While away last week I was able to get some time to photograph the family of Common Loons on Horseshoe lake. On one particular evening, about an hour or so before sunset they were feeding over a large weed-bed off a shore-fen that is a two minute canoe paddle from the cottage. I would get in position and then lay down in the canoe so that I would have the lowest shooting angle possible. Often the adults would surface, after a dive, beside the canoe to close for my lens to focus. When the chicks reach this size they are able to dive for themselves and there tends to be greater distance between the birds, however, once the adults surface the youngsters usually head straight over to see if they are going to be fed. I was quite happy to capture this image. The image above is the optimized version though. It required a ton of work to get it to this point. Below you will see the original capture. To optimize this image I evicted the out-of-focus adult in the background. If the birds head was visible I may have left it in the composition, but did not like it as it was. Next was to adjust the composition without cropping the file. As a result, I lower the birds in the frame and gave the image a slight clock-wise rotation. You will notice that the bill of the adult bird in the original capture contains a lot of bill-shine from the sun reflecting off the shiny surface of the bill. To correct this I zoomed to roughly 800% and slowly removed the bill-shine. Another thing that bothered me about the original file were the catch-lights in the eyes of the birds that was caused by the sun’s low angle reflecting across the water – again I worked on the image large to render more pleasing catch-lights. For me the final step, and the most interesting part, to perfecting this image was correcting the adult loon’s broken upper bill. The tip was broken presumably from hitting rocks on the bottom while chasing a fish. To correct this I simply selected the tip of the bottom bill and flipped it around to place on the top bill and then made the necessary adjustments to blend it in. After performing this extensive work on the image I believe that I have not changed the integrity of the image, but rather made it more pleasing and potentially more salable. However, I could never consider entering into a photography contest. To learn how to perform this type of clean-up and other various tips and techniques be sure to check out the link to Arthur Morris’ blog in the sidebar and while there check out the BAA Store for instructional tutorials / eBooks.
Why was the broken bill so interesting. Well, I remembered that I had photographed a Common Loon from the dock many years ago that had a broken upper bill. I searched through my Loon collection and found the image. I assume that this is the same bird as I have heard that Loons will return to the same lake year after year. This distinguishable feature proves it. I first photographed the Loon with the broken bill in May 2006 and again in July 2011.
Below you will see the original Common Loon with chick image and two large crops that clearly show the broken upper bill of the adult loon taken five years apart.