Some species of birds have feathers that shimmer with vivid color in the sunlight, but they can look almost black in the shade. Here’s how I work to recover these colors when photographed in shade or overcast lighting.
The first step to solving this problem starts in camera. If you know you’ll need assistance in post-processing to bring back the color detail, it’s only going to help you to start thinking of the scene in high key. That means exposing for the bird to the point where the lightest areas are bordering overexposure. By doing so, the shadow areas will be lifted as much as possible as a good starting point for the edit. This process is made easier with a mirrorless camera that shows your real-time exposure through the viewfinder, but using a DSLR shouldn’t be an excuse to not learning how to meter for the desired outcome. Another alternative and a side step for needing to do any heavy recovery in post would be to use a flash which will mimic the direct sunlight needed to get these feather popping.
In the video above, I go through the next steps I take in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop in order to bring back iridescent colors. Through the use of a couple different curves adjustment layers and a final tweak of hue/saturation, your bird will be looking fresh as ever in their new ‘do.