Behind The Shot – Polar Bear On Iceberg

Today launches something new.  I’d like to call it Behind The Shot series.  I thought it would be fun to share with you how I made some of my favorite images.  I’ll on a regular basis take some of the images I have made through the years and recreate them using the latest version of Capture One and show where I started and where I needed and what was done along the way.

I’ll start with one of my favorite images made all the way back in 2013 of a polar bear on the edge of an ice sheet and a bird flying directly over its head.  This to me is very symbolic of what is going on in the polar regions right now and especially the Svalbard area.  As the ice vanished and recedes more quickly and farther each year it puts the polar bear in distress.  Polar bears depend on the ice to hunt and sustain themselves.  Because the ice melts faster each year many bears don’t make it to the ice and thus are landlocked and have a difficult time finding food.

The bear here is looking out to sea standing on the edge of an icepack (ice flow) looking to the horizon, like “where am I supposed to go?”  I like the bird over him saying the same thing.  Birds follow the bears and sustain themselves on the leftovers after a kill.

The Image

The original RAW file before working on it. It was flat, dull, and needed some serious work
The original RAW file before working on it. It was flat, dull, and needed some serious work

I shot this image on a rather warm and thus foggy day.  The ship we were on was just driving with the ice and the polar bears would come and go emerging from the fog.   It was an incredible day of photographing bears but this one image out of the thousand I too really stood out to me.

I was shooting that day with a Nikon D7100 with an 80-400mm lens.  You can see the metadata below.  I had an exposure compensation of +.7 activated to compensate for the bright scenes (see below).

I took the image into Capture One and worked my way through the various steps.

Step 1 – Levels

You can see the histogram shows the majority o=f image dat is center. This is typical for this kind of scene. So, I remapped it setting new white and black points as well as off centering the mid point a bit.
You can see the histogram shows the majority of the image data is center. This is typical for this kind of scene. So, I remapped it setting new white and black points as well as off-centering the midpoint a bit.

The first thing I did was to remap the levels of the image.  This helped bring out the tones in the image.  As you can see the Histogram was centered so the was no real white or black in the image.  By remapping the levels I was able to bring the image around to a point where I could start my adjustments. The results are obvious below as shown in the before and after screen capture from Capture One.

Before and after of the image after being remapped in Levels

2- Adjustments

Typically at this point, I would crop the image for the subject.  I left this image uncrossed as the whole image was telling the story of not only the bird and her but of the environment.  All were essential to tell a story.

I adjusted the White Balance to make the image slightly warmer. Then I added just a touch of contrast and saturation. Using the high dynamic range tool I recovered a bit in the highlight by pushing the slider to the left and lighter some shadow areas by pushing the shadow slider to the right. This helped open up the water just a bit. I didn’t use the clarity slider and instead relied on the new NEW Dehaze tool to help cut through the fog like atmosphere that we were experiencing. I had one last step that needed to be done and that was lightening the bear and bird.

The adjustments I made to this image
The adjustments I made to this image

3 – Layers

The image was improving but I wanted to adjust the bird and bear to stand out more.  So I used 2 different layers.

A layer for the bear and a layer for the bird.  I created and named a layer for each.  Then I took a brush and created a mask for the bear.  Once that was done I activated the Luma Mask and created a mask that outlined the bear and bird based on the luminosity differences between the subject and background.

The rough mask
The rough mask
The bear showing the Luminosity mask that was created for the bear
The bear showing the Luminosity mask that was created for the bear

I then did the same thing for the bird.

The bird showing the rough mask
The bird showing the rough mask
The bird showing the luminosity mask settings, see how well you can outline the subject this way.
The bird showing the luminosity mask settings, see how well you can outline the subject this way.

Many times depending on the image I may add a bit of vignetting.  I opted not to on this image.  I will now process this image out at full size, ProPhoto color space 16bit.  After the image is processed it opens up in Photoshop where I do a final inspection.  I could now take it into Topaz DeNoise or Sharpen if I desired to.  It’s now ready to be printed.  Remember, I am a believer in prints.  Since I am doing this image at home and not at the gallery I’ll print it out on my P700 Epson printer to evaluate.  I’ll make a larger print later this week when I go downtown.

The original RAW file before working on it. It was flat, dull, and needed some serious work
The RAW and final image on inspection prints
The RAW and final image on inspection prints

Look for more Behind The Shot articles coming soon.


Kevin Raber
January 2021
Kevin Raber
Indianapolis, IN

Photography is my passion and has been for 47 plus years. My career in photography has allowed me to travel the world, meet some of the most interesting people on the planet and see things I could never have dreamed of. My goal is to share the passion of pictures taking through photographs and teaching with as many people as I can hoping it brings them as much joy and happiness as it has me. I do this through photoPXL.com, this site as well as Rockhopper Workshops and other projects as well as teaching at my Gallery in Indianapolis.

Article Type: Tutorials, Columns, MISC

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