Editing your Bird Photographs in Lightroom  

by David Lilly
June 27, 2016

All bird photographers use some form of editing software to edit their bird photographs. I use Adobe Lightroom CC, latest version for my workflow.

I use Lightroom for the following reasons:

1. It is easy to import my photographs from a SD card and make sure they are backed up all at the same time.

2. Once the photographs are downloaded the cataloging system is the best on the market for organizing and finding your photographs.

3. When editing my photographs it is non-destructive, meaning the RAW photograph is not altered.

4. You can file your photographs in folders or use smart collections.

5. All of the tools in the Develop Module are arranged in order for easy to follow editing workflow.

6. You can set up your own presets to save time in editing.

7. The History Panel allows you to go back to earlier stages in your editing process.

8. You can apply an edit from one photograph to other photographs.

9. You can email and export for printing from within Lightroom, no outside software needed.

10. It is easier than Photoshop. However, if you do need Photoshop for some special purpose, it is just a click away.

The above are just some of the more important reasons I use Lightroom. So, lets take a look at how I edit my Bird Photographs  in Lightroom. There is just one word of caution when using Lightroom, ALWAYS MOVE YOUR FILES WITHIN LIGHTROOM AND NOT OUTSIDE OF LIGHTROOM.

If you move folders or files outside of Lightroom, Lightroom will not know where your files are located. The files will be greyed out when you open Lightroom the next time. However, in Lightroom in the Library in the Menu there is a “Find my Photos” feature, so no worries. (See Photo below)

Find All Missing Files

Step 1 – Import your photographs by plugging your SD card  into the card reader. In Lightroom with the Library module open click on the Import button. Once the photographs are downloaded you can start the editing process. Lightroom should be customized to do an automatic backup on import to an external hard-drive.

Step 2 – To begin the editing process you should do a Lens Correction in the Lens Correction Panel. Next, crop and straighten the photograph. Most bird photographs need some form of cropping. In Lightroom you just click on the Box in the upper left of the Develop Module. ( See photo 1 for before and photo 2 after cropping has been applied)

Photo 01

Photo 02 after cropping in Lightroom

Step 3 – After cropping, clean up the photograph with the spot removal tool. It is important to do this at this stage. I have found that if you try to remove spots after completing the editing process Lightroom will show sharp edges in the area where you removed the spot. You have the choice of the clone or the heal tool for spot removal. I prefer the Heal tool. ( See photo 3 before edit and Photo 4 is after the edit)

Photo 3 before Editing

Photo 4 After Editing

Step 4 – Next, adjust the White balance. I photograph on Auto White balance and in most cases the White balance is good. (Photo 8)

Photo 8 Adjusting White Balance

Step 5 – The next step in the workflow is the exposure. (Photo 5) This can be done in a number of ways. You can use the Histogram at the top of the Develop Module or you can use the Exposure slider. Also, you can open the Adjustment tool and brush in the Exposure just on the bird or the whole photograph. Photo 6 shows the clipping for over exposure and photo 7 shows the clipping when a photo is underexposed. You can turn on clipping by clicking on the little boxes in the upper left and right of the Histogram box as indicated in Photo 5.


Step 6 – At this stage open the Tone Curve Panel and add some contrast. Here you have more control over the contrast. You can adjust to medium or strong. I usually use medium. You have to see what looks the best, but remember don't over do it. You can also use the Adjustment Brush to brush in contrast just on the bird. (See photo 9)

Photo 09

Step 7 – Next step is to do Sharpening and noise reduction . Don't overdo this. To much sharpening causes artifacts around the bird and too much noise reduction softens the sharpness of the bird. Again both sharpness and noise reduction can be done with the adjustment brush. (See photo 10)

Photo 10

Step 8 – The last step is to file your photographs in the appropriate folder or collection. I use folders because that is the way I filed my slides in the film days. Also, it is quick and easy to find any  photograph. For example, if I need an American Robin Photograph I just go to the Robin Folder. I can then email the Photograph from there; it is that simple.  You can also have folders within a folder, for example, in my sparrow folder I have folders for every different sparrow. You can do this in Collections as well. Once you have filed your photographs in folders, you can remove the import folder from the Lightroom library. This will keep your library clean. It should be noted here, the original files are still on your computer and if you customized Lightroom to do a back up on import to an external drive you will have a copy there as well.

Every photographer has there own way of editing and organizing. The steps above is what works for me. Once you learn Lightroom you will develop your own editing steps. Remember not every photograph is the same. There are many free videos on the internet that teach you all about the workings of Lightroom. My advice is to watch as many as possible and learn. Once you have mastered Lightroom I think you will be happy with the results.


Links for Lightroom Tutorials.



Authors Biography & Contact Information

David Lilly David Lilly is a professional bird photographer living and working in Calgary, AB he also teaches photo workshops. His photos have been published in PhotoLife, Calgary's Natural Parks, Alberta Nature Magazine and Fine Scale Military Modeler. Dave shoots with Nikon equipment. This is Dave's 14th article for the Canadian Nature photographer.

David Lilly 
E-mail: dlilly@shaw.ca
Web site: www.canadianbirdphotographer.ca
Phone: 403 236-8587 (Cell)



See David's other Photography articles on the Canadian Nature photographer

David Lilly - Photographing Warblers at Point Pelee
David Lilly - Bird Photography Naturally
David Lilly - Newfoundland Undiscovered Country
David Lilly - Loons of Lac Le Jeune
David Lilly - Pheasant Photography
David Lilly - Photographing Yellow Warblers
David Lilly - Bird Adventures in Florida
David Lilly - Dancing with the Sharp-Tailed Grouse
David Lilly - Birds of a Feather Flock Together
David Lilly - Scavenger Birds
David Lilly - Reflecting on Birds
David Lilly - Bird Photography in the Winter
David Lilly - Birding Gadgets Window mount
David Lilly - Wild Turkeys of Alberta

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