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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 color image converted to black-and-white, we're ready to move on to the next stage of our black and white processing, which is tonal adjustment, and this is just like what we do with a color image, except that we don't have to worry about color. So, thanks to our Black & White adjustment layer, we've already got our colors converted to shades of gray. But now, we need to think about how the overall tone of the image looks and to me, right off the bat, I would say this image looks like its a little low contrast. So I'm going to bring up the histogram, and sure enough, there's not much black information. In fact, we don't get into real serious data until over here.
Again, remember, there's never a correct shape to the sistogram. There is only the shape that reflects what the image is, and you do not adjust the image to achieve a particular shape. So, I do know that I need some stronger blacks, and that that's going to fix the contrast. Now, I'm calling this a low contrast image, even though there is data almost all the way across. We don't have real strong white either. So, why am I saying this is a low contrast? Because, with a black-and-white image, all you have is black and white and those intermediate shades of gray. So, it doesn't take a loss of data on either end to really reflect as a lessening of contrast.
So, let's do what we would do with any other image, with any color image. Let's add a Levels adjustment layer right off the bat, and go to work on our contrast adjustment. I'm going to bump the black in here to get blacks more where they need to be. I'm going to bump the whites out here. Now, I have an immediate problem if I come over here, which is I'm going to loose highlight detail up here, which is a shame because I really like what's happening down here. I'm going to do it anyway, and if you look at the shape of the histogram, you see there's just this one little blip out here, and that's this data in here and maybe a little bit in here.
The bulk of the image data really doesn't start until about right here, which means it's not until I get in here that I'm starting to get a serious brightening on this area right here. Let's put this back out here to where it's safe white-wise and then head for the midtones. The problem with the midtone adjustment is it undoes some of my black adjustment, and I lose some of that nice contrast that I have. So I'm going to do a very aggressive white point adjustment. I'm watching these middle areas here, and I'm sure you know what I'm up to here. I'm going to do a fairly aggressive white-point adjustment with the idea of masking out that sky.
Also again, black-and-white images are about contrast. Its okay for them to have a lot of contrast. All right, by let's now grab a paintbrush, switch our foreground color to black, get the brush size up where we want it, and let's see if we can put some of this back in. Again, the skies are very forgiving of a lot of masking because they are somewhat randomly, chunky things to begin with.
So that's looking pretty good. Here is our before. Here's our after. it's just got a little more pop, which I like. With my mask defined, I'm going to see what I can do here, and then I'm just losing more and more of the sky. So I'm going to leave that like that. It's easy to get greedy with some of these things, but I want you to notice something. As I pull this in, ooh, the sky is getting a lot more interesting, even if this goes bad. I'm going to undo, and now I'm going to add another Levels adjustment layer, because that last little bit clued me into the idea that maybe there's an adjustment in here to be had, and maybe I can build a gradient mask. And if you're not following this go work over the Gradient Adjustment tool things that we did before, and I'm just going to build a gradient mask like this.
So, that gets me some darkening in here and here, but there's very obviously some masking going on here. I'm going to see if I can now add to this mask with my paintbrush. What I'm trying to do is avoid the difficulty of having to paint a mask around this mountain. That looks pretty good. I don't really see the seam of my mask there because fortunately there's this bright halo-y thing here, but I do believe my adjustment's a little aggressive. This is falling apart back here and up here. Just to be sure let's zoom in, and that's pretty chunky.
So I'm going to back this off. Ooh, I've going to back it off a lot, and even then, some of those are still left there from my black and white conversion. Again, normally I'd be working with 16-bit file out of this. I'm going to wait and see how those print. They may be okay. They may be too much, though. I can see from my mask down here that I missed a couple of spots, so I'm going to paint those out, and we're doing pretty well. That's a pretty nice edit. There's more to do, but we're going to do that in the next lesson, and I'm going to move onto this flowers image that we were looking at before. Again, this appears low contrast to me.
Let's look at the histogram. Click the exclamation mark to update the histogram to make it more accurate. We have a clipped highlight. I don't care. That's probably some stuff out here that lost detail. Again, black-and-white images are more abstract. It's okay for some things to blow out to complete white. Definitely weak on the blacks. There is a tiny bit of data here, but the bulk of our image data doesn't come in until level 40, which is a good ways in, and I'm going to close that, and the expected Levels adjustment layer, and dial in my black point and right away, the image has more pop.
Now, I'm getting the contrast between the flowers and the green behind that that I was trying to get in the Black & White conversion, but couldn't because the yellow and green were too close together. I'm not crazy about how dark that is going. I could try to brighten it up with a midpoint adjustment, which isn't too bad, In fact, that's pretty good. I think I'll go do that. So, before/after. Just because I have a thing for big clouds like that, I'm going add another Levels adjustment layer, crank the black point a little bit and darken up the mids a tiny bit, with the idea of making the sky more dramatic.
The rest of this has gone a little out of control. So, as we've learned, I'm going to select all with Command+A. I've got black as my background color. I'm going to hit Command+Delete to fill the adjustment layer mask with black, Command+D to deselect. Then I'm going to switch to my Gradient tool, and that's looking pretty good, just dragging out a gradient. Okay, and that's gone a little much. So, I'm going to back off to there, grab my brush and very lightly try to try to starting with black paint, paint some of that back in.
That's looking pretty good. So this image may be done and ready for a test print. Again, I've lost some exposure there. In this case, that doesn't look terrible for two reasons. One, black-and-white images can sometimes suffer high key overexposure. Another thing is a lot of people might see this and go, oh, it was dark enough here, and they shoot with a longer shutter speed and so this just looks like motion-blurred waves. I'm not saying that we're intentionally trying to be deceptive or pull some kind of photographic wool over someone's eyes; it's just not something that looks too distracting.
The other thing is compositionally, this area is strong enough that it keeps that from being too much of an eye magnet. Nevertheless, it might be worth seeing about going back to the RAW file and seeing if we can recover that overexposed highlight and working again from there.
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