Dawn Wilson Photography | Creating the snow goose composite

Creating the snow goose composite

December 16, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Creating the flight pattern of a snow goose

Snow_Goose_Flight_Sequence_1Snow Goose Flight Sequence 1A composite of four images showing the flight pattern of a snow goose (Chen caerulescens) at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge near Socorro, New Mexico. Photographing birds in flight is one of the most fun subjects in wildlife photography. It really challenges your ability to focus, know your camera and understand the behavior of birds.

One technique I had wanted to try was to show the flight pattern of a single bird in a single panoramic photo. Several years ago, I had first seen this technique, called a motion panoramic, done in a panoramic photo of a hot air balloon in flight as it dipped into a lake. The same photographer also showed the technique applied to birds in flight.

Now a snow goose is a lot smaller than a hot air balloon, and a lot more erratic in its flight pattern. But there are a lot of snow geese to photograph at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in the winter so I took many, many flight shots and went through them in Lightroom to find a series that would work. Here is the process I followed in Lightroom and Photoshop to create this image.

First I needed to find a sequence of images where the goose did not overlap in each frame. The two middle frames of the flight pattern were pretty close but I include below how I corrected for that issue. In most cases, you would use every other shot of the bird if photographing at eight frames a second to avoid the overlap. The sequence also needs to have some identifying background so Photoshop can find common pieces to each image. It is best to overlap images by at least 20% to merge them in Photoshop.

This shot of the snow geese was photographed with a Nikon D3s, which shoots at 9 fps in FX mode. Snow geese must move pretty quickly because I used four sequential images (not the every other one mentioned above).

First, I edited the first image in the sequence in Lightroom using my presets, cropped the image, and adjusted white balance, contrast, highlights, shadows, whites, clarity, vibrance, saturation, and selective adjustments to saturation and luminance of the mountains, bills and feet. When one image was complete, I hit Copy to copy all of the adjustments (except crop) and then applied that to the other three images in the sequence by selecting the Paste button. These three images were then cropped in a similar fashion to focus on the bird without cropping out the overlapping areas for merging the files in Photoshop. I exported them to one folder titled Sequence Flight Source Files in my Bosque folder.

Next, in Photoshop, I selected File - Automate - Photomerge. In the pop-up window, I left Auto checked on the left side, selected the Browse button and opened the folder of the source files. Below the file box, I checked the box Blend Images Together but left the other two blank. Then selected OK to let Photoshop do its magic.

The processed image takes a few minutes to create. Photoshop will open on image and then create layers of the other images in the sequence.

When Photoshop was finished with the processing, only two of the geese were included in the pano file and there were some areas on the outer edges that were blank where the photos did not overlap because the goose was flying in a downward motion.

First, I added in the other two geese by opening the files with the missing geese, putting an elliptical marquee around the goose, copying the selection and then pasting it in the pano file. I dragged the selection around until the edges of the selection exactly matched up to the background. I repeated for the second goose.

The second and third flight movements were pretty close to each other, and the selection I pasted in of the third movement cut off the beak and wings of the second movement. By selecting the layer with the third movement, I could use the eraser tool to remove the background of the top layer to reveal the beak and wings on the layer below.

I then flattened the layers.

Second, I had to take care of the blank areas. Easiest was to crop off the outer edges without removing any of the important parts of the photo. There was one corner that remained that was blank. Using the Magic Wand Tool, I selected that area, hit Shift - F5 (PC) to open the Fill dialog box. In the drop-down, I selected Content Aware with Dissolve and 100% Opacity in the other boxes. Hit OK. There were a few pixels I had to manually clone out to fix the edge of the selection.

At that point, I just finished up the image with some spot removal, noise reduction and sharpening.

I hope you have some fun trying this technique on your own images. I can see a lot of fun possibilities with this - running horses, eagles in flight, or dog chasing a ball.


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