The Art of Transformation: 15 Animal Photo Editing Techniques

Animal photo editing has become an increasingly popular and important aspect of photography, especially for those keen on capturing the essence of wildlife and pets. With the right image editing software, you can transform your animal photographs from good to great, enhancing quality and illustrating your subjects’ natural beauty.

Photo editing software like Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom, both part of the Adobe Creative Cloud suite, are industry-standard tools that offer a vast array of photo editing tools. These platforms provide user-friendly interfaces that help improve your workflow, whether you’re on a desktop or using a mobile app.

Animal Photo Editing: A lion’s face in sharp detail, showcasing deep, soulful eyes and a thick, golden mane.

Editing photos of animals can serve multiple purposes, from correcting lighting issues to sharpening details that bring your subject to life. When you dive into the photo editing process, the goal is to maintain realism while subtly improving the visual impact of the image.

Photo editing tools can help you adjust exposure, correct color, tweak sharpness, and even remove unwanted blemishes or backgrounds. It’s important to have a solid understanding of these tools to truly enhance the quality of your animal photographs without overdoing the effects and losing the natural look of the animals.

To start editing, you would typically import your photos into the chosen software, where you can then navigate through various editing modules to apply needed adjustments. For instance, sharpening an animal’s fur to bring out the texture can be done with precision using sharpening sliders, while adjusting the exposure can help combat issues from shooting in tricky lighting conditions.

Always pay attention to maintaining the natural colors and tones present in the original image to ensure your edited photos look believable and true to life.

See Related: Roaring with Pride: Exploring The World’s Biggest Lion

The Basics of Photo Editing

A detailed close-up of a lion’s face, with intense eyes that gaze calmly forward.

When you begin editing an animal photo, it’s crucial to start with the right software. Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop are industry standards that offer a comprehensive set of tools for enhancing your pictures. Start by importing your image into one of these applications.

Cropping and Straightening:

  • Cropping: Use the crop tool to frame your subject and eliminate unwanted elements. Make sure the eye(s) of the animal are well-placed following the rule of thirds for a pleasing composition.
  • Straightening: If your horizon isn’t level, use the straightening tool to adjust the angle.

Adjusting Exposure and Color:

  • Light and Shadows: Modify the exposure slider to correct the overall brightness. Utilize the highlights and shadows sliders to bring out details in dark or overexposed areas.
  • White Balance: Correct color casts by adjusting the temperature and tint sliders until the colors in your photo look natural.

Sharpening and Noise Reduction:

  • Create a balance between sharpness and smoothness. Increase the sharpening slider to enhance texture and detail, and use noise reduction to counteract any graininess, especially in the shadow areas.


  • To retouch specific imperfections, use tools like the healing brush or clone stamp in Photoshop for precision correction.
  • For lighting adjustments, dodging and burning can be applied to selectively brighten or darken areas.

Advanced Techniques:

  • Explore creative filters and effects such as sky replacement to enhance the mood of your photo.
  • For images intended for Instagram or other social media, use mobile apps with user-friendly interfaces for quick edits.

Always save your work in a non-destructive format, such as .PSD or .TIFF, so you can revisit your edits without losing quality, and only finalize your photo as a compressed format like .JPEG when you’re ready for sharing or printing. Remember, a natural and subtle touch often yields the most visually appealing results in animal photo editing.

See Related: Creating Harmony: 10 Animal Photo Collage Ideas

Enhancing Colors

A colorful macaw perched on a branch, its feathers a striking combination of green, blue, orange, and yellow.

In animal photography, the true vibrance of colors can be lost due to lighting and camera limitations. Editing software like Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop can help you recover and amplify these colors for a more impactful image.

See Related: 10 Creative Animal Photo Ideas for Pet Lovers

Playing with Shadows and Highlights

To start improving the colors in your animal photos, open your image in Adobe Lightlightroom or Photoshop. Here you can manipulate two pivotal elements: shadows and highlights which control the dark and light areas of your picture.


  1. Locate the ‘Shadows’ slider: In Lightroom, you’ll find it in the ‘Basic’ panel. In Photoshop, go to ‘Camera Raw’ and look for it under the ‘Basic’ adjustments.
  2. Adjust the slider: Move it to the right to lighten the shadows and reveal hidden details. Be cautious—going too far can make the photo look unnatural.


  1. Find the ‘Highlights’ slider: Just like the shadows, this is also in the ‘Basic’ panel in both Lightroom and Photoshop.
  2. Tweak the slider: Slide to the left to reduce the intensity of bright spots. This can help in retaining details which might be lost in overexposed areas.

Remember, adjusting these sliders can impact the contrast of your photo. Contrast enhances separation between colors and elements in your image, making it more vibrant and dynamic. However, over-adjusting can create harsh edges and unrealistic images, so it’s crucial to find a balance.

For a more granular enhancement, consider using the ‘Adjustment Brush’ tool to selectively improve shadows and highlights in specific parts of the photo, like the eyes, to draw attention and add life to the subject.

See Related: Nature’s Canvas: 15 Stunning Wildlife Backgrounds for Your Devices

Background Removal

An imposing lion, captured in the golden hour, with a background of soft-focus savanna grasses.

Background removal in animal photo editing allows you to isolate the subject of a photo and eliminate distractions. This enhances the focus on the animal and can be done through several techniques using Adobe Photoshop or other editing tools.

Removing Backgrounds in Adobe Photoshop:

  1. Quick Selection Tool:

    • Open your image in Adobe Photoshop.
    • From the ‘Tools’ panel, choose the ‘Quick Selection Tool’.
    • Click and drag over the animal in your photo to select it. Photoshop’s AI will help snap the selection to the edges.
  2. Refine Edge:

    • After selection, click on ‘Select and Mask’ in the options bar.
    • Use the ‘Refine Edge Brush Tool’ to precisely adjust the edges around fur or feathers.
    • Output to a new layer with a mask to maintain the non-destructive editing workflow.
  3. Layer Masks:

    • Create a new layer mask to hide the background, revealing only your selected subject.
    • Adjust the mask as needed to ensure clean edges around the animal.

Cropping and Retouching:

  • Crop your image to enhance the composition and bring more attention to the subject.

    • Select the ‘Crop Tool’.
    • Drag the corners to the desired composition and press ‘Enter’.

  • Retouch the animal using the ‘Clone Stamp’ or ‘Healing Brush’ tools for any imperfections.

Alternative Tools:

  • Online Background Removal:
    • Use online tools by uploading your photo and let the AI automatically remove the background.
    • Some tools offer the ability to edit further or add a new background.

Utilize these techniques appropriately, avoiding over-editing to maintain the natural allure of the animal subject.

See Related: 15 Weird Animal Photos that Defy Explanation

Adding Artistic Filters

A sunny tropical landscape featuring tall palm trees, lush underbrush, and a clear sky.

When enhancing animal photos, artistic filters offer a creative avenue to transform your images into captivating works of art. In Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom, part of the Creative Cloud suite, you can easily apply a variety of filters that can change the texture, mood, and style of your photographs.

Adobe Photoshop:

  1. Open your image in Photoshop.
  2. Navigate to Filter in the top menu.
  3. Hover over Filter Gallery to explore textures and effects.
  4. Select a filter, like Paint Daubs, to give a painterly texture.
  5. Use the sliders to adjust the intensity and brush size.

Remember, the key is subtlety; a slight modification can profoundly affect the mood of your photo.

Adobe Lightroom:

  • Import your photo into Lightroom.
  • In the Develop module, scroll down to the Effects panel.
  • Experiment with Texture and Clarity sliders to modify the surface feel of your image.
  • For mood, adjust Vibrance and Saturation to enrich colors selectively.

Lightroom does not have the same range of artistic filters as Photoshop but offers controls for a refined, natural edit.

For quick edits, apps like Fotor, BeFunky, and Picsart provide a range of artistic effects with one-click simplicity. These apps pre-pack effect filters that simulate styles such as watercolor or pop art.

  • Choose a filter that complements the subject and theme of your wildlife photo.
  • Adjust the intensity to ensure your animal remains the focal point.
  • Applying these filters can quickly turn a standard photo into a stylistic rendition that tells a compelling story through its enhanced visuals.

Explore and experiment to find which filter best suits your creative vision.

See Related: A Closer Look at Animals with the Biggest Teeth in the Animal Kingdom

Creating Double Exposures

Two majestic lions standing on a log in a lush forest; the male boasts a full, dark mane and a confident stance, while the female, with a lighter mane, stands alert beside him.

When venturing into the art of animal photo editing, the technique of double exposures can transform your photos. Double exposures merge two images together to create a single, intriguing effect. Here’s how you can start:

  1. Select Your Images: Begin with two high-quality images. One should feature your animal subject, ideally against a plain background, and the second an environment or texture.

  2. Using Photoshop: Start Photoshop and open your images as separate layers within one document. The layer with your animal will be your primary layer.

    Place your animal photo on the bottom layer.
    Add your second image on top.

  3. Blend Your Layers: Adjust the blending mode of the top layer. Typically, “Screen” or “Multiply” are used for creating double exposures.

  4. Mask & Reveal: Create a layer mask on your top layer. Paint with a soft black brush to mask out areas and reveal the animal beneath. This controls the visible exposure of both layers.

  5. Adjust & Save: Fine-tune the effect using adjustment layers for brightness, contrast, and levels to achieve the desired outcome. When satisfied with the double exposure, save your edit.

By following these steps with attention to detail, you ensure a stunning double exposure effect that showcases the beauty of your animal subject amidst a captivating backdrop. Remember, the quality of your effect relies heavily on the initial images and your meticulousness while blending layers.

See Related: A Nostalgic Look Back: 10 Vintage Animal Photos

Retouching Fur Details

A portrait of a lioness, staring directly into the camera, her face detailed with striking markings around the eyes and a soft mane framing her features.

Enhancing the texture and sharpness of fur in animal photography can transform a good image into a stunning one. As a photographer, paying careful attention to the fur details will enhance the overall quality and impact of your animal photos.

Crafting Surreal Scenes

When retouching animal photos to craft surreal scenes, you’re not simply adjusting the fur; you’re bringing your imagination to life while maintaining a natural look.

Step 1: Enhance Fur Texture with Sharpness

  • Open your wildlife photograph in Adobe Photoshop.
  • Select the Brush Tool (B) and set the hardness to 0% for a soft edge.
  • Create a New Layer to work non-destructively.
  • Choose the Sharpening Tool from the side toolbar.
  • Carefully paint over the fur to accentuate fine hairs and texture.

Keep the changes subtle to avoid an artificial look.

Step 2: Hair Strand Definition with Layers

  • Duplicate your layer by pressing Ctrl+J (Cmd+J on Mac).
  • Use the Smudge Tool to refine individual hair strands.
  • Vary the Strength setting to control the level of detail.

Step 3: Using Adobe Creative Cloud’s Advanced Features

  • Access Adobe Creative Cloud for additional tools like Camera Raw Filter.
  • Employ the Clarity and Dehaze sliders to tweak the appearance of fur.
  • To selectively adjust sharpness, use the Adjustment Brush (K) with sharpness settings.

Remember, when your scene calls for sharp, lifelike fur that pulls viewers into a surreal world, the subtlety in your retouch can make all the difference. Let your creativity guide you through layers and textures to achieve the desired effect.

See Related: Smallest Animals in the World: Unbelievable Mini Creatures Revealed!

The Final Touches

A close-up of a jaguar standing amidst ferns with an intense gaze, its spotted coat vibrant against the greenery.

When you are at the final stages of editing your animal photographs, your primary goal is to enhance the visual appeal of the image without compromising its natural essence. Here’s a simplified guide for applying those crucial finishing touches.

Sharpening: Sharpening brings out the details in your pet or wildlife photo. Use specialized software like Camera Raw or Lightroom and adjust the sharpening slider to enhance the textures, especially around the eyes and fur. Avoid overdoing it to prevent a harsh or unnatural look.

  • Example: Increase the sharpening to +50 for clearer fur texture.

Cropping: Crop strategically to emphasize the animal and remove distractions. Ensure the focus remains on the subject, perhaps following the rule of thirds to create a more dynamic composition.

  • Example: Crop out the empty space to the left to bring attention to the animal in the right third of the image.

Retouch: Utilize retouch tools to remove any unwanted spots or objects. Be subtle with your retouching to maintain the realism of your scene in places like Botswana’s vibrant landscapes.

  • Example: Use the healing brush to remove a small branch in front of the animal.

Enhancements: Adjust contrast to make the image more vibrant and enhance the raw format photo’s overall impact. Adjust the blacks and whites to create a balance that reflects what you saw.

  • Example: Slide the contrast up to +10 for a more vivid portrayal of the animal’s habitat.

Color and Distractions: Apply presets or manual adjustments to ensure colors are true-to-life and vibrant. Brighten the eyes, which are the windows to the animal’s soul, for an instant impact. Remove any distractions that could take away from the animal, especially if it has unique features like intricate wings.

  • Example: Select the eyes with an adjustment brush and increase the exposure to +0.10 to make them stand out.

Affordability and Quality: High-quality editing doesn’t have to be costly. Many software options offer free or affordable pricing tiers suited for those starting with animal photo editing without compromising the end result’s quality.

Remember, confidence comes with practice. As you adjust these settings, your intuition and attention to detail will grow, helping you produce consistently great shots. Keep your edits as close to the natural look as possible to convey the true splendor of wildlife photography.

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