Colour Correction
Buzzard on the Isle of Skye

I usually try and get things right in the camera but sometimes things happen a little too quickly for comfort. A few weeks ago I was messing around outside, trying out new things when I heard a screech not too far off. I thought to myself, “buzzard, I wonder if she’s coming this way”. Another screech, nearer and louder sent me scurrying for the telephoto and as she glided overhead I managed to get some shots.

Later, looking at it on the computer, the data was all crammed into the midtones and overall, the image was lacking contrast. There was also a lack of blue in the highlights so I thought some colour correction in Photoshop would be fun. The image below is the original as it came out of the camera, after lens corrections and highlight/shadow munging in Lightroom.

Colour correction involves looking for things that ‘should’ be something. A highlight that should be around 95% white, as this will print ok. Shadows that are 5% black and some midtones also. I was careful to avoid cast shadows when finding a suitable black area as these tend to have a neutral colour balance so can cause a kerfuffle with the other colours when you’re correcting.

Another thing to avoid is specular highlights, i.e. reflections. There’s a tiny one in the buzzard’s eye and it’ll tend to appear first when you’re trawling. This is the process of alt-sliding on a curves layer to see where the brightest parts of an image are. Ignore reflections such as this as they’re meant to be blown out, with no detail in them. So I selected the next brightest area, which was on her tail. Also a nice midtone just inside the lower feathers on her leading wing.

Colour correction is also a great way to get to know your subject. I was examing her in great detail. Her eye ring was a good candidate for a shadow point, perhaps her eye but it was a bit reflecty. Those feathers should be white and I’m pretty sure those other feathers are a sort of grey colour. After a while you get to know her markings pretty well and next time she flys by, you’ll spot her colours.

Anyway, the upshot of all this is, a printable highlight that still retains detail is around RGB 242,242,242 and I thought a midtone of 125 would be good too. Then it’s just a case of converting the control points, which I created with the eyedropper while looking for likely areas, into points on the curves layer. It’s easy to then nudge the values around until they come out right and voila, colour correction is done. The image below is the result.

Quite often, correcting the shadows causes problems and in this case it made her shadowed feathers black and lost all the detail so I didn’t correct them this time. I then added a little contrast and a levels layer to bring out the detail in the shadowed feathers. The detail was in the original so I wanted it to show in the corrected version.

And here she is in all her glory.