Software functions to improve your photos

Herring Gull Chick in St Abbs Harbour, Berwickshire

Today’s blog is about improving the quality of the photos you’ve taken, not about taking better photos. Photography editing requires a good base photo using the settings on the camera to give a clear and focused picture, if you require information on how to improve the base photo, please have a look at my previous blog located here (

For all of my wildlife photography, I use a Sony a700 with a Sony 4 – 5.6 / 70-400 SSM lens. I find it a good all round setup for both close and middle distance captures, the fast shutter speed and customisable settings make rapid setting changes possible. This means that I can adapt to different situations, such as light changes and movement within seconds. It is fair to say however, that I’m not happy with around 90% of the photos when I see them on screen. I have found that tinkering with software functions in a dedicated photography program can bring out so much more from the photos than I can get with fast adjustments of settings out in the woods. I’m going to show you a few of these functions and the results of them today.

Before looking at these functions, I need to talk a little about RAW format. If you shoot in JPEG, the finished result when you press the capture button on the camera is exactly what you will see on the screen. This can’t be changed easily however some software may be able to improve it. If you wish to be able to edit the photo to change light levels and sharpness etc then you need to be shooting in RAW format. The obvious disadvantage of shooting in RAW format it the actual size of the individual files, RAW captures every detail in every pixel and as such massively increases the size of the detail within the photo and the resulting space you need to store that photo. I use 32 Gb UDMA 400x Flash Memory Cards and can hold around 1500 photos on one card. You may think that is a lot of photos but after shooting for a couple of hours a day on a wildlife trip, you’ll soon find yourself running out of space on the card.

The program I use to inspect and edit my photos is one called ‘Image Data Converter’. There are many out there that do a similar thing and feel free to try and find one which suits you and the way you like to edit your shots. IDC gives me the option to inspect each individual photo and change the levels of different settings within that photo to improve the quality of the shot. You can also choose the settings that you like and then apply those to all photos, before converting them to JPEG to post on your favourite social media platform. I choose the time consuming individual option as I like to bring out the best in each individual shot. Let’s take a look at the settings, what they do and how to get the best results.

Guillemot Landing at St Abbs, Berwickshire
Guillemot Landing at St Abbs, Berwickshire Photo: Stuart Wedge

This setting works the same way as the white balance (+/-) symbol works on your camera, either adding or taking away the light in the photograph. If you are finding your shots are too bright then lower this setting to reduce the light level. In the above photo, it was a sunny day and the white of the bird scat on the rocks was causing the photo to distort. I adjusted the setting down to (-0.67) and got a much better result.

Chiffchaff in North Berwick, East Lothian
Chiffchaff in North Berwick, East Lothian. Photo: Stuart Wedge

White Balance
This setting, while having the same name as the function on the camera actually does more than adding or reducing light. I have found using the preset levels a quick and easy way of correcting any colour imbalance that different light levels have produced. Living in Scotland, the ‘Cloudy’ setting comes in very handy. I used that setting in the above photo of a Chiffchaff in the tree to bring out the colour of the bird.

Creative Style
I don’t use this setting but it helps the software to frame the photo in a specific way, like the settings on the camera. There are Portrait, Landscape, Deep, Light, Sunset and Autumn Leaves settings to name a few. I leave it set to ‘camera settings’ as I’ve normally got the bones of the photo that I want already from the camera settings.

Ruddy Turnstone on the beach at Dunoon, Argyle and Bute
Ruddy Turnstone on the beach at Dunoon, Argyle and Bute. Photo: Stuart Wedge

This setting works the same way as the function on your television, giving a more defined contrast of perspective between objects in the photo. This can be particularly useful when editing shots of well camouflaged birds foraging in the seaweed or wrens on a dull morning in the woods, essentially giving the object of the photo a little more definition and clarity.

D-Range Optimizer
From the help section; ‘The D-Range Optimizer analyzes the shot scene and processes highlight areas and shadowed areas individually to correct them to their optimized brightness and tone balances.’ Personally I leave this set to auto as I’ve not required this function so far.

Highlight Colour Distortion Reduction
This can be set so as to give a more natural look to skin colour and such. I’ve not stepped into portrait photography as yet and keep this setting as standard.

This gives the ability to correct Hue and Saturation of your photo. I usually leave these settings alone as I like the natural light effects that I try to capture when setting up my shots.

Shading Compensation
This setting corrects the decrease of light at the edges of photos caused by the curvature of the physical lens on the camera. I don’t use this as the subject of my photo is always in the centre of the shot to get the focus on the eye of the animal.

Herring Gull Chick in St Abbs Harbour, Berwickshire
Herring Gull Chick in St Abbs Harbour, Berwickshire. Photo: Stuart Wedge

Like contrast, this gives added definition to the photo. It will show clearer edges and lines, often bringing out details such as feathers, grass and leaves that fall within the focus point. This is my most used function while editing. I like to see those details!

Noise Reduction
While bringing out the sharpness and detail of a photo is amazing, it will add a massive amount of noise and distortion to the image causing it to look blurry and like smoke over the image. Adjusting the noise reduction to 100% will get rid of all that added distortion and bring the photo back to perfect.

Tone Curve
The Tone Curve is a diagram that analyses the different light levels of the image and gives this graphical representation on the screen. Some cameras have this inbuilt to give immediate analysis once you take the shot. A tone curve with one clear peak, on the left side of the graph will give you the best results and exposure.

Settings Control
Settings Control

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