Here’s a photograph I took a couple days ago for the Ants of North America guide:

Lasius umbratus

The image did not look like this straight off the camera, however. Below, I show the CS4 photoshop manipulations I performed on the original RAW file to transform it into the final picture:

Dozens of images of an ant running about on a white backdrop. Which one to choose?

Here's my favorite of the session. The ant looks downright friendly, and this aspect shows both the side view and part of the face- great for a diagnostic image!

The image is underexposed, though. I adjust the levels to bring the background up to full white, it's natural color.

Sampling a known white point in the image is the easiest way to make the adjustment.

Ah, that's better!

Dust on the sensor and dirt on the backdrop are cloned out.

Now, more levels adjustments. Reduce shadows slightly, boost contrast, and correct for oversaturation.

Photographs from the MP-E lens are naturally soft. I apply unsharp mask to make a crisper image.

Finally, I crop out the excess white areas, leaving the ant's eye near the right thirds line for the most pleasing composition.

The point I’d like to make about these manipulations is that I try to keep them to a minimum.  The trick is to get as much right as possible on the original exposure.

Some things I can’t control, of course. The MP-E lens is always soft. Running ants are difficult to frame exactly where I want them.

But I can make sure I shoot on a clean backdrop, using a camera with a reasonably clean sensor, to cut down on the amount of cloning in post-processing. I can create diffuse lighting to minimize glare and shadows. And I can arrange the strobes and camera settings to ensure a proper exposure, so that downstream levels adjustments are minor tweaks rather than major alterations.

Post-processing is one of the topics we will cover in detail in BugShot 2011. You are planning to attend. Right?