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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.
As you'll recall, in chapter 1 we came across this scene, a rock under a heavily wooded forest canopy with a bright opening in the background. Now, as I was standing at this location, I was able to see detail in this rock and detail up here and detail out here, and that's because the human eye has a tremendous dynamic range. The human eye can see about 20 stops worth of light. That is 20 doublings of light. If I pull my camera up to my eye and frame this shot, I am still looking through an optical viewfinder, which means I am still seeing just with my eye.
I am seeing the full dynamic range that my eye can see. Then I might take this picture and then come home and look at it, and it looks like this. And I think, well, what's the deal? I was seeing detail out here, and I was seeing detail down here, and now there is not any. That's simply because your camera, and any camera that we can come up with, has a much smaller dynamic range than your eye does. Your camera simply cannot capture the full range of dark to light that your eye can see. It's very important to understand this when you're out in the field, because if you don't there is a very good chance, you are going to be disappointed.
You are going to come home and see that you don't have the entire scene that you thought you were shooting. In that chapter, we demonstrated a technique for getting around this problem, and a High Dynamic Range or HDR method of shooting. What we did was we shot three different frames, exposed three different ways, with the idea that we would combine them in the computer later. Going to switch over to Essentials now, so that can see the Metadata pane and look at what we have here. I knew that I wanted deep depth of field, so I wanted to shoot at F/11.0 and this image was shot F/11.0.
The camera metered and decided that 1/13 of a second was appropriate and at ISO 400. I also knew that I did not want the depth of field to change from image to image, so I have had my camera's Aperture Priority. That means when I shot the second image, I was using my Auto Exposure Bracketing, which tells the camera to automatically bracket my shots by one stop. You can see that this image is underexposed by one stop, off of what the meter thought it should be. But it's still at F/11.0, because I was in Aperture Priority and so it's gone to a faster shutter speed.
I have 1/13 of a second here; one stop underneath that is 1/25. It's roughly a doubling of 1/13. Look what happened. Now, I've got the detail out here in my highlight areas. Obviously, the shadows have gone much darker, but that's okay. I have got detail here when I didn't have it here. Third image, still at F/11.0, because I am on Aperture Priority, but now my Auto Exposure Bracketing has set overexposed by one stop, so the shutter speed has dropped to a sixth of a second. That's one-stop over what the camera's meter thought it should be.
So, the camera's meter thought it should be 1/13. One stop over would be half of that roughly, or 1/6. Now, look what has happened. We have definitively lost all the stuff out here even more, but compared to this image, we have got a lot more detail down here. So, from these three images, I've actually got detail in all three tonal ranges. Let's switch back over here. We can see them side-by-side. So, this image has nice midtone detail that's lacking in this image and is a little overexposed over here, but this image has highlight detail that neither of these images have, and this image has shadow detail that neither of these images have.
So, what do I do with these three images? Well, I could take them each into Photoshop and go nuts trying to paint masks, stack all these images together in to a layer document and go nuts trying to create masks that would reveal only the appropriate sections of each image, but that would be very difficult and time- consuming. Probably painting around all these leaves would be very rough. Instead, I can use a feature in Photoshop called HDR Pro. This is an automation script that will automatically take these three images and pull tonal values from the appropriate image. So, it will pull the tonal values from the shadow areas of this image, it will pull highlight values from the highlight areas of this image, and it will pull midtones, at least from in this area from here, but it will probably pull midtones from all three images.
That's going to yield a single image that has a dynamic range that's greater than any of these individual images. So, let's fire that up right now. The easiest way to launch into HDR Pro is to do it from Bridge. So, I have got my three images selected. Then I choose Tools > Photoshop > Merge to HDR Pro. When I do that, I am thrown into Photoshop, because again this is a Photoshop operation, Bridge is merely launching it for me. Now, Photoshop is going to do the process of loading each of these images and copying them into this new untitled HDR document.
Now notice, I am working with RAW files which is really the way to go for HDR, because of two reasons. You want the higher bit depth. Notice I am producing a 16-bit image here. I want as much bit depth as possible. So RAW files are going to give me 16-bit images, as opposed to the 8-bit images from JPEG. Also, I want a little bit of that Highlight Recovery Capability if I need it. So, when you are working with HDR, you really want to be shooting RAW. You can hand HDR Pro other images, but it's better to stick with RAW files. So, what I have got here, right away, you can see I have already got an image that's better than any of my source images.
I've got some detail down here. I've got detail up here. I haven't overexposed any of my midtone detail. Right away, I've got far more dynamic range than I had in any of my source images. But this image can be better. We are not necessarily going to get a completely finished image out of HDR Pro, but we are going to be able to get pretty close. If you've seen HDR images before, you may be used to these somewhat garish, baroque kinds of images where everything is exposed and really detailed. HDR Pro has this Presets menu up here that has a lot of these kinds of looks in it. I can say, give me a Photorealistic low contrast, and, well okay, that didn't do much, so I can Surrealistic low contrast, and then I get this weird thing.
I can do Surrealistic high contrast, and then I get what looks like a bad xerox. To tell you the truth, I am not real game on these presets. For the most part, I would say leave on default and work the sliders yourself. For landscape photography, I think a little bit of HDR goes a long way. While you can use HDR to create radical textures and things in your image, where I think it's most useful is simply for doing a merge of a bright sky with a dark foreground, like we are doing here. So, what I now want to do is employ my standard kind of tone analysis and adjustment techniques that we have been doing for all of our other images.
I don't have a histogram here, but by this point you are probably pretty good at recognizing some tonal problems. This image doesn't have super strong blacks. It is a little bit low contrast, and over here under Tone and Detail, you will see a number of sliders. Gamma is a word we haven't talked about yet. It's just another point from midpoint. The Midpoint slider in levels can also be called Gamma. The Brightness slider in Camera RAW is a Gamma slider. Exposure is just like the Exposure slider in Camera RAW; it's going to brighten and darken my image. We will get to rest of these sliders in a minute. Let's talk about what we might want to do.
I would like the foreground to be brighter, if possible, but I don't want to blow this out. I would like a little more contrast in the image. So, since I want it brighter, the first thing that I am going to do is increase the Exposure slider, and just as we have done when working with adjustment layers, I am not going to worry too much about this right now. I know that that's overexposing. I am just going to keep an eye on this area right here and see how bright I can get it. Now, this was a dark shady area. I can't brighten this up too much. So, I am going to go up to about there, and I am going to stop, because now I want to see if I can get some of these highlights back.
I control my highlights with the Highlight slider. I drag to the left to make the highlights darker. So, as you can see, I am able to pull data back in, and again this is the result of having these nice, data-rich 16-bit RAW images. This is why you really want to be working with RAW files when you are doing this. So, that's looking better. I have gotten my foreground brightened without losing my highlights back here. The image is still low contrast, and as you've learned, that's a function of black. I don't have really strong blacks, or shadow details yet.
But look how much detail I have got in here. I didn't have that on my first image in my set. So, with the Shadow slider, I can brighten and darken my shadows. I am going to darken the shadows by sliding this to the left, and already I am getting more contrast in the image, but I am not really sacrificing too much down here, which is great. Now, I have got an image with a little more punch to it, and I still have not sacrificed any thing up here. So, that's all I am going to probably do to this image, but let's take a look at some of these other sliders. Detail is a lot like the Clarity slider in Camera RAW.
It's going to do a lot of little just edge detection, micro contrast kind of things. If I push it too far, it's going to look like an image that's been over-sharpened. I don't want to go there, but this is how I can start to get into that kind of crunchy traditional HDR look, which again, I am not real crazy about. So, I am not going to go nuts with the detail slider, because I know that I am going to be able to apply some sharpening to this image and pull some more detail out that way. We didn't use the Gamma slider at all in this image, partly because the image doesn't need it, but also because the Gamma slider is a little bit of a brute force instrument, although actually a little bit of Gamma adjustment to put a little bit more blacks into the midtones is good.
All of these sliders, you can get a feel for what they do and understanding for what they do simply by moving them around. Let me put that back to zero. Whoa! Not zero. I need to put that at one. That's Gamma at the other extreme. Pull this back down to here. Look at these other controls. Vibrance is just like the Vibrance slider in Camera RAW. This will increase saturation while not having an effect on flush tones. Saturation is just a saturation adjustment. I am going to wait and play with these controls in Photoshop.
I would rather do my saturation adjustments there. Remove ghosts, if you are shooting HDR in a landscape situation, if this had been windy day, we might have had trouble because these trees might have been blowing, and there would have been movement from one frame to the next. That could result in a smeary, ghosty look in our final image. If I click the Remove ghost button, I can pick one of these images down here to serve as the master image. It will then defer to that image when trying to decide how to reconcile the fact that this tree branch might be in other place if it was windy.
We don't really have that problem in this image. Let me turn that off. Finally, there is this Edge Glow, which is another mechanism for getting kind of more of that HDR look. It will put a glow around edges in the image. You can see it here. They are kind of highlighted. I find this to be a strange choice on Adobe's part, because Edge Glow in HDR has always been an artifact of just the difficulty of the algorithm. It's not something that people - I don't feel like ever going for, it was just an unfortunate side effect of the HDR process.
Now, that has become so much the HDR aesthetic that Adobe has put in the ability to add that artifact. It's very strange. I personally never use these controls. If you want to go for a really out-there, surrealistic look, like we saw in one of those presets, you can do that. This is set to Local Adaptation. HDR Pro has some other modes for toning your image. They are all much harder and offer much less flexibility. I wouldn't even bother with them. This controls what bit depth we will have coming out. Best to stick with 16-bit. You can go to 8-bit, but you are not going to have as much editability when get into Photoshop.
You can go to 32-bit, which is going to produce a huge image, and not all of Photoshop's tools are available at 32-bit. So, stick with 16. Let's hit OK, and that's going to process our image and move it into Photoshop. Here we are, our finished HDR image - well, our finished HDR merge. We have more to do to this image, and we are going to take a look at that in the next lesson.
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