Back To The Bison – Things Learned

Bison stock photo I rescued using Topaz Sharpen AI

I wrote a while back about the problem of getting good focus results when photographing bison.

While I was in Yellowstone, my friend Jonathan Steele was playing with a software package called “Topaz Sharpen AI” while editing a bison photo from that day’s outing.

After watching him edit his image, I was left totally impressed with the capability of the Topaz software to take what was an otherwise unusable image and sharpen it up to an acceptable result. Far beyond anything available in Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Lightroom.

When I returned from Yellowstone, I purchased the software and began the process of examining previously made images I had determined were not usable. Costing about $79 US, it’s a worthwhile purchase in my opinion.

Today’s photo is one of those blurry bison images I made back in early January of this year, while photographing bison in the snow at Rocky Mountain Arsenal. Upon close examination, this photo wasn’t critically sharp and I skipped submitting it to the stock agencies as I felt it would never pass the sharpness test.

I’ll show you what I was able to do using the Topaz Sharpen AI software. It was impressive.

Here’s a heavy crop around the eye and horn of the above bison, made from the raw file, using my normal input sharpening.

As you can see, even after sharpening the image in Adobe Lightroom, the eye and horn are focused fairly soft. Too soft.

After loading the image in to Topaz Sharpen AI, the next crop is the result.

Result after using Topaz Sharpen AI

Amazing difference. So amazing in fact, I was able to rescue this photo and it has since been submitted and accepted by every stock agency I use.

But this isn’t the only thing I learned while in Yellowstone in regard to photographing bison.

Before going to Yellowstone, I came across a YouTube video online about another photographer who was fighting the soft focus problem with wildlife in cold weather entitled “Are Lens Hoods Wrecking Your Photos in Cold Weather.” After watching this video, I decided to shoot without a lens hood on my lenses while I was in Yellowstone. The end result was that it’s true, lens hoods can wreck your photos in cold weather in certain circumstances. This too was part of the problem with getting nice sharp images of bison in frigid conditions.

I’ve never hesitated to try new things when I felt that I needed to solve a problem. I’m not the greatest photographer in the world, but I am competent. Still, from time to time I hit obstacles. I always try to fight through those obstacles until I come to a solution.

In the case of bison (and wildlife in general) in frigid weather, I believe I have finally got a handle on it, so why not share the struggle and victory with others?

To summarize, here are the things I’ve found to up my game when it comes to getting sharp wildlife images in cold temperatures.

Concentrate on focusing on the eyes. The eyes have to be sharp.

In low or flat light, use a 9 point group focus to give your camera’s focusing system more contrast to examine.

Take your lens hood off of the lens. The heat pocket that sits in your lens hood can distort your images.

When shooting in cold weather, get out of the vehicle when possible. Shooting through an open window can create soft images due to the heat/cold barrier at the window. Take that out of the equation. It will also eliminate vibrations from the vehicle’s engine and reduce the introduction of exhaust vapors drifting in front of your lens.

For those soft images, give Topaz Sharpen AI a look, it can work wonders recovering sharpness in otherwise soft results.

Looking over my bison photos from Yellowstone, while working from a vehicle, I got darn good results and had very few images that were problematic when it came to sharp results on the animal’s eyes.

Sometimes it’s more than one thing causing you to struggle with something.