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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.
Your very first image editing step is to crop. We start with cropping for a few reasons. First, with many images, you won't know for sure that it's a keeper until you crop it. So, cropping is required to determine if the image is truly a select. Second, after cropping, your histogram can appear very different, because you may have cropped out some tones. So, it's best to crop first to ensure that your histogram is as accurate as possible when editing. Photoshop has some amazing editing tools in it. While the Cropping tool may not seem as sophisticated as say Content-Aware Fill, it's actually one of the most powerful, important tools in your image editing arsenal.
With the Crop tool, you can recompose an image after the fact. For landscapes, cropping is especially important, because it's often very hard to compose a shot the way that you like it in camera. Let's take a look at this image, which I'm looking at in Camera Raw. Camera Raw has a Crop tool of its own. It looks just like the Photoshop Crop tool. It's right up here. Like in Photoshop, some tools have these little arrows next to them. If I click on that, I get a pop-up menu. We're going to come back to those in a little bit. I just want the default Crop tool, so I click on it. It's very simple, as you would expect.
You click and drag to define the crop that you want. After you have a crop defined, you have these handles that you can use for refining your crop. So, I can put these wherever I want. That's pretty much the Crop tool. Of course, the big thing with cropping is, well, how should I crop my image, aesthetically? What's the better crop for this image? I want to go up here to the Crop tool and choose Clear Crop, because I want to get back to my original image. So, what kind of crop does this image need? It's not a bad image like this, except that there's all this big empty sky up here.
It's not really contributing anything to your image. The point of composition is to use the elements in the image to guide the viewer's eye through it. Obviously, the subject of this image, for the most part, is this rock formation here, Shiprock. This is in Northern New Mexico, near the Four Corners area, and Shiprock kind of looms up over the horizon. With all the sky here, I'm not getting that looming vibe from Shiprock, because it's being overpowered by this huge sky that's mostly empty. So, I really don't need it.
So, I'm going to crop the sky out, which is also going to give me more of a wide landscape-type image. So, that's where I start, but then I run into some other questions, which is, well, how far do I crop the sky? As in most landscape crops, the ever- present question of where do I put the horizon? I've got the horizon right here, and there are a lot of different things I can do with it. Note that once I've got a crop defined, I can click within the crop and drag to move the entire crop rectangle around without changing its size.
So, let's say I have decided that this looks pretty good insofar as relationship of sky to foreground, and so on and so forth, but I don't know. There is this horizon thing. Should it be higher or lower, in the middle? What are the different advantages? Very often, when you're facing any kind of creative, aesthetic decision in your work, one of the easiest ways to get to a solution is to try to think back to what it was that caught your eye when you shot the image. I said it already in one word: looming.
Shiprock looms over the horizon. It was a little less loomy with all that sky up there. We've gotten rid of that, but I'm still not getting the big loom thing. I think that's because there's all this foreground here. So, probably, it's best not to have the horizon in the dead center of the image here. It's obviously wrong to put the horizon up high, which I can do by cropping down low. That makes this image largely about the foreground with this thing sitting out there. That's no good. I definitely want these clouds in here. I like them for a couple reasons. They are just interesting looking.
But also they serve to balance Shiprock over here. There is something that has a little compositional weight on this end to keep the image from skewing too much to the left. I'm going to pick this up and drag it up higher, just to take some foreground out. Now, the image has changed a lot. Now I've got a sense of this rock on the horizon. It's a little bit easier for me to understand why this image might have been compelling to me in the first place. It still needs a lot of work, but at least I've got a decent crop going on. We can make it a little skinnier, but I'm actually just liking that shape.
Sometimes, just particular shape of a crop, it's just something you feel more than anything else. Just when you get it wrong, your teeth itch somehow or something. So this just feels right. So I'm going to double-click inside the crop rectangle, or I can hit Return to accept the crop. Now Photoshop shows me my finished cropped image. Now, I hit the Done button, and Camera Raw will close. Let's go open another image. I'm going to go back to Bridge, and I'm going to open Crop2. This is a tree in South Africa in the bushveld of the Kruger National Park, I believe.
Aspect Ratio is the ratio of the width of an image to its height. If you're shooting with a digital SLR, or a 35-milimeter camera, then you are most likely shooting with the aspect ratio, as in this image, of 3 to 2. If you're shooting with a point-and- shoot camera, or a Micro Four Thirds camera, you're very likely shooting with an aspect ratio of 4 to 3. A lot of times when you crop, you will want to do like we did on the last image, and crop freeform, to define your own aspect ratio. A lot of other times, you're going to want to preserve the aspect ratio. You might want to do this for two reasons.
One, you might want to ensure that when you print the picture, it fits in a standard frame size: 4 x 6, 5 x 7, 8 x 10; these are all standard aspect ratios that you can buy store-built frames for. So, a lot of times it's worth preserving an aspect ratio for that reason. A lot of other times, you want to preserve aspect ratio, because you want to hide the fact that you've been cropping, because some people are just picky about that sort of thing. So this is a little deceitful, but we are going to do it anyway. I want to preserve this aspect ratio, because I want to put this in a normal sized frame. So, I'm going to open up the Crop Tool menu here.
I just click on it and hold, and I'm going to choose 2 to 3. Now, just as before, I'm going to drag out a crop. So, what am I going to do here? When I shot this, I really thought, the tree is very powerful. It's got this nice light behind it. It's strong enough to hold up on its own in the dead center of the frame. I also really like all these little identical trees back here in the background. Now that I look at it, I'm finding that's not true, for a couple of reasons. This black is really heavy. It overpowers the whole image. There is too much black in the foreground. This edge of the image has gotten a little bit darker.
So there is this just general kind of disappearing into the black over here that just doesn't really work for me. I want to get more sky, less foreground. And I can do that by cropping. This is what I mean by the idea that I can recompose my image with the Crop tool. I click and begin to drag. Now, no matter where I drag, I only get a cropping rectangle that's the aspect ratio that I want. So, I'm going to drag out something closer to that. Now this image is getting a little more interesting to me. It's a little bit easier to tell what the subject of the image is. It's not that big black foreground. It's the tree.
I'm also getting kind of a nice balanced thing here of this empty space, balancing the stuff over here. I can tweak and refine and do whatever I want. Along the way, when you're cropping, you're going to start noticing and assessing other edits that are going to need to happen. I can see there is sensor dust up here. On the last image, I noted that it was low contrast. Just file all that information away while you're cropping, because those are the kinds of things you're going to want to deal with later. Double-click to take the crop and now hit Done again. I'll explain later why we're choosing Done.
I'm going to go back to Bridge, and I'm going to open this image called Badwater. Now, first of all, notice that it's rotated 90 degrees to the left. That's no good. So I'm going to hit this Rotate 90 degrees to the right button. I can also do that with Command+Left Bracket and Command+Right Bracket on the keyboard. Open that up. Despite your best efforts while shooting, there will be times when an image comes out a little crooked. Fortunately, Camera Raw has an excellent Straighten tool. It's sitting right here next to the Crop tool.
It's very simple to use. I click on one end of something in the image that is supposed to be straight. Here, I'm looking at this horizon line here, and I can see that it's a little crooked. So I click on this end. I drag out to this end. And you can see that I've dragged out a slightly diagonal line. When I let go of the button, Camera Raw has defined an off-kilter crop here. One thing about the Crop tool is if I go up here, next to one of these handles, my cursor turns into this little two-sided arrow thing. I can rotate this crop like that.
So, what Camera Raw has done is defined a crop with a certain amount of rotation that when I accept that crop, my image is straightened. My image is also a little bit smaller. So, if there was some critical detail right here on the edge, I would have lost it. That's the reason why it's better to get the image straight in camera, rather than relying on a straightening tool. When cropping an image, you want to think about the same compositional ideas that you consider when you're framing your shot. Your crop should serve to yield an image that is balanced and whose elements guide the viewer's eyes, so that they are not lost in the image.
I'm going to hit Done here, and take a look at a couple of images here. You'll see that very often a crop can take an otherwise unusable image. Obviously, this image needs a lot of contrast work. But this image is mostly about this giant freeway right here. With a crop, I can really refine it down and turn it into an image that's usable. Here is an image that's pretty strong. It needs some exposure work. But the tree is a little bit lost. Cropping it down just really gets me this nice, tall tree perched on the edge of this cliff.
Sometimes, you'll shoot an image with the intention of cropping it later. At other times, you'll stumble into a crop that you weren't expecting. Revisiting your old images with an eye towards cropping is a great way to practice your cropping chops. You may find that you can salvage some images that you didn't know were keepers.
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