I took this image in 2002. It is probably one of my first 'decent' images taken with a digital SLR, and as a result, it has been an 'intimate acquaintance' that I have made several attempts to post process over the course of the last 20 years. I have probably attempted to process this image 4 or 5 times, giving it up each time until relatively recently. The first time I published this image for public consumption was in my images directory in 2020, and then for my article about National Bison Day,
last November. There are some nice images in that story, so please feel free to check it out. I did not really complete this image though until I made our article, Does It Black and White?
. If you read that story, you get to see a bunch of nice color to black and white conversions - and the reasons why I am making the conversion. You also get to see these two images AGAIN. Woohoo!!
This image is essentially a glorified grab shot taken from a relatively close distance. According to the EXIF data, this photograph was taken with my Canon 70-200 F2.8 lens with a 1.4 converter on it. The EXIF data also says that the image was taken fully extended - at 280mm. My recollection was that I was photographing the Ear Spring geyser on the Upper Geyser Basin of Yellowstone National Park. I was not able to do anything with Ear Spring beyond a documentary shot, so I was packing all of my gear when I looked up and was shocked to see this giant behemoth of a bison standing close to me on the boardwalk. Before anyone sends me hate mail about being too close and about park rules and the safety of the animal - all things I fully agree with, there are two things I would like to say in my defense. The first is that I was photographing the other direction - and there were not any critters near me when I started my work on the geyser basin. It came to me and I was unaware of its presence until it was practically on top of me. I will admit that I used the opportunity to take the photograph before backing off. The second is that this image is taken at 280mm, so it was not THAT close. However, it was definitely closer than the 100 foot rule and much closer than I felt comfortable being.
So, if this was one of my first 'decent' images, why did it take me nearly 20 years to start showing it off? Honestly, I was not sure it was a good image. While it is a composition that I always liked, I have never been able to correct the exposure to my satisfaction. To show you the emperor's clothes, I am going to do something that I never do. I am going to share with you what the original RAW file converted to (resized down). Please do not judge me by this image - it was taken 20 years ago, and I like to think that maybe I have gotten a little bit better over the years. However, there is a real value to seeing what the original image looked like and what can be done with it.
So what is wrong with this image? Well - a lot. First, the exposure is off. The sky should not be white, and the boardwalk at the bottom of the image is also blown out. These are problems that are difficult to fix. The second thing is that the image is slightly soft - you see that if you look closely at the bull's eye.
One Image - The Bison, The RAW Naked Image
What did I do to fix this photo? The first thing I did was attempt to fix the sky. Skies are not ever supposed to be white. Given that this was a relatively clear day, I took a little blue pen in Affinity Photo and colored in the sky. Yes. I admit it. That's the art in what we do as opposed to just documenting what we see. The second thing I did was clone down over the boardwalk. In it's place, I added everything that was missing - like it's foot and the trees. Essentially, I salvaged that which I could salvage, and I eliminated the things I could not. Third, I sharpened the image. Initially, I did this by creating several layers and sharpening them at different levels and blending them in. In my last iteration, I put it through Topaz Lab's Sharpen AI. While it does not cause miracles, it is surprisingly good - better than what I can do on my own. The last thing I did was use Affinity Photo's Tone Mapping, adding contrast and saturation as recommended by Richard Strange. Whenever I do work like this, I do it in multiple layers that I can unlock if necessary so that I don't lose the whole file in the event that I wish to make changes later. I then blend the layers until I get an effect that I am looking for.
Well, here we are. The Bison. One of my favorite early pieces of work that I essentially fixed during COVID isolation. I love the sense of depth in this image, and the sense of massiveness you get when you look at the bison. It is one of two images that I have taken of a bison that I feel is fundamentally 'different' than anything else I have seen from other photographers. I feel a real sense of accomplishment having been able to post process this image into something that is usable.
I hope that you found this article useful. It is a new concept that I hope to try out over the next couple of months - picking one image that I took that I really like and showing how I produced the final piece of ART.
I want to make one last pitch for our Facebook Photography Group (Join Here)
. It is private, so you need to request membership - but it is one of the most supportive and fun places on Facebook. Seriously. There is a wide range of talent, from beginners to people who have sold it all. We have a few basic posting rules - and we keep the conversation like Thanksgiving Dinner. No Politics, No Religion and No Negativity. Just fun. Also, if you have never visited this website before, feel free to look around. We have some great Articles
, Professional Interviews
and Product Reviews
Please note that all images in this article are copyright (c) James Morrissey.