Saving Everest

October 18, 2013  •  1 Comment

Four months ago, a snow leopard cub named Everest was born at the Brookfield Zoo. After he reached about three months of age, Everest started entering the exhibit for public display. I visited the exhibit four times before I finally saw Everest and his mother. Much of the time, the snow leopards decide to remain indoors where they can't be seen.

I was excited about the opportunity to capture some pictures of the cub. However, unlike most of the exhibits at the Brookfield Zoo, there's thick glass or netting separating the animals from the visitors at this exhibit. Most of the other exhibits use moats for this purpose, which makes it possible to capture high quality images since there are no obstructions between the lens and the subjects.

I chose the lesser of two evils and decided to shoot through the glass rather than the netting. My approach was to remove the hood from the lens which allowed me to press the lens as close to the glass as possible. The following image (as it appeared straight out of the camera) is the best picture I could produce through the glass:

Snow leopard cubSnow leopard cubFour month old snow leopard (Panthera uncia) cub, Everest (born June 13, 2013) at the Brookfield Zoo in Brookfield, Illinois on October 15, 2013 The cub is certainly a very cute subject. But, the thick glass robbed the image of almost all of its contrast. And, the image isn't nearly as sharp as it would have been without having all that glass placed between my lens and Everest!

So, I tried to salvage this photograph during post processing. In Lightroom, I made the following global adjustments:

  • Cropped the image slightly
  • Applied some noise reduction to offset the effect of a higher ISO setting that I need due to handholding this shot
  • Sharpened the image
  • Adjusted the white balance
  • Reduced the highlights dramatically
  • Added quite a bit of contrast
  • Set a black point
  • Removed chromatic abberation

Once those adjustments were made, I brought the image into Photoshop to apply some more selective adjustments.  These adjustments were brushed only onto Everest's face:

  • Applied some Detail Enhancer (Nik filter)
  • Applied some Tonal Contrast (Nik filter)
  • Applied some Pro Contrast (Nik filter)
  • Brightened his eyes
  • Blurred the background a bit more
  • Converted the image to B&W using Silver Efex Pro2
  • Added structure to the fur on the face

After all of these adjustments, I liked the photograph enough to post it on my website and to share it on Facebook and some photography forums. But, I knew that none of the adjustments would "fix" the image quality issue. Image quality must be achieved at the time of capture. Post processing is best for enhancing images. It rarely is able to fix a broken image. Therefore, I wasn't surprised in the least when the stock agencies quickly rejected this image for image quality considerations.

Here's the final result:



Earl Evans(non-registered)
It's frustrating to have access to a great subject but under conditions that don't lend themselves to a great capture. Fortunately, you came away with a wonderful story/memory and a nice teaching lesson.
No comments posted.

January (1) February (2) March (1) April May June July August September October November December