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Phoggy Photo Phixes

I thought I'd continue on my theme of rescuing less-than ideal bird images through simple digital post-processing (in the last episode I talked about dealing with high-noise images.)  Today I'll address a few ideas for dealing with foggy images.

The issue came home for me a couple of weeks ago when I was on the El Sauz Ranch in south Texas, on the Gulf Coast immediately north of Laguna Atascota NWR.  It was the last morning of my trip and I was all packed up but had about 1/2 hour to kill before our van departed, so I took one more stroll around the facilities where we were staying.  In an attempt to elicit some action I tooted my best Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl imitation to see what I could dredge up.  I saw a few little brush-loving birds peeking out from the mesquite, but my buddy Tom Dunkerton saw something better- an actual Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl teed up on an open branch!!  When he caught up to me with the news I rushed back to grab my camera out of my bag, which was waiting in the air-conditioned comfort of my room.

Cue dramatic theme:


So those of you who deal with hot, humid climes like the Gulf Coast probably know where this is going.  Yeah, as soon as I had the little FEPO in my sights and uncorked my lens cap, the objective lens fogged like a bathroom mirror after a long hot shower.  At least I had a lens cloth, so I wiped my lens about every 30 seconds and did the best I could.  Even when my lens was freshly swabbed, I only got foggy-looking pics of the little crippler like this:

Screen Shot 2012-10-17 at 3.20.46 PM

Never ditch a pic you want until you try to rescue it, though!  Like my previous noisy image examples, I'll start with a more appealing crop and then run it through NoiseWare to clean it up:

Screen Shot 2012-10-17 at 3.24.23 PM

 I've found that the best way to get foggy images looking better is to tweak the levels.  Different photo processing software options have different ways of doing this, but in Photoshop Elements the levels are accessed through Enhance -> Adjust Lighting -> Levels:

Screen Shot 2012-10-17 at 3.36.30 PM

From there, bring the left pointer (this is the black side of the image histogram) over to the right to where the curve begins, or just a little left of that if it looks too severe:

Screen Shot 2012-10-17 at 3.34.27 PM

In my limited experience (I live in a semi-arid climate), that will often do a nice job of virtually burning off the fog.  The image might be a bit unbalanced dark now, so bring the right (white side) pointer over towards the beginning of the curves on that side until it looks like what you saw in the field through unfogged eyes:

Screen Shot 2012-10-17 at 3.34.42 PM

Phew- saved despite my rookie move of bringing a cool lens into 90-squared conditions (90°F, 90% RH.)  Now a quick re-size for the web, maybe a touch of sharpening, and done:


The idea works for photographs in actual fog, too.  A few Novembers ago I found myself atop Sandia Crest, New Mexico in a freezing fog, enjoying flocks of Rosy-Finches despite tempting hypothermia by standing out on the gift shop's back deck in very arctic conditions.  The cloud was so thick that even birds within 10 yards were ghostly in the fog- here's a very close Black Rosy-Finch snap in those conditions:

Screen Shot 2012-10-17 at 3.57.27 PM

What to do?  Crop, Noiseware, & Adjust Levels like before.

At this point the image is already vastly better, but another neat trick is to employ the Lighten Shadows feature to bring out detail in the darkest parts of the pic, such as body plumage details in this example:

Screen Shot 2012-10-17 at 4.07.47 PM

Screen Shot 2012-10-17 at 4.08.13 PM

Now Re-size & Auto-sharpen, & Voilà!


Not exactly the next cover of Birding Magazine, but far better than what I had to begin with!



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Bill Schmoker

Bill Schmoker

Bill is known in the birding community as a leading digital photographer of birds. Since 2001 he has built a collection of digital bird photos documenting over 640 species of North American birds. His photography has appeared in international nature publications, books, newspapers, interpretive signs, web pages, advertisements, corporate logos, and as references for art works. Also a published writer, Bill wrote a chapter for Good Birders Don't Wear White, is a past Colorado/Wyoming regional editor for North American Birds and is proud to be on the Leica Birding Team. Bill is a Colorado eBird reviewer and is especially fond of his involvement with the ABA's Institute for Field Ornithology and Young Birder Programs. Bill is a popular birding guide, speaker, and workshop instructor, and teaches middle school science in Boulder, Colorado. When he isn’t birding he enjoys family time with his wife and son.
Bill Schmoker

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