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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.
Call me anachronistic, but I just don't feel like an image is finished until it's been printed. Now this might just be an old-school habit, but I think it's more than that. It has a lot to do with image quality. While an image onscreen can be really bright and saturated, over time, you'll probably learn to appreciate that prints of images almost always look better than images onscreen. Yes, onscreen images are bright and glossy, but that's just a cheap thrill. Your eye was evolved to see reflective color, and an image on paper can have a richness and feel that no monitor can reproduce.
Now, of course, that's assuming it's well printed, and getting a good print is tricky. Now, obviously, in a screencast, we can't show a complete printing process, and all printers are different, but here are some tips. If you've done any printing before, you already know that getting a print that matches your image onscreen can be very difficult. You can spend a lot of money and build yourself a color-calibrated system. We're not going to talk about color management and calibration here. That's way beyond the scope of this course, and the fact is it's a huge investment in money.
Not only do you need gear for calibrating your monitor, gear for calibrating the paper you're printing on, but you also have to have a monitor that's calibratable, and most desktop LCD screens, and pretty much all laptop LCD screens, really are not even calibratable to the point that good a color-managed workflow is possible. However, it's nice to, because of ink cost, to reduce the number of test prints that you need to make. So we're going to look at a few tips for ballpark-guessing how your print's going to come out before you print it, so that you can maybe make some adjustments ahead of time and not waste so much paper.
I have already resized this image for printing. This is the image that I sized to 10 x 6, 300DPI. I've sharpened it. I have, still, the adjustment layers that I made to tone the image the way that I wanted, and any other nondestructive edits that I might have made could be stacked in here. I'm going to keep all those. I don't want to flatten the image, even though this is my printing copy that I will save separately just from this size. I want to keep all of these because on paper I may find that an edit that I made was too aggressive, or not aggressive enough, and so it's nice having all these prebuilt masks and things.
It's nice being able to deactivate the sharpening that I've applied and apply a different level of sharpening and so on and so forth. The first thing I want to do is try to get an idea of how this image is going to print, and to do that I'm going to look at the Histogram. Open up the Histogram, and I'm going to hit the exclamation mark here to get it to update the histogram. Now, Photoshop has reverted to Colors. I'll change this back to here. We've looked at how the histogram is a distribution of the tones in my image. The histogram is also a statistical device, and you can see some statistics that it's generated down here, the mean color value, standard deviation or the median color is, and if I think of it that way, if I think of this as a statistical representation of the tones in my image, I can see that the image is trending towards dark.
The majority of the tones piled up here are at about 70%. Here we go level 75, right there, and this is middle gray, the midpoint of my image, most of the tones are below that. Now here's the problem with printing. Your image is always going to print darker than it appears onscreen because when your printer fires a blob of ink at the piece of paper that you handed it, that ink hits the paper, the paper absorbs the ink, and that little dark gets a little bigger than the computer was expecting. There's nothing that can be done about that.
Your image is just always going to be darker because your printer can't be entirely sure how far that dot gain is going to go. So, with the idea that the image is going to be darker anyway and now recognizing that the image is trending towards being pretty dark, it's a pretty safe assumption that our first print of this image is going to be either outright underexposed or just look dull and drab and generally too dark. So I want to brighten this image. Now, you may think, but we've meticulously worked through with our histogram and crafted these carefully, lovingly- constructed layer masks and things to get the tones exactly where we want them, and that's true, and we're going to keep all of those.
We're just going to throw an additional adjustment layer on top of everything else that's aimed specifically at printing, and I'm not going to be real scientific about this process here. We're just eyeballing a lot of things, because very often that's good enough. We're not aiming for maniacal color accuracy. We just want a print that looks good. Again, the majority of my tones are falling down here. Now, there's this little black bit here, these darkest tones that kind of level off. That's probably all of these black mountains, these black things here, and of course every little speck of black throughout the image, and these dark tones over here.
Then we get this big section here, which most likely is the foreground, and some of the tones in the clouds. All of this light stuff is plainly the sky, the brighter parts of the clouds, meaning that our foreground and the middle tones in here, which are really the dominant parts of the image, are not falling in the midpoint. They're all way down here, about half to one stop farther down than they should be. So, I'm going to brighten the image, and I'm watching my histogram, for the time being ignoring the image even though I'm going to be playing havoc with it.
Now I'm going to push that midpoint down, so that it's at least closer to where the majority of my image data is, and now I'm just looking at the foreground here and boy, it's a lot brighter. My black point's not real strong. In fact, there's no black data, so I'm afraid that this brightening has possibly washed things out. So I'm going to push the black in just a little bit to give me a little bit more contrast, and then that means I'm going to push this back down a little bit to get my midpoint back where I wanted it. So, to give you before and after, here's before; here's after.
Now that you see the image brightened, when I turn it off, you can see that yeah, there is kind of a dull quality to it. There is just kind of this overshadowing of drab, and that does take some of it off. It's very strange how much your eye compensates for things when you're looking at an image, and an adjustment can help open your eyes sometimes. The problem with this adjustment is I've now blown these things out to complete white. Let's turn it off again, look at the sky, see there's some nice gradients in there that are being lost, same thing in here.
Well, we know how to deal with that. We're just going to mask those parts out. Now, I could grab a brush and paint black paint over these areas, but I'm going to have a real problem getting a good clean - okay, maybe it's not so terrible, but there's a color shift in here. I've got more magenta here than I have here. It's going to be a tricky masking job to pull off. So, rather than work that way, I'm going to put white back in here to get my mask emptied out. Rather than that, we're going to now -- we're going to go back to our Gradient tool and build a gradient mask to protect the sky, so that I'm picking the Gradient tool, going from white to black.
I know I want my foreground completely affected here. So I'm going to start about here, go to about here, and there we go. Now, I've got a foreground that's nice and bright and a sky that still has all the detail in it that I had before. Now it's interesting. If we look at our histogram, we've pulled a little more data here into middle. The great thing about the fact that this is an adjustment layer is that I can try this out, and if it doesn't work very well, I can change this adjustment layer, print it again.
If it turns out that the sky is still little too drab, I could change my mask from white to black. I could go from white to maybe a dark gray, so that I would get a little bit of brightening in the sky. So now, if I drop a gradient on there, my sky's got a little bit brighter, which might be nice. Now I try a test print and either it comes out great, and I'm very lucky, or I go, okay, I would like it a little bit brighter, a little bit darker. I manipulate this one adjustment layer and print again. Paper selection can be critical in your final result.
A lot of people, when they're starting out, they go, whoa! I'm going to print this out on some nice, real-glossy paper, and it's going to look just like I did on my monitor. It's going to be really pretty. Stay away from glossy paper. The blacks in glossy paper are not very black. In addition, glossy papers have all that gloss on them, and that gloss creates reflections. It's something between you and the image. A nice, high-quality matte paper will deliver a much blacker black than any glossy paper that's out there, and as you've learned, black is the key to good contrast.
You want a good strong black to ensure that you've got a nice tonal range throughout your image. Cheaper matte paper is going to yield cheaper results. The main difference between one matte paper and another is going to be how strong a black it holds. A nice fine art matte paper from a reputable paper manufacturer like, Hahnemhle or Red River, Moab or even the one's sold by your printer manufacturer Epson, HP, Canon, will deliver very good results. Another excellent choice for landscape photography is to print on canvas.
There are number of different canvases you can buy for inkjet printers. The great thing about canvas is you don't put glass in front of it. You can frame it and hang it on the wall, but there's no glass. Glass is always going to give you a saturation and contrast cut in your print. So if you can keep from putting something in front of the image, it's going to look a lot better. Images on canvas will just leap across the room. Finally, one last thing: online printing services. If you don't have a printer, if you don't want to pay for ink, you can use an online printing service. I can't really recommend one right now because there are lots of them, and a lot of them are very good. A lot of them will also change from time to time, depending on who's operating the printing machine that day.
Try a few. Pick a few out. Do some test prints with them. They're almost always going to want you to have your image in sRGB color space. You can change the color space of an image by coming down here to Assign Profile under the Edit menu. It's going to give you warning that your color's probably going to shift, and now I can change this to sRGB. They will also have fairly profound image size and file format names; those will all be detailed on their web site. What's nice about an online printing service is you don't have to invest in a printer.
They're great for one-off prints. You don't have as much control. You can't do a print and then immediately see I'd like to tweak the saturation this way or adjust the tone that way, but if you're not going to do a whole lot of printing and don't want to invest in the gear, an online photo printing service can be an excellent option. Printing takes practice, just like everything else that we've been discussing in this course, and you will get better particularly if you work with the same gear over and over. You will learn how an image on your monitor corresponds to a printout of your printer, and you'll find that over time, you'll need to do less experimentation, and you'll be able to get a great print out of your computer with just one or two tries.
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