I should be writing . . . instead, Hawk photos.

So, with the short story challenge deadline looming large, I should be hunched over my keyboard, pounding on said keys, and crafting a wondrous tale . . . but, instead, I got photos of my first hawk since moving back to the mainland.

Folks, I’m out of practice, I tell you what, and not happy about it. I mean, I had sufficient shutter speed, pretty good lighting, and I wasn’t that far away. I didn’t control my aperture but that’s not normally a problem.

The one thing I did wrong was shoot from a running (but parked) car, leaning over the passenger seat as I twisted my torso to level the camera at the bird. I mean, it was wrong only insofar as it’s not an ideal way to shoot. But, had I gotten out of the car, I’d have missed the hawk because it didn’t linger long once I stopped.

Here are my first two shots as they came out of the camera, unedited and uncropped.

Not overly happy with the exposure and the in-camera processing but since it’s a RAW file, I’m OK with it because . . .

DxO Nik Color Efex Pro 2
DxO Nik Color Efex Pro 2

By the way, for all of the photos on this post, click on the image and a larger version will open in a new tab or window.

The above crops were processed in Color Efex Pro 2. It’s been my go-to tool for the better part of a year now. But, I’m leaning toward heavier use of DxO PhotoLab 3. Here are those same crops processed in PhotoLab 3.

DxO PhotoLab 3
DxO PhotoLab 3

In this instance, I believe I got closer to a “natural” coloring with PhotoLab.

I mentioned before DxO is my preferred tool when dealing with difficult photos. The only reason I don’t use them exclusively is their interface was not conducive to quickly handling a large number of photos.

I’m not sure if new readers to this blog know, but I tend to show more photos than most bloggers offer up on a given post. Why, some bloggers only share one photo per post. In contrast, generous, I am, in my photo sharing.

OK, here comes the warning for new readers . . . folks, if you intend to read the whole remainder of this post in one sitting, do yourself a favor: hit the bathroom and grab a coffee (in that order) for you’re about to discover why so few people visit the blog despite having nearly 1,600 followers/subscribers.

Right; back to the task at hand. Anyone who’s familiar with my Hawk Photography knows I like capturing hawks when they launch and take flight.

Here’s the next shot in this short sequence . . .

As shot, no post-processing

“Bravo! Excellent!” . . . NOT!

I mean, it looks OK until you look closer . . .

As shot, no post-processing – cropped

That is not sharp . . . there’s softness, possibly due to camera shake. I say camera shake because it’s at 1/1250 sec. shutter speed. That should be sharp and in focus, and it’s not.

I won’t show the Color Efex processing because DxO PhotoLab offered the better treatment of this less-than-stellar photo:

DxO PhotoLab 3

“Bravo! Excellent!” . . . NOT! It may look OK to some but not to me.

At this point, I had tried every trick I knew for eeking out sharpness from a photo. I tried every photo-processing tool at my disposal, all to no avail. GIGO was hard at work, and it was working against me.

Then, I remembered Topaz Labs Sharpen AI. I had played with it when it had been introduced (HERE) but I had used Nikon P900 JPG files and there have been a few updates since then. So, I decided to try it and . . .

Topaz Sharpen AI – sharpen, stabilize

I can’t be sure of why but it also lightened the photo.

For people reading this on a phone or even on the computer and not clicking for a larger view, let me give you my reaction: holy crap on a cracker!

So, we now have a workable photo, but how should I process it? Well, every which way I can, of course! And by that, I mean using these programs: Topaz Labs Adjust AI, Aurora HDR 2019, Luminar 4, DxO Nik Collection Color Efex Pro2, and Topaz Labs Studio 2.

I’m going to spare readers having to scroll through sixty+ photos and instead present a gallery of each photo; a gallery showing the original as shot, a cropped version of the original, the cropped version after Sharpen AI processed the photo, and then the processing of all the mentioned photo editors.

So, for instance, for the above photo:

Why do all those nearly-identical processes?

Well, for one, they aren’t all identical, and some not even “near-identical”. For another (thing), it’s a matter of ease. I wanted to find out which was best suited for quick and painless processing of photos. (Hint: I plan on processing lots of photos as soon as my life stabilizes a bit.) Aurora HDR was by far the easiest; super easy, in fact; barely an inconvenience.

Mind you, once I zeroed in on the setting for each of the other photo editing programs, subsequent photos were nearly as easy, but that’s the point; Aurora HDR nailed (or damn near nailed) the editing right from the get-go. I opened the photo and the only reason I tweaked anything was to not feel superfluous to the process.

Two other comments; because Adjust AI is a part of Studio 2 (if you own both), I resolved to use Studio 2 for artistic or just plain different processing.

The other comment is this: some might not have noticed in the first photo (or this photo) but the bottom feathers of the hawk are wet. Not just damp; wet as in matted. It could be the hawk has an incontinence issue but I’m betting it had caught something that had been laying in a wet area. It could be the hawk caught a snake (although it’s a bit cold for snakes to be out) or something else hiding in a soaking-wet area.

None of that matters to the processing; just pointing it out.

Right, on to the rest of the photos.

This next shot is another where Sharpener AI impressed me. Here; judge for yourselves.

One thing to note here — and the other photos — is the appearance of the talons. They almost look metallic. Even if not metal, they look as if they might do some damage.

Also of interest, I’m shooting at a 7-frames/second rate. This is the third shot in the sequence (I didn’t process the second shot). That means that 0.28 seconds separate this shot from the previous (the launch shot).

Subsequent shots are 0.14 seconds apart. It doesn’t seem like it, but birds move pretty quick. It’s one of the reasons I wanted a fast frame rate with a deep buffer; you only get about a second to shoot.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I wouldn’t have used that photo were it not for Sharpen AI.

As for this photo, I had considered junking it because I couldn’t bring out much detail under the wing and the part of the body in the shade. I’ll have to look into what Sharpen AI does to manipulate the RAW data and bring out detail without adding a bunch of noise.

Had I processed this shot, I’d have run a couple of noise reduction passes as well as compromise in quality.

This is a good “bottom” shot for seeing the wet feathers. I mean, I don’t like it when my bottom is wet so I imagine the hawk is also less than thrilled.

This next shot is included because — at first glance — it looks as if the bird suddenly lost one of its legs. Perhaps it’s a dance move, but you can catch a glimpse of the talons peeking from behind the closest leg.

Based on this next shot, I’m thinking it’s trying to pedal or run to aid the wings; you know, like birds do when taking off from water.

Only a couple of more photos . . . and, again, I liked this shot but was worried about having to bring out details from the deep shadows. Fortunately, I didn’t have to.

So far, I’ve been raving about the wonder that is Sharpen AI . . . imagine my disappointment when I discovered it has limits. Meaning, it can’t fix a sufficiently crappy photo. In this case, GIGO with a vengeance.

To them who want to empathize, I imagine it must be a bit like people of faith realizing their all-powerful Gods truly are limited and can’t perform miracles; all they can do is take credit for stuff that would have happened anyway.

. . . er . . . no, that’s worse; at least I know Sharpen AI comes through most of the time.

I can’t very well leave you on a downer, can I? Here’s a gallery of what I think are the best versions of each photo. Disclaimer: the choices might be different an hour from now since it’s not only subjective but also based on my mood. Realistically, without a side-by-side comparison, I’d be happy with the output from any of the tools.

Surprised? Me too . . . but, to be fair, I did say they aren’t really that similar. So, while I liked the speed and ease of using Aurora HDR, my eyes preferred the results from Adjust AI.

I now have to figure out why. Truthfully, Adjust AI is nearly as fast as Aurora. BUT . . . had the photos been sharp to begin with, I’d vote for DxO Photo Lab 3.

Well, if you made it this far, you deserve a bit of comic relief . . . and seeing as there’s a lot of Xmas stuff already out and about, a mixed bag of humor (some are repeats but new readers don’t know that).

That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.


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