Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Masking the deficiencies of a bird photo shot from too far away by fiddling with it and calling it art

Covering Up for Using the Wrong Lens by Calling It Art (1)
This mystery bird, as I thought of it, was walking amid the rocks in the parking lot median at work yesterday (later, a viewer on my Flickr site kindly identified it as a killdeer). I wanted to photograph it, but, as usual, Mr. Point and Shoot Photographyy was only carrying a digital camera with a very short telephoto zoom. When I brought the camera to my eye and zoomed in, I couldn't see a thing in the LCD screen.

That didn't stop me; I aimed by pointing and clicked a few frames in case it flew off. In the optical finder, I could see it -- but just barely, a little speck in the middle of the finder. I kept shooting, but things only got worse -- killdeer don't seem very fond of flying, but they sure are fast walkers, and he put more distance between us.

When I downloaded the photos last night, I did find a couple I sort of liked. Trouble was, the image was very small -- roughly 400 pixels wide in the original 8mp image, which was 3264 pixels wide. When I cropped and enlarged, the image was filled with digital artifacts and was starting to look pixelated.

What to do when a bird catches your eye and you shoot it from so far away with the wrong lens that you have to crop a few pixels out of a much larger file, leaving you with a pixelated mess? I decided to try playing around in Photoshop and passing my deficiencies off as art. This was done by twiddling with Sharpen, Blur and Despeckle until I got something that more or less resembled a faux watercolor wash effect. I kind of like it, though I wouldn't necessarily recommend it.

This happens to me a lot. Here's a hawk I photographed in Madison's Owen Park over the weekend. He had settled in the upper branches of an oak tree, scanning the park for prey, and I was able to walk right up to the base of the tree without the hawk moving (I wasn't prey -- so it could afford to treat me with imperious disregard.) It was about 45 feet above me, and I could see it wasn't gong to oblige me by coming closer, so I shot with the longest zoom setting I had, about 100mm. Again, a mess.

The small image of the hawk almost looks fine. But when I enlarged the original on the computer, I had the same problem as with the killdeer but even worse. The image was starting to break up into little horizontal and vertical lines, sure signs of abused and overstressed pixels. This time I just went straight to the Watercolor filter in Photoshop. The results are a bit over the top (when you click on it to enlarge the photo). The image seems blotchy, and I don't like it as much as the fake watercolor arrived at through more roundabout methods with the killdeer. But again, it was something to try.

But this is only a stopgap. I'm endlessly fascinated by birds, but if I keep feeling compelled to point my camera at them, I suppose I'll either have to start lugging a DSLR around, or at the very least, start looking for a compact camera with a longer zoom. The Nikon P80 does seem interesting with its 18x zoom, plus wide angle -- but would it still fit in my pocket?

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