Ultimate Tips for Colour Grading Wildlife Photos Using Lightroom
Learning to edit wildlife photography in Lightroom is a completely different challenge than editing regular travel images and landscape images. This workflow here will help you understand my approach to making timeless wildlife images and how to ensure your resulting edits will make your images stand out.
What I first want to mention is that this particular image of a male reindeer was taken in Svalbard. The shot was photographed while laying down on the ground using a Canon 200-400mm 1.4x built in extender. The first step to have your wildlife images stand out is to have an interesting focal point or subject, have nice surroundings and backgrounds that are simple and clean looking, not shooting mid day and to get low. You can find out more about my wildlife photography instructional tips on Secret Atlas’ blog.
Here’s the beginning image:
My approach to this shot is to crop it in a bit further and to simplify the scene with colour and help the viewer see the most interesting part of the animal, which in this reindeer’s case is his eyes and antlers. I start off by doing some minor adjustments to the highlights to preserve details in the bright areas. Increase the shadows to see the interesting details on the reindeer’s face and eyes. Then I reduce the whites to reduce the distracting foreground element.
This may seem crazy, but first I’m going to mask out my subject to change the colour from a unappealing grey colour to add warmth. My overall approach to wildlife photography editing is to determine what is the subject and non-subject and to edit the components separately. In this photograph, I see this separation can be achieved by simplifying the colour palette and to use cool tones for the negative space and to have warm tones for the reindeer. This creates beautiful separation and brings the viewers attention directly to our main focal point.
Now the reindeer has a different tone to it, it’s a bit red but at least we are on the right track. Next I’ll manage these hues in the HSL sliders below.
And just like that with some slight adjustments to the hues on the sliders the image has completely changed. I like to work with more greenish blues rather than purple-ish blues and around 2 to 3 colours in a scene. In this case we have still too many, the sky tones don’t match the mountain tones and we have a bit of yellow and orange still in the photo.
I’ll go into saturation sliders next to sort out the colour intensities. The luminosity values are next and as I go through them I am just seeing if it adds or takes away attention from my subject. The screenshot of the reindeer is the result after the HSL sliders and the screenshots show the values I used to achieve this particular look.
I then will go into the graduated filters to adjust the portion of the sky that has the inconsistent colour tone and also darker it in the process to bring more attention to the focal point.
In order to get the purple / grey clouds to match the tonality of the mountains, I’ll use a Range Mask and choose the colour that I want to change and adjust without affecting the white areas and then I’ll adjust the colour using the white balance and saturation.
Now I’ll create another graduated filter from the bottom up and try to manage the high luminosity of the rocks and neutralize this a bit.
Now we can see that the foreground and the background are starting to look better. But we need to now bring our focus back to the subject to make this reindeer stand out.
To bring more attention to the subject I’ll create two radials. The first radial is to darker the perimeter of the scene and the second is to brighten the face.
Now I’ll get into some local adjustments including some dodging of the highlights on the fur and face of the reindeer and also increase the exposure of the eye in a subtle way. A big mistake that I see is photographer’s creating zombie looking animals when they over expose the eyes in post processing. Keep your values below 0.5 for exposure adjustments to avoid this.
Finally the last step, I find that the foreground is still not looking great even with a reduction in luminous intensity so I’ll use the clone and heal tool to get rid of this area.
There you have it! This Arctic inhabitant is grabbing our attention and we have ensured that we have tastefully edited the image and we haven’t changed anything from what was in the original capture, but rather just enhanced it all. I hope you enjoyed my article on how to make your wildlife images stand out and I hope to see your own Arctic wildlife images edited. If you want more in depth editing of wildlife be sure to order our online wildlife photography course for editing in Lightroom and Photoshop wildlife.ultimatephotocourse.com/order-form