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Well, being able to paint a layer mask affords you an easy way to constrain edits in an image, there will be times when it's difficult or impossible to paint around certain details in your scene; for these times, creating a Gradient mask may be your best alternative. This is similar to what we did in Camera RAW using the Gradient tool, but it's a way of applying gradients to an adjustment layer to ramp off the effects of that adjustment layer across your image. Here is also an example of sometimes the best way to capture a landscape has nothing to do with a broad vista sometimes its details getting close to a tree, grass, getting down on the ground, shooting something that evokes the feel of the place close up, rather than trying to capture an entire broad valley.
Something else you might notice about this image is that it's not straight. This is one that I didn't think to straighten in Camera RAW before I brought it into Photoshop. Fortunately, in CS5 we now have a very easy-to-use Straighten tool. The Ruler tool sits here on the Menu bar. By default, you may see this, the Eyedropper tool, but if you click and open it up you'll get the Ruler tool. This is just like the Straighten tool in Camera RAW. I'm going to click and drag across a line that should be straight. That's going to be about in there.
Now up here on the Control bar for the Ruler tool is something called Straighten. Click that, and Photoshop does some thinking. It straightens and crops the image, which is very nice. What I would like to do here is deal with the sky. It would be nice if there was just a little bit more punch to it. I don't want to do too much, because I don't want to upstage all the stuff in the foreground. I could try to go in with the Levels adjustment layer and a layer mask and paint, except I'd have to paint around all these things, grass, and it would be very difficult.
So instead, I am going to create a Levels adjustment layer, increase the contrast in the sky just a little bit. There is a sandstorm going on, or a windstorm, going on in the background. So I've got this wonderful difference between the dark of the mountains and the light of all this dust. The problem is when I do that, the foreground is going a little bit darker than I like. That's okay. We'll just mask that away later. Now, there is going to be a little bit of a cheat here to what we are doing. I am taking the Gradient tool. I've got white as my foreground color, black as my background color.
I know I want this cloud to get the full contrast adjustment, so I am going to click beneath the cloud. I am going to hold down the Shift key to constrain it to only dragging in 45 degree increments. So this makes it very easy to drag a straight, vertical line. I am going to come down to about here. Now, you can see from my mask I've got white up here, which means this is getting the full effect of the adjustment layer and starting about here it's beginning to ramp off to nothing about here. I think I would actually like more of the sky to get an adjustment.
So again, I'm going to start here, and I am going to come down to about here. All right. Well that was subtle. Wasn't it? Let's try one more. Let's come all the way down to here. Okay, that pushed a little contrast adjustment down into here. Now, you may think well, but what about the blades of grass? Are they getting some of that levels adjustment? Yes, they are. If I turn this off, it's very, very subtle, but you can there is a tiny bit of contrast adjustment happening on this one right here. Let me turn this back on. I lost a teeny bit of highlight.
It ends up just looking like a silhouette, as if am looking into a bright light, which I am. So, that's a cheat that I can afford right there. So that's a Gradient mask that has increased the contrast in the sky, a little bit in the mountains, but left my foreground largely undisturbed. But I still want more out of this cloud. So I am going to create another Levels adjustment layer. It will be nice if just the shadows on the cloud were a little bit more pronounced, so that the cloud looked a little more poofy. I am going to try a midtone adjustment, not a blacks adjustment, because if I do - that's a mid-tones adjustment - if I undo that and do blacks, you see that it's very easy to right away get the cloud too dark.
So instead, I am going to darken with the midtone adjustment. It's a little more subtle, unless I take it too far. The rest of the image is going out of whack, but that's okay because we are going to put in another layer mask, and we will put it back in whack. Now, I'm going to select all, as we've done before. I've got black as my background color. My adjustment layer mask is selected; Command+Delete to fill the mask with black, Command+D to deselect, grab my paint brush, got white paint already, my brush is way too big, left bracket to make it smaller, and now I can just start painting some of this.
The tricky part here is I don't actually want to paint into any of the sky, so I am not going to paint to the edge of the clouds. And I blew it in there. So I am going to switch back to black paint by pressing the X key, which swaps my colors down here. Let's paint those out. So what I'm arriving at is the edges of the clouds are not getting any adjustment at all, and that looks pretty well. Let me switch back to white paint, and to this cloud a little bit, and we are pretty good.
So that is a Gradient Adjustment layer, and a regular just hand-painted mask adjustment layer all on the same image, giving me a lot of very controlled contrast adjustment.
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