How to Turn Your Zoo Photography into Fine Art

by | 5 years ago

I went to the zoo recently and used my 24–240mm lens so I could really zoom in on the animals to take good shots of them. I’m sure that you’ve been to a zoo and taken similar shots, but do you ever do anything with those photos? In this issue, I’m going to show you how you can make fine-art photos with your zoo shots!

This is a photo I took of a lioness. I was really zoomed in, as you can see. This is the first step to get the fine-art look.

Step One: I started with my usual retouching by bringing down the Shadows to –100 and opening up the Highlights to +100. Then, I increased the whites to +49 and reduced the blacks to –54. I also brought down the Exposure a bit to –0.20.Step Two: As you can see, the colors are really vivid, so let’s fix that by lowering the Saturation to –66. To make the lioness stand out in the image, let’s add some Contrast (+54), as well as some Clarity (+55).

Step Three: I think it’s worth making her stand out even more, so we’re going to do a heavy vignetting effect using the Graduated Filter (press the letter M). Double-click the word “Effect” at the top left of the Graduated Filter panel to set all the sliders to 0. Lower the Exposure to –1.25, and let’s go for some minus Clarity (–30). Set the Noise to 100 because oftentimes you can have unwanted noise in the dark areas. Set four graduated filters around your subject as shown here. Click the word New at the top right of the Graduated Filter dialog each time you want to add another filter, and drag from the outer edge of the photo toward the lioness so the darkest part of the graduated filters are at the edges of the photo.

Step Four: To make the lioness even more dramatic, go to the Sharpening section in the Detail panel, and set the Amount to 98, Masking to 60, and the Luminance Noise Reduction to 15. Also, turn on both the Remove Chromatic Aberration and Enable Profile Corrections checkboxes in the Profile tab of the Lens Corrections panel.

Step Five: We’ve made a good start, but if you want to follow me all the way into the crazy, dramatic fine-art look, let’s go! First, focus in on her face even more by cropping the image. Press R for the Crop Overlay, adjust the cropping boundary, and press Enter to commit the crop.

Step Six: We’ll use the Adjustment Brush (K) to darken even more of the photo to make the lion’s face the focus of the image. Set the Exposure to –1.63, boost the Noise to 73, and reduce the Clarity to –20. Set both the Flow and Density of your brush to around 70 or 80. Now you can just paint in the areas of the photo that you want to darken even more.

Step Seven: It’s looking very dramatic, but let’s brighten parts of the lioness’s face a bit. Click the word New to start another Adjustment Brush, set the Exposure to 1.53, the Contrast to 37, and the Clarity to 53. Now, just brush over the eyes, or other parts of her face, to give the image even more dynamic contrast.

And here’s the before and after.

So now that you have the concept on how to create a dramatic fine-art look, you can create a preset so you can try this look on other animal photos. After applying the preset, just adjust the settings depending on what effect you want to go for.

To create a preset, click the + icon at the top right of the Presets panel to open the New Develop Preset dialog. Name your preset, pick a Folder where you want the preset to appear in the Presets panel, choose the settings you want to include, and click Create.

You can download and try out some of the presets I’ve created at keblyone.com/magazine . To add presets to Lightroom, in the Presets panel, Right-click on the folder of presets to which you want to add the preset, select Import, navigate to the downloaded presets, and click Import.

Here are two examples of a similar look. I hope that this was inspiring and that you’ll try this technique on your own images. Have fun!