to my standard 4×5 format, did my standard noise reduction, and pushed it over into Photoshop.  In Photoshop it was just nudge the levels, nudge the vibrance, and I was good to go.  The key to keeping post-processing to a minimum is get the darned image right in the camera.  If you expose it right and you find the right background and foreground, then post-processing is a breeze.

About the Images:
Additional technical specs on these images were that both were shot with the Standard Gear.  Tripod was used.  Flash was not.  Both were at ISO 400.  The male was 1/400 sec at  f/8.  The female was 1/500 sec and also at  f/8.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. positivethinking13 permalink
    November 24, 2013 7:07 pm

    Amazingly gorgeous! What a shot! The texture is incredible!

    • November 24, 2013 7:42 pm

      Thank you. At full size (3780×3025 for the male, 2150×2700 for the female) the results are even prettier. They will make nice prints on my wall someday.

      • positivethinking13 permalink
        November 24, 2013 7:56 pm

        They will for sure, even at this size! Really gorgeous! Enjoy!

  2. November 24, 2013 7:40 pm


  3. November 25, 2013 4:53 am

    Nice images! It would be cool to see the before and after – and how you do noise reduction.

    • November 25, 2013 5:34 am

      Thank you, Cindy. First, mighty pretty images from the Okefenokee Swamp on your last blog post. Pretty stuff.

      I will add a before/after noise reduction entry to my “to blog” list. Truth be told, like most of what I do I try to keep things pretty minimalist in that regard. I can get away with doing very little because the 60D’s performance at ISO 400 is very good. I was reminded of this when I went back to re-edit my Flickr profile picture that was shot with my 10D at ISO 800. Yikes. But also because noise reduction, especially with Lightroom, can also mean sharpness reduction and I don’t want to do that. For what I use on these blog entries you would never really see the noise, but at full size you will.

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