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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.
Now we are going to dig a little bit deeper into the Levels adjustment layer, and how you might use it for a landscape image. Obviously, we are still in Camera Raw at this point. This is an image that you haven't seen. These are the Panamint dunes in Panamint Valley, in Southern California, right next to Death Valley. One of the amazing things about this valley is it's difficult to tell scale. These dunes are probably 6 or 7 miles away. They are three or four stories tall. So there is a lot of depth to be had in this image. One thing that's great about this storm, this storm was rolling in, so I thought the obviously thing: It's time to get my camera and go outside and go shooting.
Hopefully, that's a lesson you're learning here. Notice we've got this bank of black clouds back here with a bunch of rain falling in front of it. It would be nice to play that up more and get to see more of that depth that's in there, as well just generally have more interesting clouds. I am going to hit Open to convert this into a Photoshop document. You may be wondering, so why aren't we just doing this with the Adjustment brush in Photoshop? It will become apparent as we go on here. The Adjustment brush is going to let me brush a uniform adjustment into the area, and I want something a little more varied.
So I'm going to add a Levels adjustment layer, and I see my histogram here. What I want to do is increase the contrast in this area up here. I know how to increase contrast. Obviously, the problem is going to be if I increase the contrast down here, I am going to lose a lot of detail. I am not going to worry about that, because we will make a layers mask. So I am going to set my adjustment layer Levels Settings right now to add more contrast. That's going to cause all of this stuff to go bad. Don't worry about that. Just keep your eye on this area up here as I make the adjustment.
There we go! Now we are getting somewhere. I can start to see the patterns of the rain in here. I am getting a definite nice distinction between the cloud layer and the rain in front of it. I am seeing a little more depth there. In the process I pulled some cool texture out back here that's kind of neat, that I couldn't see before. The bad news is I've completely trashed the foreground of the image. This stuff has turned blue, which is curious. This stuff has just dropped out to complete black. It's kind of cool that this has exaggerated this pool of light that it opened up on top of sand dunes. Plainly though, I need a mask.
So in this case, I am going to do what I did before. I'm going to fill the Adjustment layer with black. I've set my background color to black. I am going to hit Command+A to select all, Command+Delete to fill the adjustment layer with black and then Command+D to deselect. So I have this Adjustment layer that's adding contrast, but there is a completely opaque mask between the layer and my image, so none of that contrast adjustment is getting through. I am going to select a nice, big brush, really big brush with a soft edge, and then I am going to brush my contrast adjustment in here, and all sorts of things are starting to happen here.
I'll go down to, make sure this stuff gets hit. I want to be very careful about all that blue stuff that I was getting before. All right, we are not done yet, so don't worry about the problems you may be seeing in this image. But let's assess what we have. I'll make sure that's filled in. I have a mask that is white on top and black on bottom. In the words, the contrast increase that this adjustment layer has called for is hitting the upper parts of the area of the image, but not the lower areas of the image.
So it's great! This has improved a lot, and I can see the distinction between this rain in front and the clouds in back, but this stuff has gone kind of bad. So I could switch back to black paint and paint into this area to restore the mask, but that doesn't really work either, because how am I going to make a transition from this area where there's no contrast adjustment to this area where there is? Now one great thing about clouds is they're abstract. It's not that unusual to have a sudden change from black to white, but this big white splotch here is just a little bit too sudden.
So I am going to go back in and white back to white paint and open up that part of mask again, but here we are. We are back to something that's way too dark. So the problem is I need something between there. It would be nice to add a little bit of contrast to this, but not as much as I've got right now. If I change the settings in the Levels dialog box, then all of this is going to get messed up. There is a better way, fortunately, a more effective way, and that is as you've seen, I can paint with white paint to punch a hole in the mask, black paint to fill in the mask, and as logically follows, if I paint with a shade of gray, I will do something in between.
I am going to set by color here to about 50% gray, and now I am going to paint into this area. Aha! Now, I've got a level of contrast adjustment that fits better with that part over there. It's not quite as conspicuous as what I had before. This is still a bit too dark. I am keeping an eye on my mask down here to see what's going on. I think I've now opened up more of the mask that should have. I am going to switch back to black and start restoring some of this. And I am looking for a way of getting something that's more of a natural blending.
Then again, clouds are abstracts, so I have got a lot of leeway here for faking a lot of us, which is exactly what's going to happen here. Whoa! That's wrong. So I am just trying to put in a contrast adjustment in a way that it looks a little bit believable. So this area in here is still a little bit dark, but again I think that that just looks like a shadow in that particular valley.
So I've built a pretty good mask here. Let's do another before and after thing here. That's my image before, and that's after. So I have darkened little bit of this. The main thing though, again, is I've brought out all the stuff in the sky up here. Before. After. What I can really see is this rainstorm in front of the clouds behind. Let's exaggerate it a little further. Now that my mask is in place, let's go tweak our levels adjustment. Aha! Look what's happened here. Now, I have pulled out a little more to texture in these clouds up here, and I have exaggerated this difference even a little bit farther.
What I don't like about this is now these parts of the clouds have gone really dark. I would like to mask those out so that they don't get the full effect of the Levels adjustment. If I paint with black, I am going to block the contrast adjustment completely. I don't want to do that. I am going to go back to about 75% gray. If you can't remember whether it's black or white, or light gray or dark gray that's correct for what you need to do, that's fine. That was wrong. It should have been 25% gray. It's okay to brush some effect on.
If it's not right, just undo it. Pick another color and try again. You don't have to have an exact ability to predict exactly how a mask is going to turn out, and you can experiment and fiddle with it, and figure it out as you go. That's okay. So that looks a little better lined up, although it's still not quite there. This is a case where painting with a darker color is giving me lighter results.
Again, what's great about clouds is I can just dab and do whatever I want in here, and it ends up just looking like clouds texture. It's very hard to do a bad edit on clouds a lot times. Well, there's one right there, but we can fix that. I spoke a little too soon. No. So again, I'm just kind of feeling my way through what's the right direction to go with my mask color. Einstein said, "Never memorize anything you can look up," and I think that there's often merit to that idea.
This is looking a little - whoa! That's wrong. This is looking a little weird. I'm going to zero in on a color that will help me equalize some of that, and that's not quite it. I am going to back out of those. This is the History palette. It lets me work backwards through brush strokes. It's very handy for backing your way out of bad painting.
That part is still too dark. I need to do something about it. But look at my mask. So this area has too much contrast, meaning that it's probably too light there. I am right on the boundary between two different mask colors. That's going to be a little tough to fix. Again, with this falling rain, it's kind of okay if I've got some variation in color. So again, before and after. By mixing various shades of gray to blend in different amounts of contrast adjustment, I've pulled a lot of texture and depth and detail out of these cloud images.
In the next lesson, we are going to look at the exact opposite of what we've been doing. We've been trying to brighten a lot of things up with the idea that brighter and more clear is better. There are times though when you will find that you want to darken things on purpose.
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