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Snow-covered landscapes introduce a variety of photographic opportunities and challenges. A blanket of brilliant white can do beautiful things with light, but it also complicates exposure. Crystal-blue winter skies are dramatic, but shooting in the cold can be cumbersome and hard on your gear.
In this course, photographer, author, and educator Ben Long takes a trip to Lake Tahoe to explore winter shooting at various times of the day. He also shows techniques for post-processing winter scenes to make them look their best.
Earlier today you saw me address a problem of a tall stand of trees by shooting a vertical panorama, shot up and panned down. So, I'm back now and I'm going through my images and doing my edits and making my selects, so it's time to deal with these panoramas. Before I can tell if they work, I've gotta stitch 'em. So, at this point what I do is I go through and I find each set and I, in Lightroom and I stack them so I know exactly which images go with which, so that I don't get confused. Fortunately all these that are going into the camera are all in order, but I just want to figure out where the boundaries are between each panorama.
So, you can see here I start here on this one. And just pan down. Now, I'm going to use Photoshop's panoramic stitching feature, which I can launch into directly from Lightroom. But I don't want to do it yet, because I want to think about exposure ahead of time. Panorama stitching is not going to do much in the way of exposure. It's going to try and blend over seams. But it's not going to address some problems that I can see here, which is I don't have a lot of detail on these trees back here. They're overexposed.
They're not overexposed to the point of blowing out highlights, but I definitely don't have a lot of grey detail. And I also just don't like that white pie key look that they've got. So I need to take the exposure down, I need to get this image adjusted correct exposure wise before I send it in to the stitching process. And I've gotta do that to each frame of the panorama here. Now I can't necessarily just adjust one and copy that into all the others because there is a little bit of exposure difference between these. But, as you'll recall when I was shooting I said I wasn't wearing an unexposure lock because there's not a big difference from one frame to another.
And you can see that there really isn't. This frame is maybe a little bit darker overall but that's just because there's more shadow. So I'm going to come in here, and let me close this so we get a little more screen. And If I look at my histogram I see that I don't have any clipped whites, which is good, but I've got too much information up here. So all of this blue is the sky. It's these tones here which are in this quarter tone here. So I know that's going to be the highlight slider, not the white slider. So I'm just going to take this and drag this down.
And sure enough, I've got detail back on these trees here. So, that's good. I think I will actually see if I can get a little more by pulling down the whites. That's pretty good. I dropped my brightest tones way down here, which actually isn't terrible. But I'd like the whole mess to be a little bit brighter. So I'm going to now just push my exposure back up a little bit, which means taking the whites down some more. Maybe I can't do that exposure adjustment. Alright, I may to have to wait and try and brighten the whole thing up selectively later. So that looks pretty good.
Now I just need to do the other ones. Now that I know to just target the highlights and the whites, I can do this pretty quick. I think what I'll do, is aim to have these brightest bits right up against the edge of that, that highlights whites boundary there. So, I think what that means is I'm going to pull that back up. And move on to here. I'll take the highlights down again. Wow, you can really see it there. Watch this area right in here as I pull that back up. So that's no highlight adjustment.
That's highlights pulled down. So that's really giving me a lot of nice extra detail on those trees. I dont know what it's going to do to the snow here. Snow went a little gray but that's okay, I can, I can selectively brighten that later. And finally the last image here. So with these adjusted now, here I'm going to let this hang out in that brighter bit because I got this snow. So anyway with these adjusted now I'm ready to start my panorama. So I do this just like I would with a horizontal panorama and the Photo Merge feature in Photoshop is smart enough to understand that this is vertical which is very cool.
So I'm just going to select all of these with Cmd+A, that would be Ctrl+A under windows. And then I go Photo > Edit In > Merge to Panorama in Photoshop. So if I do that, that's going to pass these images off to the Merge to Panorama script that was in Photoshop. That's what you get under the File Automator > File Scripts menu. I never can remember where it is. Then Photoshop pops up here with the Photo Merge dialog. So this is just asking me what files I want. Lightroom has already given them to me. I'm just going to keep auto for layout, because I usually find that it does just fine.
I hit OK, and now it's going to start loading these in. Sorry, my Photoshop window is kind of an odd size, but I'll resize it when it's done. So it's reloading each image into its own layer in this one document, and then it's going to use the auto-align feature to align them, and then it's going to automatically trigger auto-blend to build masks on each layer that will give me seamless composite. So I just have to wait for this to finish up. And when I'm done I get this. Let me resize the window here so you can see this better. You'll see that what it did was rotate all of the images.
So that actually what it's doing is stitching a horizontal panorama. That's how it's able to work this. And I believe it does that by reading the orientation tag in the images. So, I need to rotate this back. So, I'm going to go Image > Image Rotation > 90 degrees counterclockwise. And, the next thing I'm going to do is flatten the image, because everything that I do from here on out is going to go faster if I don't have this document full of all these layers. Trying to refine a panorama by working the masks directly can be a little difficult. And actually, this looks like the seams are all fine.
So I'm just going to go ahead and flatten that. Now I can start to assess my image. First of all, it's not straight so that's at some point as I was tilting I didn't have it quite straight. That's okay, that's easy enough to do with the Crop tool. I'm going to grab Straighten, and I've got a, I've got a hint of a horizon line back here, so I'm just going to do that, and here's my straightening crop. Now, one of the things you notice here is, this tree is incredibly wobbly here.
They're all, have massive barrel distortion. Doing a vertical panorama gives you a result that's very much like shooting through a fish eye lens. So I can decide if that bothers me or not. The tree in the middle is perfectly straight. I could try to fix this with lens correction. I'm going to go Filter > Lens Correction. And if I go over here to Custom, I have geometric distortion. You can see that this is the, the bulging direction, I'm going to go more towards the pinched direction.
So, I can try and straighten those out and that's not really getting anywhere. Fact is, I think I like the bowed trees. Because the tree in the middle is perfectly straight, so they create this nice circle around it that I really like, so I'm going to keep that instead go in here and give myself a crop. Actually, I'm not. I'm going to see if I can buy myself some more image detail. I grab the Lasso tool. I'm going to select this corner. And then go Edit > FIll > Content Aware, and let's see if it can generate some content for this corner.
If it can, then maybe I don't need to do much of a crop. And it looks like I'll be cropping, because that just didn't work very well. I can try to clone this in, and maybe I should. Because I want to keep that tree there. So, I'm just going to grab the Rubber Stamp tool and paint some of this in. Fortunately it's somewhat chaotic. Snow filled with rocks, I can see a bit of a repetition there. So I'm going to pull from over here to just try and break this up. Your eye is very, very good at picking out repeating textures.
So if I can just break that up and make it a little chaotic, my eye won't see it anymore. I will now do the same thing over here. Now, needless to say, if this is what is necessary to get this particular technique to work, I may want to just consider shooting with a fish eye lens, if that's ultimately the effect that I'm going to get. But this is nice for times, I own a fish eye lens. I even had it with me, I just wasn't carrying it around. So, this is nice for those times when you don't have your fish eye. You know that you can fake one here with a tilting camera and some panoramic merging.
All right this is saving me from having to crop. And I may still want to crop but now I can more assess my image. It needs some tonal adjustments. So now I just go in and it's normal image editing from here on out. Trying to figure out how the different levels and different parts of my image need to work to get an image that looks good. I think that I'm going to want this tree here in the middle to be brighter than everything else. I want to try and dim the background some, bring a lot of focus to this tree to play up the attention that it's already getting from all this cool geometry that's going on around it.
So what I would do is just sit here and paint in a bunch of adjustment layers. Targeted at different areas to get the tonality in the image correct, across the frame. So let me just do that real quick and we'll take a look at my final result. Alrighty, here is where I've ended up. I'm actually going to do one more edit right now because it's not a thing that I can easily show you before and after. I think the image does need a crop because the tree in the center is not in the center. So I'm going to just pull up my Crop tool here. And pull this over to here.
interesting, I can now see because I don't have Delete Cropped Pixels turned on, I've actually got more space up here if I wanted, I hadn't noticed that before. I'll go ahead and take a look at that. It would need some, it would require some cloning to fill in that extra space. But, maybe it would be nice to have, have some of these extra tree branches. No, I don't think so. It throws off the proportions of the image. So, I'm just going to go back to taking this into here and leaving it like that. Now, let me show you what I've done one layer at a time here.
Again, my goal, as is always the case from the moment that I am framing the shot to the last edit, my goal is to really make sure that the viewer really knows what the subject of the image is and what the background is. And, in this case the subject is this tree. Now, I may have the tree too bright right now. I don't know. I'm going to have to print it to see. But let me turn off all of my adjustment layers here so you can see what I did. So here's my original layer. And this is pretty much going in order. You're actually going to see my actual image editing process. In fact, this whole thing that we've been doing here is exactly how it works.
And I've got about five more sets of these that I'm going to have to do before I can figure out which one I like. Unless I just like this one and decide not to bother with the others. So the first thing I did was brighten the tree. Levels Adjustment layer and here you can see that I have pulled the white point in quite a ways. I'm perhaps got a little bit of blown highlights here, I'm not sure. I'm going to print that and see how it looks. So that's giving the tree in the center some punch. The next thing I wanted to tackle is the snow looks a little dingy. And if that white's a little grey, the overall sense of the image becomes that it's too dark.
Also it's a foreground element. It serves to, with this shape under here, all this white, it serves to just drive attention right there to the trees. So I want to be sure the snow looks nice. I brightened only the parts in the sunlight. I left this stuff shadowy because it just plays up the contrast, makes the shadows more pronounced. So I really like that. The next thing I did, what is the next thing I did, is I decided that the top of the tree was not bright enough. And I didn't want to brighten this adjustment layer anymore, because this stuff is already too bright.
So I made a new layer. Again, all of this is just done with levels. I made a new layer and targeted just the other parts of the tree. So, I think I may want to go in here and touch this up a little bit. Add a little brightness to some of these outlying bits here. I can really control the shape of this tree this way. I'm, I'm basically pruning it. So, I might touch that up. Again, I want to see this on paper. I'm working on a 13 inch screen that's a little hard to see. So from there I moved on here and you can see that I beefed up the contrast on the ground here.
Partly just because I know that it's going to look dingy if it's printed at these levels and also because increasing the contrast is going to increase detail and there's all these dead pine needles. I should really see some good crunchy texture there. Next thing I did was address these tree trunks. I think they are not so much too bright as just kind of blah. They are flat, they don't have a lot of texture on them. And with some targeted adjustments I can give them a lot more punch. They also pick up these dark shadows. I don't know if I want em that dark, so I may take some gray ink, and come in here and paint some detail back into them.
I don't know yet where the right level is. I've got to see them on paper, because different types of paper will respond differently to that subtle of change. And finally the very last level, and this one is kind of the kicker, the one that the image really needs which is the layer again, just the Levels Adjustment layer, that does a lot of selective darkening in the background. Let me show you again there. Before, after. I'm just darkening up all those other green tones to make this pop even more. I could maybe choose to bring these down a little bit. They might be a little distracting. I don't know. Again, it's hard to see at this size.
Interesting, as I stand back here, I start to think that this trunk over here is too bright. I may need to pull that down. I need to see this image at a good size to find out. Now, one of the cool things about this vertical panorama thing is I'm shooting each frame of this panorama as an 18 megapixel image. So, when this is all stitched together I have an image that's 186 megabytes. If I put this at 360 pixels per inch, which is the resolution I would want to print at, this image is 17 inches high already at my ideal resolution.
I could upsample this a long way and not suffer a quality hit for it. So this is an advantage of using this technique over a fish eye lens, if I'm okay with having some of these bowed trees. That advantage being I've got a lot of data in this image, I can really blow this up big. So that might be kind of cool. So again, this is my, this is my process. This is my process on most images actually, just this kind of going through and touching up each individual level each individual area with the levels adjustment. If you'd like to know more about that process and how I go from there to final print, you can learn a lot more about that in my Inkjet Printing for Photographers course.
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