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I Photoshop my wildlife photos?!

Photo editing software is a very powerful thing, and we all know that with great power comes great responsibility.

There are two main programmes that I use to edit my photos, Lightroom and Photoshop, and this might not be completely accurate, but whenever I get asked what the difference is, I say Lightroom is for enhancement, slight changes to the colours, shadows, highlights etc, whereas Photoshop is for manipulation. Going off these extrememly rough definitions, it probably isn’t any surprise that Lightroom is my main go to for wildlife photography, and Photoshop is very much a secondary programme.

When someone says Photoshop, you probably imagine someone Photoshopping a dog’s head onto a human body for some comical effect, or airbrushing a Big Mac to levels never seen by the average Joe going in for a fast food treat. Photoshop is an extremely powerful tool used to manipulate images, and this is not what I do (a taste of YouTube clickbait appearing in the title?!).

There’s a fine line between using Photoshop for wildlife photography and turning your image into digital art. Digital art is fine, I am not trying to condemn it, not at all, but more those who drastically change an image and try to play it off as real. Sky replacement is a hot topic in this debate, take below, an egret on the back of an elephant, a shot I love but some may consider it to be not dramatic enough? What can I do? Oh, I know, replace the sky with one from Costa Rica (this is my first ever sky replacement so I know it is far from perfect, but I have done it to illustrate a point).

My first attempt at a sky replacement

So if I am not changing skies what am I doing? Well it is a lot more subtle than that, I make sure not to mislead the audience, I am only removing distractions as to enhance my image. Take for example these shots below, I chose to edit out the person and a rock on the left that I felt distracted from the subject of the image.

Removing the distractions has such an impact

Of course, where possible, it is always better to change positions or composition if you can, but sometimes you could wait all day and you still wouldn’t get the shot you want. This is so often the case with people, unfortunately, most of us lowly photographers don’t have the power to shut places off to the public whilst we get the flawless shots we are forever chasing. So for these two shots below, the only way was to edit out the people who were in the frame.

Fortunately most of this person was hidden anyway, so I just needed to remove their arms!

It is a lot easier to remove small objects!

I hear you, I hear you, 'Sam these aren’t wildlife shots?' True, but the ways I use Photoshop are the same with wildlife shots - to remove distractions and improve the image. Some of these Photoshops are so subtle that they may even go unnoticed - my ultimate goal.

Did you see them? The tiny bird in the bottom right of the gannet shot, and the fly in the lioness's eye?

Another reason I use Photoshop for my wildlife images is to manipulate the composition. If possible it is always preferential to take the time whilst shooting to compose the perfect images, but sometimes it just isn’t possible. For example with bird photography - when a white bellied sea eagle flies over head, your main target is to get the whole bird sharp and in frame. I managed both of these things with this shot, but it isn’t perfect in composition, so (and this is possible due to the simplicity of the background) I can increase the image size in photoshop and colour in the expansions. For good measure I removed a few distracting crows from the background whilst I was at it.

As you can probably guess by now, removing distractions is my main reason for using Photoshop with my wildlife images, awkward leaves, grass and branches can pretty much ruin a shot, as it did here when it appeared to impale this little owl, but with a quick wave of the Photoshop wand, all is better!

I am not an expert in Photoshop by any means, but with a few (VERY) simple steps I can fix an image to my preference. If digital art is your thing, by all means replace skies to your heart's content, but please don’t try and sell it off as being a real shot, let people know it is a composite of multiple different shots. Whilst I was editing the shots for this blog, I also had a play with this leopard shot and took it to probably the limit of what I would be happy doing (again, not perfect I am aware….), and a couple more shots just for good measure...

Pesky boats!

So much cleaner!

Thank you for reading,


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