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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 take all of the things we've been talking about through this whole course and try to put them together to work one image from start to finish. Along the way, I am hoping that you are also going to see something about an approach to post production, a mindset, the way that you find your way through an image and the edits that you need, and kind of a more philosophical approach that you might want to be thinking about. Boy, that sounds much heavier than this lesson is going to be; don't worry. So I have got what you should recognize by now as an HDR set.
I have got three different images: one exposed normally, one under-exposed, one over-exposed. As I step through these, you can see that I was handheld-shooting this HDR. They are not quite registered perfectly, but that's okay, Photoshop is going to be able to take care of that for us. So again, I have got good midtone data here, got good highlight data here, and I have got good shadow data here. So I am going to go ahead and start that merge process from Bridge just firing up Merge to HDR Pro.
The reason that handheld HDR shooting can work is that HDR Pro can do an exceptional job of aligning images, as long as your camera movement is just strict translation, up or down and left and right. If you are rotating the camera around its axis, or rotating it clockwise, counter-clockwise, that's either yaw, pitch or roll. I always get those confused. Anyway, any of that kind of just straight translation, Photoshop can deal with it pretty well, and for that reason, handheld HDR shooting is a perfectly viable thing to do.
Don't pass by an HDR scene just because you don't have a tripod. So here we are. We are now in HDR Pro. I am going to just basically follow the same procedure we did earlier of trying to figure out what adjustments we can make in here before heading on into Photoshop. Of course, my primary concern is going to be this highlight detail up here. I want to be sure that I can preserve that. And look, there is actually a lot of detail in there as I drag the Highlight slider to the left. Obviously, the next problem is the foreground. It's just way too dark. So I am going to boost my Exposure, which is going to cost me my sky.
So I am going to pull that back down. Now my image is looking a little flat. I will hit some Gamma, and I will darken the shadows. But I am facing another problem here. In brightening up the foreground, my sky has lost something. It's not as contrasty as it was. It's a little more boring. So I am going to put my Exposure back down to 0, which means I can back off of this and get a little more contrast back into the sky. So that looks better, but now my foreground is too dark.
So I have two choices here. I am not going to be able to fix this in Merge to HDR. I am going to have to either, in Photoshop, brighten the foreground or darken the sky, and I think the way to make this decision is to remember that right now, in Merge to HDR, I am working with this huge pool of data. HDR Pro can pull from those three different images, which means I have got a 32 bit space of data that I am working in. What that means is with that much data, I can brighten details without worrying about adding noise.
That's something that's a problem in Photoshop. So I think I am going to err on the side of brightening the image in HDR Pro and fixing the sky when I get into Photoshop. So that means I am still going to make sure that my highlights are preserved here, and get the image as close as possible as I can in here, but I think that's going to be a better way to go than getting the sky right in here and fixing the rest in Photoshop. Shadows, brightening shadows is a dubious proposition sometimes because you will end up introducing a lot of noise.
Gamma is going to give me a little more contrast punch, darkening the shadows a little bit more. It's looking pretty good. I have lost more sky there, so let's put that back. Obviously, right off the bat, what's still working well is that I have got more dynamic range than I had in any of my originals. I am going to go ahead and hit OK and let this process. I have got that HDR problem of the image being just overall a little bit flat, just like our last one was. So I will need to do some work in Photoshop to get that punched back up.
So here is our merged image. Now anytime you do a merge, the first thing you want to do is make sure that the alignment went okay. We didn't do this in the last lesson because I was shooting on a tripod, and though things can go out of alignment on a tripod, I was pretty confident that they were good. But this was a handheld shot, and we saw, back here, how out of registration the images are. So before I go any further, I want to double-check Photoshop's alignment work. I am going to zoom in to 100%, which I did with Command+1, and I am just going to look at the details in here to see if they are soft.
They are a little bit soft because RAW images out of a camera are always a little bit soft. That's something we didn't talk about. I am very intentionally working with RAW images because I need that 16 bit data space to have a lot of room in HDR Pro to work. Yes, you can hand a JPEG image to HDR Pro, but you are not going to get very good results. If you want to shoot HDR, put your camera in RAW, then leave it there. That's really how you want to be working. You can process raw files ahead of time, say about 16 bit TIFFs or PSDs; still, it's just easier to work with raw.
I find you have an easier workflow, and there is really no reason not to, and raw files are smaller than TIFFs or PSDs. So I am not seeing any blurring around here. That's good. That means two things: my registration went well in HDR Pro, and also it was a calm day; the trees aren't blowing, so I don't have ghosting problems. So that's great. That means we can continue with this image. If I had found those things, I would probably abandon the image at this point, because it would be a drag to correct all that stuff. Now, we go through a normal photographic workflow. Does the image need to be cropped? I don't think so. I like the composition of the image.
It's a little flat right now, because of that HDR problem, but we have got a dramatic sky. We've got a very discernible subject. We are going to do some work to bring all that out, but no, I don't think we need a crop. It doesn't need to be straightened. It does need some retouching, and that's because these power lines are driving me nuts. They are really just cutting across. They are distracting. They are bright enough that you almost wonder, am I thinking this is a compositional element of some kind? And they are not. So I am going to get rid of them. We've seen the wonderful majesty of Content Aware Fill.
I am going to try it here, but to be honest, I don't think it's going to work very well because sitting right next to this power line is another power line, and I am afraid all it's going to do is copy one into the other. But maybe if I try and select fairly close, I will be okay. I am using the Polygonal Lasso, just because it's easiest way to select something for me, I mean something like this. All right! There are couple of different ways, as we have seen, of invoking Content Aware Fill.
I can go up here and choose Fill, or I can hit Shift+F5. One we haven't looked at before is I can hit Shift+Delete, and that brings up the Fill box. Content Aware was selected, so I am going to hit OK, and we'll see what happens. That didn't work. Wow! It did a goofy thing, too. It now looks like a wavy wire with breaks in it. It's copying data from over here. So it's just copying over the neighboring power lines, so that doesn't really work. I am going to Undo, deselect, and I am going in by hand.
I am going to have to use normal retouching tools to try and get rid of this. I am going to start with the Retouch brush, which if you have never used, it's just like the Rubber Stamp tool. I Option+Click to select a source point, and then I start painting. Here's a tip, though. I can go along trying to brush, but I have got to be real careful about my movements. I am brushing over what is mostly a straight line. So I am going to click here once, and then I am going to Shift+Click here, and actually, I am going to start over. I am going to Option+Click here first.
I am going to click here, then Shift+Click here, and when I do that, Photoshop paints a straight line from my last brush stroke to the one that I just Shift+Clicked on. That gives me a very easy way of quickly, with just a few clicks brushing over this. Now, this is not creating a perfect retouching, but it's creating a mostly perfect retouching. You can see here it's screwed up here. Good enough that now I can go in with my Rubber Stamp tool and just pick up the problem areas. So that's about finding the right brush size, looking for the bits that are noticeable and going in. I am going to click there and just painting over these bits.
The main thing when doing a retouching like this is I just want to break up any regular patterns that my eye is going to queue into. Your visual system is largely about pattern recognition, and so if I can just break this stuff up, it's going to look more normal. It can be very easy, when you are in the middle of a retouching job to go, oh, well, look at that thing right there, that one little shadow right there. It's so obvious that it -- well it's not obvious to anyone else. So it's important to kind of keep one eye planted in someone else's head to get a sense of what's truly a problem and what's not.
I am not going to worry too much about what's going on up here with these power lines. Anyone who is really going to get nit-picky about that is probably someone that I am not that interested in talking to anyway. And if you are more picky than that, I understand. I admit that I am a little bit lazy in that regard. I don't feel like an image like this needs to be pixel perfect, down to every detail. This image is going to be about the sky, and that foreground element down there. Also, if I am printing this small, you are not going to notice something like that, and if I am enlarging it real big, you are going to be viewing it from so far away that those details probably will not be obvious.
If you are the type of person who wants to do that, then I will talk to you. I didn't mean to sound so reactionary there. All right! So that takes care of that one. Now all we've got to do is this last one. So as you could see, a combination of the Retouch brush and then refining it - boy I just really blew that telephone pole right there. I am going to click here and then there. That's working a lot better. I will have to go back and hit that again. As I was saying a combination of the Retouch brush and the normal Rubber Stamp is working pretty well on these.
So we're almost done here. I can kind of get into this work. actually, as tedious as it is. It's relaxing somehow. Going back and looking for those bits that got a little bit screwed up. Actually, this part came out okay. There is a little bit of a seam there that's visible, that we will take out. So these power lines now go nowhere.
I can tidy that up while I am here. I'll tidy it up. I just chop that off. We'll try and make it look like they actually just end at the pole. Here is a little bit of a repeating pattern that I should take out. All right! Now, here is where I can go really obsessive compulsive disorder and start working on every little pixel level thing, and I just don't think that matters.
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