I don't generally photoshop images beyond small crops and levels tweaks, especially for field and behavior projects. However, stylized studio work serves a different purpose, so I allow myself more digital liberties. How much do I manipulate studio captures?

Here is a small turtle ant project from this morning:

The turtle ant Cephalotes atratus in a finished portrait.

This image is bright and clean, but it didn't start that way. The original exposure is duller:

The unprocessed image, selected from a session of 120 exposures.

A closer look at before/after details:

The steps from A to B:

  1. Crop and rotate the image so ant is vertical (in Adobe Lightroom). While I normally compose on-camera as much as possible, I also prefer to shoot live, healthy subjects, as the resulting photos look more natural. This ant was running around during the session, so I traded away some magnification and framing for the sake of realism.
  2. Set the background to white and correct the color cast (in Lightroom).
  3. Increase contrast, shadows, and highlights so the values for the body of the ant go from near black in the darkest shadows to near white in the lightest hairs (in Lightroom). These adjustments give the image some zing.
  4. Reduce noise slightly (in Lightroom). The original exposure was at ISO 400 for reasons of keeping the two flash units at lower power. Low power flash recycles more quickly, allowing for more exposures and a greater likelihood of capturing the intended pose in a very active subject.
  5. Remove unwanted specks of dirt from the substrate and from the ant (in Adobe Photoshop). Photoshop's tools for erasing spots are more flexible and powerful than Lightroom's!
  6. Add extra white space below the ant and re-frame for final composition (in Photoshop).
  7. Apply moderate unsharp mask (in Photoshop). The original image was taken at f/20 for expanded depth of field, but such a small aperture softened the image.

Once finished, I uploaded the image to my professional galleries where turtle ants fans around the world* can order prints.

*existence of turtle ant fans beyond the author remains, at this point, hypothetical conjecture.