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In Photoshop CS5: Landscape Photography, Ben Long outlines a full, shooting-to-output workflow geared specifically toward the needs of landscape photographers, with a special emphasis on composition, exposure enhancement, and retouching. This course also covers converting to black and white, using high-dynamic range (HDR) imaging techniques to capture an image that’s closer to what your eye sees, and preparing images for large-format printing. Learn to bring back the impact of the original scene with some simple post-processing in Photoshop. Exercise files are included with the course.
After all that fiddling we did in the HDR Pro dialog box, we are now sitting in Photoshop with our merged HDR image. What's great about this image, of course, is that compared to any of the originals that we shot, we have a very full dynamic range. I've got detail down here in the shadows. I have got detail out here in the highlights. I have got nice detail in the midtones. It still looks a little bland to me somehow. It's possibly lacking in contrast. Let's go take a look at the histogram because that's what we do when we are confused about our image. I am going to set my histogram back to RGB.
I don't need a three-channel histogram. So it appears I've got a little bit of highlight clipping somewhere. That's probably in here, in one of these highlight areas in here. I am not going to worry about that. Some little specular highlights off the leaves would look fine. But look, my black point is weak, and that's explaining the lack of contrast, and there are a couple of other things I am going to do to this image. So let's get started. I'm going to make a Levels adjustment layer, just like we've been doing through the bulk of our editing, and I am going to fix the black point. That punches up the image a lot.
There is a thing about HDR images, that they can look flat, and that's because as the HDR merge algorithm, because it's able to pull data from these three different sources, it's just got a tremendously data-rich environment, and so we can find perfect exposure for every detail in the scene, and that can make the image look flat because we're losing contrast. We lose shadow. We lose depth. And so we need to work to put some of that back in. Now, as I am making these global adjustments, all I am doing is making that whole flat scenario more contrast-y, which is good, but I'm still not getting a lot of - I don't know.
There is something not here. And I am going to start with the idea of trying to exaggerate the difference between these highlight areas and these shadow areas over here. The problem is the HDR merge algorithm, in trying to get everything exposed properly, it's aiming every tone in the image towards middle gray. And so this is kind of a midtone highlight, and this is kind of a midtone shadow, and these are midtone leaves, and it's just overall a very midtoney kind of image. I am going to add another Levels adjustment layer here, with the idea of, let's just start painting in light and shadow where we want it.
And I am going to do that by making an Adjustment layer that's brighter. This is going to brighten the whole image, but I am not going to worry about that, because, of course, I am going to add a mask, just like we've been doing in our other editing lessons. Select All to select the entire image. I've got black as my background color. So I am going to hit Command+Delete. That fills the Mask with black. I am going to hit Command+D to deselect. So now if I take a white brush and start painting with white into my adjustment layer mask, I am painting brightness.
So I am going to brighten up these leaves in here. I am using the Bracket keys to change the brush size. Just trying to get some bit of variation in tonality in the image to break up the fact that the HDR process skews towards flat even tones. And there we go. Those are some highlights now that have a little more punch. Let me turn that adjustment layer Off, so you can see before/after. That's helping a little bit.
I feel like these shadow tones back here - it'd be nice if they've got a little bit darker as they receded into the distance, so let's take another Levels adjustment layer. Let's darken the image. Maybe I don't want to do this darkening with a black point adjustment because that adds too much contrast. I am going to do it with a midtone adjustment. And of course, this is darkening the entire image. So I am going to, again, fill my Adjustment layer with black, just selecting, hitting Command+Delete to fill.
Now I need to try and build a mask that's going to ramp off into these areas, and we know, from our previous lessons, that we can do that with the Gradient tool. So I am going to tell it to start about here and go to about there, and I did that backwards. I have darkened the foreground and not the background, so I am going to undo and click from here and go down. Now that's darkened everything up here, the trees and this other light. I didn't want that. I only wanted this area to get darker, and I'd like it to get darker over a larger range, but I don't want it to affect these areas.
So I am going to take the brush and switch back to black and paint in my mask here, so that this darkening doesn't happen on these trees. So let's see before/after. There we go. So that's a little bit of a slightly subtle darkening of this area back here. I am going to turn off both adjustment layers again. Here's my original image. All of these tones in here looks somewhat uniform. I can brighten the highlights here and then darken these tones back here.
Now, I am starting to get more of a sense of depth in the image. Let's see what we can do with these trees. The lights shining through from this area, it's lighting up these trees back here. It's lighting up the underside of these trees here and the tops of the trees are dark. Let's see if we can exaggerate that some. I am going to go back here to this adjustment layer, which we know brightens the image and if you can't remember what a layer does, just turn it Off. Oh okay, so this is a layer that contains brightness. I can paint that brightness in wherever I want, by painting white. So let's brighten up these highlights in here and just see about brightening the underside of the trees a little bit. It doesn't have any huge effect.
I'm pretty much following what's in the image. If an area is bright, I am brightening it further. This layer we know brushes in darkening. So I don't want to brush in full darkening. I am going to pick a middle-gray. I am going to go through and darken the tops. Well, maybe I do one full darkening, and I am going to switch over to white. It's okay if you don't actually know what the layer is doing. You can just feel your way through it.
And I am just trying to make the trees a little less uniform, a little more contrast-y, and a little more dramatic. So before/after. Now we are starting to get somewhere. Let's see what we can do with the roc. Ideally, in a perfect world, this shaft of the light that was coming on here would have been striking the stump. The stump just was in the wrong position. Still, I could put a little kind of modeling on it. I am going to go back here to my Brightening layer and just brighten up the top of it a little bit.
The idea being this part is probably catching light, but this part isn't because it's tilted at an angle. And so I can make the rock possibly look a little more three-dimensional by painting some light onto this top surface here, just to indicate that it's kind of faceted. And there we go. That's our finished, adjusted image. We've gone from a scene that the camera could not capture to a scene with very complete dynamic range. We would still want to sharpen and size and do the other things that this image requires for output, but our main goal was to capture full dynamic range, and we've got that here, and with little adjustment, we've undone those problems that HDR can lead to, which is drab, even exposure.
In the next lesson, we will take a look at another HDR lesson, just to explore some of these topics further.
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