I headed back to Japan for the second time this fall with no intention of shooting. I really wanted to see as much as possible and take in the sights without a camera in hand. I tried my hardest to do that, but there were a few moments that I just had to take my camera out. One was when we went back to Nara, the city of endless deer. Last time I had visited Nara I captured one of my favorite shots ever, so I wanted to revisit that shot.
My original was very still. I wanted to show some movement with the deer so it didn’t just look like it was standing there startled by me. I also was excited to shoot it on the Sony a7riii with the e-mount Sigma 24 f/1.4, because last time with the metabones adapter I honestly don’t know how I got a shot with the deer’s eyes in focus… absolute nightmare. We searched for a while to find the same exact location of the original shot and then got a few different deer to volunteer as models. Here are a couple that didn’t make the cut:
I finally found one that I really liked. He was a small guy with little horn bumps. Here is my final shot, and below I’ll jump into my editing process to get there:
The deer in Nara aren’t very timid and will often walk right up to you. Because of that, it’s super easy to take photos of them but getting them in a spot you actually want to shoot is actually quite difficult. The trick here was to guide them up to this part where they couldn’t continue to follow. This spot had the added benefit of being a really cool looking and symmetrical. I was super excited in camera when I got this shot with the deer looking at the camera and lifting it’s leg, adding that movement like I wanted. Here’s the shot straight out of camera:
When I got back to my hotel to edit I was actually pretty bummed. I hadn’t noticed that the ears weren’t symmetrical and that threw the whole image off. I decided I had to do a little photoshop to fix the ears, but first I had to fix the tones and feel of the image. When I import into lightroom I automatically apply my Portrait preset just so I don’t have to do it on every image manually. This is what it looked like on import:
First thing I generally play with on any image is white balance and tint. This image was too cold so I slid the temp to the right to make it feel more accurate to what I remember the scene feeling like. Next, I pulled the highlights down and the shadows up a little bit to make sure the deer fur and some of the details on the engraved rocks were visible. I raised the contrast a small bit over what I usually do (+32 vs +20). Then I focused on nailing the HSL sliders to give the image some pop. I played with the yellow hue & luminosity until the moss really looked how I wanted it. When working with greens, I rarely touch the green hue and only work with the yellow hue as it’s not the tone of the green I don’t like, it’s the yellows mixed in with the greens. I also usually decrease the saturation of green, but this time I left it alone and even decreased the luminosity to give it some mood. I changed the blue luminosity to 100 so the tiny patches of light coming through the trees were a little more magical bright white instead of a slightly distracting blue. Here is the image at this point:
Then I added a few adjustment brushes. I added a brush to the stone using Auto Masking (a checkbox on the Adjustment Brush panel). This attempts to only select similar colors to where the original click on the brush happened. For this one, I added 37 clarity and 17 contrast to really make the stone pop. Next, I added a brush to the background behind the deer to make it darker, so the deer popped out a little more. I also used auto masking here which made it easy to brush this area. I added two brushes on the deer, one one it’s face and one to it’s legs to bring up the exposure a little bit and bring down the highlights to really bring in the detail of the fur. This is my final edit from lightroom:
Now that I was done editing in lightroom, I sent it over to photoshop to make the ears symmetrical. To do this, I duplicated the background layer, flipped it horizontal, added a layer mask (Hide All) by alt clicking on the Add Layer Mask icon, and then brushed with a white brush over the ear to reveal just the ear and a little bit of face. I moved that layer around until it lined up perfectly.
I was almost done, but the image still felt a little bit weak to me. I decided to add some film dust to give it some mysterious texture and help the deer stand out from the background. I used a film dust texture that I bought from Creative Market. I added that layer and chose blend mode Screen and changed the opacity to 40%. I then double clicked on the layer to bring up the Layer Style screen where you can adjust what is blended. I changed the Blend If section on the underlying layer to only blend in the shadows. Then I saved the whole image, and a second cropped for Instagram. Here is the final:
I’m excited I got the shot I was hoping for, a little less excited that I had to photoshop it to get there. All in all, I like the original shot better but I’m glad I made the trek to try the re-imagined scene. Thank you for stopping by, let me know what you’d like to hear more about in the comments for future editing process posts.