This photograph on the right was submitted to the ePHOTOzine gallery by Margaret Barton. It's a very good close up of a Longtailed tit, but I didn't like the fact that the small branch above left of the bird is quite distracting. I also feel that there's not enough space above the bird's head so I was going to extend the canvas and clone some more background . That is until I requested the original. It turns out that Maragert had already cropped the photo. The original is much lighter and has less contrast too. So I have all the necessary elements to play with.
So first let's look at cropping. The bird is small in the centre of the shot which is what many bird pictures will be like because, unless you have specialist equipment such as a spotting scope or super power zoom lens, you'll just not get close enough. With any image editing software you can crop the photo by removing surround detail. But where do you draw the line? I always like to include space around the main subject and balance the space so the subject looks comfortable in that space. We have produced an article on ePHOTOzine about composition, such as following the rule of thirds and I often apply that practice.
The trick on this shot is not to crop too tightly, as I feel Margaret has, but to remove enough of the background to ensure the bird is the centre of attention. In this first option I've placed the bird on the right third and allowed space to the left which makes it more of an invironmental shot that's lacking from Margaret's example.The red lines indicate the rule of thirds that I mentioned earlier.
But here's the one I'm going to go for, roughly selected just for this visual. I'll show you how to make an accurate crop to suit your paper format in the next step. So, it's an upright shot, allowing space above the head and cropping just after the upper twig joins the base so it can be removed without looking obvious. Ideally I would like a little more space at the left but that would involve too much cloning to sort out the branches. I'll also allow the leafs to be complete on the right and bottom.
The normal route to crop would be to select the Crop tool and choose a fixed crop size and resolution. But there's another way that allows you to crop so the new image is the same ratio as the paper you intend using. Select the Rectangular marquee and in the tool menu bar along the top select Fixed Aspect Ratio from the Style drop down list and set the paper size in the width and height boxes. I've gone for 7x10 which is roughly A4. Now when you draw a marquee over the area it will create a fixed ratio rectangle to suit the paper size. Now go to Image>Crop to remove the unwanted surrounds. (Click on this photo to see a large, clearer example)
The next stage is to select the Clone tool (Rubber stamp) and clone areas from the picture that will look correct in the area you clone over. Use a big brush size for the larger easy to cover areas (right) and a small brush for the fine detailed areas (below). Drag on areas where you need to create a line, such as the white out of focus stems and click and dab on areas where you need to keep the area random.
Once you are happy with the cloned area we'll do some more improvements. First let's sharpen up the photo so the bird's feathers look razor sharp. Select Filter>Sharpen>Unsharp Mask and adjust all three sliders until the feathers become sharper without making them look overly sharp.
Now looking at the background makes me feel it may look better slightly more out of focus. Here's a simple trick to do that without affecting the bird and branch. Select Filter>Blue>Gaussian Blur and adjust the slider to get a suitable blur. Don't worry that the whole picture is being affected.
In the History palette click on the small square by the Unsharp Mask state. This is the action you did prior to applying Gaussian blur. This puts a small Hiustry brush icon in the square. If you now select the History brush you can paint back to the previous state. Move around the picture painting back anything that you want sharp. The bird (obviously!), but you also may want a few of the leaves and the branches sharp. I've look around the photo and made sure everything that would be on the same plane is sharp, so it looks natural.
Now we are at the stage where we can look at colour and contrast. Digital cameras often produce a murky image with flat contrast that needs beefing up. Often Auto Levels wil correct this Image>Adjustments>Auto Levels, and I suspect that's what Margaret applied on her image. But in this example the result is too harsh (right), and so is Photoshop 7's Auto Contrast and Auto Colour. So we need to apply a contrast boost manually using Curves.
Go to Image>Adjustments>Curves. And in the pop-up Curves palette drage the centre down slightly and the left third down a touch and the right third up a touch to make a slight S shape. You'll see this makes the picture appear more vibrant without making it appear over contrasty. If your software doesn't have Curves use Levels or Brightness & Contrast.
Well that's it finished. Well the beauty with digital is you can be as creative as you like. I still wasn't happy with the background to above left of the bird (it looks to naked) so I made a rough selection of an area from below left applied a 100 pixel feather copied and pasted that and then moved it to top left reduced the opacity applied more blur and rotated so it looked different. That's filled the gap.
Those sharped eyed viewers may also have noticed I've cloned out the branch that was running over the left foot of the bird. Given more time I think I'd loose the branch behind the bird too.