How Two Photographers Edited Their Safari Photos During Quarantine (And Why You Should, Too)

Is post-processing your photos a "thing" you should consider to improve your photography?
Written by Ali Riley, Thomson Safaris Creative Director

hippo yawn in serengeti
Hippo’s Yawn, by Nick Delany – current post-editing in Capture One 20

In 2018, Nick and Kathryn Delany took a photo safari with Thomson Safaris. Two years later during the COVID-19 pandemic, we learned they were editing their photos from that trip, and we asked them to share their process for photographers who may have some free time on their hands. It was great to chat with them again, and we are excited to share their take on editing and post-processing images. 

When we first started taking more photographs, we knew we could improve our photos somewhat after we got back in our studios using software. We believed that the best way to do photography is get the shot in the camera. We knew we could do some sharpening, HDR (dynamic range) adjustments and sometimes crop for a better composition at home. However, nothing too crazy. We had really good photographs: in focus, crisp and fairly good compositions. We were happy. We did not know the power of editing.

As our photography skills improved and we started consistently capturing good photos, we began to look around at how other photographers edit their photos. We began to see while we had excellent photos, there was perhaps more to this than simple edits. And so the term “post-processing” found its way into our vocabulary.

Revisiting Our Safari Photos – What Changed Our Minds?

hoopoe in tanzaniaHoopoe in woods, by Kathryn Delany, current post-editing with Capture One 20

2020 has heralded in a new world pandemic with most countries either in lockdown or shelter in place edicts. What changed? The COVID-19 pandemic, sheltering in place –  changed. One way to manage isolation is to look ahead and do something that leads to self-improvement.

We started an online, one-on-one editing class with a really good photographer in the UK by the name of Solly Levi. Solly has a style we both really love and can identify with, and we envision ourselves adapting his methods to our work. See more of his work on his Instagram or visit his website.

Solly Levi photography
To achieve this, we decided now was a good time to revisit our Tanzania safari photos. Could we improve them, given that we now have a lot more editing skills?

The Power of the Edit and Post-processing – Is It a Thing?

Nick now realizes that post-processing is a way for him to really search out his inner artist. Kathryn realizes that her art practices of pushing and pulling a painting for better emphasis could work just as well when revisiting your photos.

Examples of Nick’s New Editing Processes

(Nikon D850, 500mm, f5.6, ISO 140, 1/640 s)
This is such an iconic pose  that everyone has seen, of the leopard in an acacia tree or sausage tree. While we had a chance to photograph this leopard in a tall tree, it was in difficult light conditions. The shot was taken mid-morning in bright light with lots of dark shadows, with a fairly close zoom and a plain blue sky as the backdrop. Initially Nick did not even bother to post-process this photo.

leopard in tree in serengeti tanzaniaLeopard in a tree, Nick Delany – before post-editing

One of our early learnings for editing was to make every change on an individual mask layer, which makes it far easier to delete and redo changes.

Having cropped the image for composition, he used our techniques to emphasize the direction the light was coming from and changed the white balance (temperature) of the sky to create a warmer aura. Sometimes the tree can be a dramatic part of the image, so spending time adjusting its dynamic range and clarity can enhance it.

The result now is you really feel the heat of the plains, the sun and the light playing over the cat, emphasizing the camouflage of its fur.

leopard in tree after post-processing workLeopard in a Tree, Nick Delany – current post-edited photo using Capture One software

(Nikon D850, 200mm, f11, ISO 180, 1/500s)
This is one of Nicks’ favorites and a very popular photo.

The original photograph’s exposure was adjusted to ensure that the sun and sky would not be overexposed, thus resulting in the foreground being very dark. The use of HDR editing, lay in reading the shadows and highlights, revealed the presence of the elephants. Edits at the time brought out details we did not know were there.

before and after photo editing of elephant on safariElephant and acacia tree, Nick Delany – before and after edits in 2018 

In revisiting the post-processing, Nick re-did the image using multiple layers, which allowed a far more varied and subtle finish, which revealed more details missing from the original image. Edits included increasing light at the horizon, under the acacia trees.

He selected the foreground only and lightened it. He then took the clarity and contrast brushes which emphasized the acacia trees in the middle ground of the picture and the clouds on either side of the sun. He lighted the two elephants tusks and placed a slight brightening brush underneath the elephant on the right, to accent his presence.

final edited image of elephant at sunset in serengetiElephant and acacia tree, Nick Delany – current post-edited photo using Capture One software

WILDEBEEST MIGRATION (Nikon D850, 200mm, f11, ISO 900, 1/1000s)
This is a photo that Nick did not know what to do with in 2018 after the trip. It was a good record of the event, but he felt it lacked pizzazz. After working with Solly for a bit, he felt he could now tell the story of migration in the Ngorongoro Crater, just after the rains, when calves were getting bigger and stronger.

Wildebeest are normally dusty and pretty ugly. Here after the rains, their hides were cleaned up and they were really quite beautiful. Crossing the stream created a really outstanding event, allowing them to be captured in a unique way. Their beards were very evident with back light shining through them, and the glints of light on the water splashes at their hooves.

wildebeest crossing riverWildebeest Migration – original image, Nick Delany un-edited

Nick’s objective was to eliminate the distracting foreground and background to focus more dramatically on the wildebeest.

He has two versions, one has a more minimalist look  Where he overexposed the foreground and  background to isolate the family group. He then created a layer with a water polishing brush that consists of clarity, contrast and darkening to emphasize the reflections in the water.

wildebeest crossing river after photo editingWildebeest Migration, Nick Delany – current post-edited minimalist photo using Capture One software

In the darker version, Nick created a darkening brush and eliminated clarity and structure to make the foreground and background hazier to draw the eye less.

These changes both take advantage of making edits on layers, HDR processing, clarity added, to build up the final look.

wildebeest crossing river image edited using capture one photo softwareWildebeest Migration, Nick Delany – current dramatic post-edited photo using Capture One software

Examples of Kathryn’s New Editing Skills

In addition to being a photographer, I was a professional artist, and was delighted to develop these skills in order to develop my photo images the same way I create my art.

LAPPET FACED VULTURE (Fuji XT-2, 290.7mm, f/5.6, ISO 4000, 1/1000s)
This vulture was sitting on the branch of the dead tree. We almost missed it, as light was rapidly fading at the end of the day. Because the ISO is quite high, there was quite a bit of noise on the image. It was an image that, while it made the cut, it really did not seem very exciting. Tonality was all the same, as was the light. I used a bit of overall brightening, saturation, sharpening and some pushing and pulling of the mid tones to bring the bird into visibility. However, it was more of a story that said: I got that bird.

capture one photography editing before and after safari imageLappet Faced Vulture, Kathryn Delany – a before and after comparison

Now with my new skills with Capture One software, adding gradient masks, brush masks and a completely different crop, I was able to make one of the least popular birds intriguing.  The shaft of light highlights the colorful head and takes this photo from bland to striking.

vulture photo edited with capture oneLappet Faced Vulture, Kathryn Delany – current post-editing with Capture One software

LIONESS ON THE MOVE  (Fuji XT-2, 400mm, f/5.6, ISO 400, 1/1000s)
I took the original photograph in the mid-morning, resulting in a pretty evenly lit and well composed image. I wanted to convey the intensity of the lioness who was moving with purpose to something the photographers could not see.

My original process was a simple one, some sharpening, some brightness, added some HDR by pulling up highlights and shadows. These were all applied to the overall image.

before and after photo editing of a lion on safari in tanzaniaLioness on the move, Kathryn Delany – a before and after comparison

Now I am able to use layers and masks to emphasize the shades and light to focus on the beautiful lioness’ concentration and motion.

lion in grasses in tanzaniaLioness on the move, Kathryn Delany – current post-edits with Capture One software

GIRAFFE COMEDY  (Fuji XT-2, 372.6mm, f/5.6, ISO 3200, 1/8000s)
This was a photo that made me laugh when I took it. The sun was overhead and the flies were bugging the giraffe, who was looking straight at us in the Land Rover. One reason this photo did not work is that the light was blown out and the contrast between light and dark gave me nothing to work with.

My post-processing plan at the time was to bring the colors up a bit along with a bit of sharpening. It started to tell the story, but it did not stand out.

photo editing comparisons on image of giraffeBefore and after comparisons

Using layers in post-processing can give many different effects and atmospheres to the photo. A stark black and white gives a dramatic story to a hot giraffe under the shade of trees fanning itself with its ears, keeping the flies at bay. Using layers, masks, different film overlays, HDR, clarity, light and dark, I managed to really emphasize the story.

black and white giraffe photoGiraffe Comedy, Kathryn Delany – current post edit images 

Is Editing and Post-processing of Your Photos Important?

We give a resounding yes!

By using post-processing to target specific areas of a photo, you can change the whole message and mood. We suggest you find photographers you like and really study what it is about the photo that resonates with you, then try to get similar results with your post-processing.

nick and kathryn delany on safari with thomsonNick and Kathryn Delany on safari with Thomson Safaris 2018

Find Nick and Kathryn on Instagram

You can purchase their photos from their websites: