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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.
With our geometric dust and lens correction problems solved, we're ready to move on to the core of our image editing process: tone and color adjustment. Now, I say adjustment rather than correction because while you will sometimes use Photoshop to correct problems, very often you will be using it to adjust an image, to make it fit what you envisioned at the location. Many times there's simply no way to the final product that you want. Here's an example. Driving down the road, I saw what to me was very plainly a cloud just hovering over this mountain, casting this menacing dark shadow.
And I shot this picture. And yeah, okay, if you squint, you can kind of see that. And even if you've been sitting next to me in the car, and I'd said wow! Look over there. Look at that really dark shadow on that mountain, you might have gone, oh, oh yeah, I see what you're talking about. For whatever reason when I looked at this image, I just was really struck by that dark shadow. There was no way of capturing it, in camera, the way that I wanted, particularly driving on highway. Yes, I could have dramatically underexposed it in camera. That would have created a whole new set of problems that would have to be adjusted.
So this is a case where the only way to get the image that I envisioned was through adjustments to alter contrasting color, and obviously some cropping and other things, to get that menacing shadow that I had seen. This is true with any subject matter, but especially true for landscapes where you're often dealing with dynamic range situations that your camera can't capture. Having to make a lot of these types of adjustments does not mean that you're doing something wrong while shooting. However, as we'll see, you need to be careful when you shoot to be sure that you can pull off some of the adjustments that you want later.
Most of the time your biggest exposure concerns will be highlights. Losing shadow detail usually isn't critical because shadows are dark, but highlights that have blown out to complete white can be a big distraction. So we're going to start our tonal adjustment process with some highlight examples. So open up Badwater, the image that we were straightening earlier. Now I hope by now one of the first things you do when you open an image is you check out the Histogram, because you are so proud of your new histogram reading capabilities.
And if you do that, you'll see this big spike over here on the right side, which as we discussed before, means overexposure. You may look at the image and go, well, I don't know. It looks all pretty well exposed to me. There are these white spots on the cloud, or white patches on the cloud, that are complete white. They have no detail. And it's very easy, particularly with clouds, to look at that and think, well, it's just how the clouds look. There was bright light bouncing off of them, and they just looked really white. Well, let's find out for sure. There is a Highlight Warning button up here. If I click on it, Camera RAW highlights any overexposed areas in red.
These are areas that are blown out to complete white. They are completely devoid of detail. This image has other exposure of concerns, but our first issue is to deal with these overexposed highlights. If this was a JPEG image, we would be done with the clouds. There would be nothing we could do. We could not get detail back in there. But because this is a raw file, we can do this seemingly magical thing of restoring detail where there is none right now. So I want you to watch these parts of the clouds while I drag this Exposure slider to the left.
So with your eye on the clouds I drag to the left. And look, those highlights are no longer exposed. There's detail. There's full on cloud back there. So first of all you see that oh! There really was detail there. It was wrong to leave those blown out. And second, you probably are left wondering how in the world is that possible? It turns out that when you overexpose a particular tone, you sometimes don't overexpose it in all three color channels. If you have only overexposed the Red channel or the Red and the Blue channel, and the Green channel is still there, or any other single channel's left surviving, Camera RAW can use that channel to rebuild the missing information, and put detail back where there was none before.
I'm going to put Exposure back to where it was by hitting Undo with Command+Z. This time, I want you to watch the right side of the histogram as I drag the Exposure slider to the left. And you see there, my spike is going away, but look, right at the top it's turned a little bit red and indicates that the Red channel is still more overexposed, keep dragging. There's a little bit of yellow in there, which implies that the two other channels are overexposing. And now I'm back to normal. So this is one of the key reasons why we shoot with Raw is the ability to recover overexposed highlights.
Now the down side to it is now the rest of my image is darker. I'm going to undo that last adjustment again to put Exposure back to 0. It looks like I moved it more than just once. So I'm going to just put that at 0. Notice this Recovery slider down here. As I slide that to the right, again, I'm getting detail back in my clouds. And I've killed this spike over here, but I haven't shifted the entire tonal range down. So I haven't darkened any more of my image.
So the Recovery slider is a very good way to recover highlights without darkening your entire image. It doesn't necessarily have as much latitude as the Exposure slider. So there will be times when maybe you drag this all the way over to the right, and you haven't recovered all your highlights. At that point, you might have to resort back to the Exposure slider. Hit Done to save those changes. Now take a look at this image. This isn't technically a landscape image, but it's a good example of bad highlight clipping.
So here you can see I've got overexposed highlights here. And it's pretty obvious where they are. Let's hit the Highlight warning just to be sure. And whoa, there is a lot of it. The sky is completely blown out. I'm going to hit my Recovery slider all the way over. And I've recovered a fair amount already. I got all of this back. I've got a lot more data up here, but I'm going to go further. I'm going to take my Exposure slider and slide it to the left. Now watch the clouds. You'll see more detail come back in, more, more, more, except that this isn't changing. And I've still got a spike over here.
So what we've got here is we had an area where highlights were only overexposed in one or two channels. Those areas were recovered, but then we had this area where highlights are overexposed in all three channels. That's an example of a highlight that's just too far gone. There is nothing you can do about it. So this is one reason that we start our adjustments with overexposed highlights is to be sure that we can recover them, but also because we need to have the highlights in place before we move on to the rest of the image. Plainly, the Badwater image is far from finished, but at least our overexposed highlights are now under control and are proving to be salvageable.
Overexposed highlights are a big concern for landscape shooters. Anytime you're shooting a scene where there is a possibility of the sky blowing out or any other highlight blowing out, it's best to bracket a few shots, that is, take the same shot multiple times with varying exposures. The Exposure Compensation control on your camera makes this very easy. And most SLRs have auto-bracketing features that will do this for you. One tip: If you're trying to control depth of field and so are using your camera in Aperture Priority mode with a specific aperture, when you use Exposure Compensation or Auto-Bracketing, then your chosen aperture will still take priority as long as you're in Aperture Priority mode, that is, the camera will make its compensations through changes in shutter speed, and possibly ISO, to ensure that your aperture stays where you set it.
With your highlights recovered, it's time to move on to the rest of your tonal adjustments.
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