Black-necked Stilt (+ an interesting leveling/rotation technique)

Sometimes we have to be creative to come up with leveling cues when an image needs rotation.


1/5000, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

I photographed this Black Necked Stilt eleven days ago at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge (yes, with more shutter speed than I needed). I don’t think it’s a great image but I liked it well enough to process it and see how it turned out. In the end I liked it reasonably well, partly because I think the water splash adds interest.

Straight out of the camera the photo obviously needed some clockwise rotation but at first glance I had no visual cues to find true level – there is no horizon or vegetation growing vertically and there’s not enough of the reflection to use for that purpose. I could have used the ripples in the water to eventually get it close but I hate dinking around using that method until I finally get something that looks about right.

Then voilà, it hit me! Why not use the water plume coming up from the splash caused by a water droplet that had dripped off the end of the stilt’s bill? It would probably give a closer indication of true vertical than anything else in the image. So I used the Straighten Tool in Photoshop on the water plume and I liked the results the first time I tried it. To my eye the image looks level as presented here and boy does that water plume ever look better than it did at a slant in the unprocessed image.

Yes, I know – all this is a bit of photo-geekiness that likely won’t be of much interest to many of my readers. But among you photographers who occasionally struggle with processing (don’t we all?), who knows when a little trick like this or something similar might come in handy…


PS – Some may wonder why I didn’t just use the Straighten Tool to connect the tip of the bill to the water plume. The problem with that is the fact that bird movement typically prevents the water drop from falling straight down, instead it’s usually flung in one direction or another to one degree or another.




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