Improving highlight detailIt is always a pleasure to be able to photograph a Common Kingfisher, our most colorful bird. However, they are notoriously difficult to expose correctly. At least, if you don’t want to burn the highlights on the white cheek patch. If you expose the kingfisher correctly, the white patch will come out too light or even burn out completely. A slight underexposure is necessary most of the time to save those whites.

But even when you burn out the highlights slightly, you can resolve that issue in the RAW conversion with the recovery slider. It is possible to recover about one stop of overexposure in ACR/Lightroom.

But even then, I find the white patch often too light with too little detail.

I learned a technique to improve highlight detail in Photoshop from Arthur Morris. Duplicate your background layer and set the blending mode to Linear Burn. It will look awfull, but we’ll change that. Choose Select>Color Range>Highlights and only the white patch will be selected. Now click the Add Layer Mask button and the effect will be limited to the white patch. Now change the opacity of the layer to taste. About 15% looks good in most cases.

Common Kingfisher on cattail; Canon 1D Mark III w. EF 500/4; 1/200s at F4 and ISO 400; Gitzo tripod from hide.