How to Remove Fence Lines from Zoo Photos

Zoos and wildlife-oriented parks provide perfect opportunities to photograph exotic and often dangerous wildlife without traveling halfway across the world to stalk them in their natural habitats. However, thick security fences often make it difficult to create truly excellent shots.

In the following video, photographer Glyn Dewis provides a detailed walk-through of a useful Photoshop technique that will forever rid your photos of those pesky fence lines:

Blurred fence lines cause at least three problems when they cut across a photograph: they alter and fade colors, they add flatness to shadow areas, and they compromise sharpness. Dewis’s technique for removing fence lines compensates for all three of those key affected areas.

Restoring Color

The first step is to restore color to the lion’s fur. The process is more complicated than simply selecting a normal soft brush, color sampling, and painting, because in restoring the color to the lighter areas of fur, we also want to preserve, and later darken, the shadows underneath—especially in the mane. Here is Dewis’s recommended workflow for restoring color to the lion’s fur, beginning with the mane:

  1. Select Menu > Color Range
  2. Select None from the drop-down menu to see a large version of the photo in full color.
  3. Click on a light area of the mane to color sample it.
  4. Select Greyscale from the drop-down menu to get a black and white view of the photo. The white area represents the color that you selected with the color sampler tool, as well as all colors that are several shades lighter and darker to help with blending.
  5. Adjust the Fuzziness slider to pull in more or fewer similar shades to the white areas. Once proper colors have been isolated, click OK to exit the dialogue box and see a ton of crawly selection layers.
  6. Add a blank layer above the base layer and rename it to “light.”
  7. Change the blend mode of the layer to Color.
  8. Get a normal, soft-edge brush without any settings and hold down the Option or ALT key to use the brush like a color sampler and select a bright patch of fur.
  9. Paint over the areas of the mane that should be light. Continue color sampling and painting similar colors until the mane seems to be colored accurately and evenly. You can press Command or CTRL > H to hide the selection layers if you find them to be distracting as you paint—just don’t forget that you hid them.
  10. Select Command or CTRL > D to deselect the layers and check your work. Adjust the opacity of the layer if necessary to really blend the colors in.
  11. Repeat the process for the other areas of the lion that have been affected, such as his face and body. Don’t forget to work from a new layer on that!
lion fence cage enclosure

Fence lines affect color, shadows, and sharpness, as shown here.

Restoring Shadows

Now that the lion’s fur and mane are looking more naturally vibrant, we need to restore and darken the areas of the lion’s body where natural shadows have been grayed and flattened by the fence lines. The process for this technique is much the same as the previous color-restoration step:

  1. Turn off the “light” layer and select the background layer.
  2. Select Menu > Color Range
  3. Select None from the drop-down menu to see a large version of the photo in full color.
  4. Color sample a darker part of the mane.
  5. Select Greyscale from the drop-down menu to get a black and white view of the photo. This time, the white area represents the shadowy areas.
  6. Adjust the Fuzziness slider to pull in more or fewer similar shades to the white areas. Once proper colors have been isolated, click OK to exit the dialogue box and see a ton of crawly selection layers.
  7. Create a levels adjustment layer.
  8. Instead of using mid-tones to darken the shadows, drag the slider from white to black until the shadows have been darkened sufficiently and appear to be natural in the image.
  9. Turn the “light” layer back on to check your progress. Adjust the opacity of the layer if necessary to really blend the colors in.
  10. Reorder the “light” layer and the shadows layer so that the shadows layer is on the top of the layer stack.
  11. Hold down the ALT or Option key and click on the shadows layer.
  12. Using a basic brush tool, fill in all areas of the image with black except the shadowy areas that you have been editing. This will cause the shadows that you darkened throughout the image to only be darkened on the lion.
color range photoshop cc cs6

Color Range helps you to edit specific tones independently of others. In this case, Dewis is editing the shadows, which have been isolated in white.

Restoring Sharpness

Dewis recommends using Adobe’s built-in Camera Raw program to restore sharpness to the areas of the lion that have been blurred by those obnoxious fence lines. By using the program’s adjustment brush, sharpness can be restored in only a few simple steps:

  1. Click on uppermost Photoshop layer.
  2. Hold down Shift and click on the bottom Photoshop layer.
  3. Filter Menu > Convert for Smart Filters
  4. Filter Menu > Camera Raw
  5. Get an adjustment brush and increase the clarity and sharpness sliders.
  6. Select the Show Mask checkbox to turn mask visibility ON.
  7. Paint the adjustment brush over the areas of the lion where the fence lines cut across him.
  8. Select the Show Mask checkbox to turn mask visibility OFF.
  9. Adjust the clarity and sharpness sliders, zooming in for a closer look when necessary, until fur and mane details have been restored and blend in with the rest of the lion’s hair.
  10. Select OK to return to Photoshop.
african lion zoo wildlife sanctuary rescue fence lines remove photoshop technique

LEFT: Before editing; RIGHT: After editing.

If Dewis’s process worked for you, then your wildlife should be looking well indeed and most evidence of those pesky fence lines should have disappeared. This technique can take some time, so it is a good idea to try your best to capture as little of the fence lines as possible in-camera if you are planning to edit and use photos of this nature later on.

Like This Article?

Don't Miss The Next One!

Join over 100,000 photographers of all experience levels who receive our free photography tips and articles to stay current:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

New! Want more photography tips? We now offer a free newsletter for photographers:

No, my photos are the best, close this forever