Processing Bird Photos With Lightroom

Lightroom is one of the more popular tools to process photography raw files. The sheer concept of "processing photos" may sound intimidating to some people, yet one can gradually get a grip on terms and concepts like shadow, highlight, vibrance and clarity after some practice. After a while you will connect most of the dots and figured things out naturally.

I am no expert, but I may be able to help others to get started with Lightroom. In this article I will share my experience to beginners on how to process bird pictures as raw and export them as jpeg.

Importing RAW Files

Insert your camera SD card into the card reader, or in my case, connect the USB camera connector. Launch Lightroom; make sure you are in Library module; click Import.

By default LR will auto-select all photos. Now click Import at the bottom right corner.

You will see a status bar at the top left corner showing import status. Once complete, point your mouse at the film strip towards the bottom of the screen, and scroll to the right until you see a good image to process. Click it to select. As nice as it looks now, you can manipulate it further and make it even better looking.

Developing the Photo

The photo we about to process will display in the center panel. Go to the top right corner and click  Develop.

Welcome to Develop module, this is the place where creativity takes over. Click the little arrows pointing upwards and downwards at the top and bottom of the screen to give you a larger workspace .

See now the film strip at the bottom is gone, so is the module bar at the top (they can be called back in by moving the mouse at their original locations when needed). You also have a bigger photo to work on now.

Pay attention to the right panel I marked in red - this space contains the tools we will use to enhance our photo.

Birds jump and fly around at whim. We can't tell them to sit still while we compose can we? So the idea is to snap away whenever they entered focus, and to take care of the composition rules in Lightroom.

First we want to crop the photo, click the dotted square underneath the histogram, after which you will see your photo superimposed with three vertical and three horizontal lines.

Drag any of the four corners on the photo and you will see the brightened area changes dimesion. Here I dragged the bottom left and top right corners (marked in red arrows) so that the Pitta is located slightly to the left. Rule of thirds states that to please human eyes, the subject should be located somewhere where the vertical and horizontal lines intersect.

Once you are satisfied with the crop area, click Done. Now the photo is zoomed into that area.


Next we will start making enhancement to the color. I thought the background was too bright, so I will go to the right panel and drag the Highlight slider all the way to the left, until -90 or even -100. So Highlight slider will make the area more (slide to right) or less (slide to left) bright.

While dragging the slider, pay attention to the smaller photo at the top left corner. This is the preview screen that shows you in real time, how much changes we are making to the main photo with the slider.

Even with Highlight at -100 the whole picture was still a tad too bright. So I will go to Exposure, and bring to the left by -0.30.

At the same time, I thought there were some parts on the bird needing more light, so I will drag Shadows slider a bit to the right. In this case, I want to stop the Shadows slider at +29. I don't want to slide too far to the right, this would destroy the colors in the shade.

Making the Subject Pop

So that took care of the overly bright background and shadow cast on the subject. Let's see if we can make the color more lively.

On the second section of the right panel, you will see Clarity, Vibrance and Saturation. We want to adjust these sliders to give our picture that 'pop' factor, make the subject stand out.

Drag the Clarity slider just a bit to the right, say until +15. See you could also click on the number to the right of the slider and key in the value directly. Likewise for Vibrance, try a value of +10.

Clarity will enhance difference between dark and bright colors, so you will see separation between adjoining colors, similar to Contrast. However as opposed to Contrast, Clarity will not make white appear too bright or black appear too dark.

Vibrance enhances intensity of the more subtle color tones, e.g. sliding Vibrance to the right will make pale red appear very red, or pale blue very blue. This is similar to Saturation. However Vibrance will not enhance color that is already intense like Saturation does.

Okay perhaps I am not very good at defining these terms - anyway I suggest you leave Contrast and Saturation unchanged - works for me so far.

Go ahead and compare the pictures below and above to see how clarity and vibrance make the subject pop out from the background.

Exporting as JPEG

All is well so far. Let us export our work into jpeg, a format that we can use to share over the internet via Flickr, Facebook, Whatsapp or other apps.

Right-click anywhere on the processed photo; Export, Export...

Specify the folder that you want to save the exported file, specify the watermark that you want to stamp onto the picture, leave everything else at default setting, and click Export.

Click Export button, and there will be a progress bar shown at the top left corner. This won't  be too long.

Check the destination folder that you exported the photo to. The file name will be the same as the DSC_xxxx.NEF shown in the workspace. It is in .jpg extension now, ready to be shared to the whole world!

Double-click it to open. You are set!

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