Bald Eagle Boost

by Kevin Shank | Oct 1, 2023 | 0 comments

As I was preparing this issue of Nature Friend, I received a photo from Kevin Burkholder of a Bald Eagle he had photographed that morning. He wrote:

“I was delighted to see a Bald Eagle in a tree very nearby this morning. I quickly snapped a few pictures before it flew away. I was somewhat disappointed when I saw the quality of this finished picture. I didn’t know if you could improve it or not.”

I was intrigued. Shortly I would be needing to prepare a photo lesson, and this photo looked like it had potential to be the basis for just that.

This was a splendid photo opportunity that Kevin had. But had he sent me his best original? I checked, and it was.
Sometimes folks send a reduced file size, thinking it will e-mail easier; but for printing purposes, we always want the largest files.

Obviously, cameras vary in the size and quality of the photos they take. However, no matter what camera you have, my advice is to make sure you have it set to take the largest file size it is capable of taking. When an opportunity like this arises, there is no time to change the settings to a larger file size.

It could be this was the largest file Kevin’s camera could take—I don’t know.

I have several goals for this photo. I want to reduce the noise, enhance the sharpness, and enlarge the size. Also, I’d like to pull more detail out of the shadow on the body, if I can.

Topaz AI software and Photoshop (PS) are my primary tools for photo enhancements. Of the Topaz AI family, I am using DeNoise AI, Sharpen AI, and Gigapixel AI for this photo.

Topaz software does not come with instructions on how to use it. The reason is simple—it is not stand-alone software. It is expected to be used in conjunction with your photo editing workflow, and your results will vary greatly depending on your overall understanding of photo editing.

I’m not a master of photo editing, for sure, but I recognize I have more opportunity for it than many of you have. So, I’ll try to share some of my thoughts and approach for whatever value they are, but your approach just might be superior.

The original photo is very low resolution, with lots of digital noise and overall lack of sharpness.

Bald Eagle sitting in tree
Bald Eagle original. Photo © Kevin Burkholder.

In Photoshop I tweaked the color and brought out a bit more detail in the breast feathers. This is not a complete tutorial on how each of these processes was achieved. Software varies in how these things are done. In brief, I used the camera raw filter, curves, levels, hue/saturation, and selective color.

A tip—sometimes tweaks exaggerate false colors. I had to deal with that with this photo, in a few spots, due to chromatic aberration. One way this can be dealt with is to desaturate the trouble spot.

Bald Eagle sitting in tree
Bald Eagle with Photoshop tweaks to enhance detail in shadows and to warm the colors. Photo © Kevin Burkholder.

Speaking of chromatic aberration (color fringes), that is the reality that comes with cheaper glass lenses. Another way to say it is that when a professional level lens is purchased, there will be less chromatic aberration. Often you see it in a photo where there is a high contrast in color tones, as you see in this picture around the eagle’s head. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Next, I used Topaz Gigapixel AI to enlarge this photo 6x. I will not use the photo thirty inches wide; but if the software enhances the photo to that level, when I reduce the size back down, I might have a superior result over having never enlarged the file.

There are various models within these various Topaz programs. I may go through several (or all) of them and compare the previews before I decide which model of correction I like the best.

In Gigapixel, the models are: Standard, Lines, Art & CG, HQ, Low Res, and Very Compressed. I chose to use the “Very Compressed” model. Within the model, there are slider scales for “Suppress Noise,” “Remove Blur,” and “Face Recovery Strength.” Experiment with those to your taste.

Bald Eagle sitting in tree
Bald Eagle after Topaz Gigapixel adjustments. Photo © Kevin Burkholder.

Coming back to the chromatic aberration that is apparent in this photo, it would be time consuming and unnecessary to address this everywhere it might appear. But the focal point is the bird’s head. At least at the head, I want the problem reduced.

By selecting the white head and then inverting the selection, I was easily able to clone-stamp background up to the eagle’s head, erasing the aberration.

A few color tweaks to the bluish shadow areas and some last-minute sharpening on the bird in Photoshop brought me to what you see below.

Bald Eagle on tree branch
Bald Eagle after final edits. Photo © Kevin Burkholder.

A Photoshop sharpening tip is to convert an RGB file to LAB color space, and then go to the “lightness” channel to sharpen. This sharpens in a grayscale channel and doesn’t affect the color pixels. Once sharpened, return to the LAB channel, and then convert back to the RGB color space.

P. S. Oh yes, don’t forget to use Topaz Sharpen AI. That sharpening surpasses anything you can get out of Photoshop.

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