Guiding the viewer's eye with Levels
Guiding the viewer's eye with Levels
While it's often easy enough to spot a good landscape, figuring out how to capture it is another story. The real world doesn't always have the obvious boundaries. When you look at the big wide vista that seems to stretch in all directions, figuring out how to contain it within a single frame can be tricky. Where should you stand? How should you frame? These are difficult questions sometimes. Your job as a photographer is to compose your shot in such a way that the viewer's eye will know where to go, and not be left wandering around the image. There are many compositional and exposure techniques that you can employ to achieve this, from finding framing elements within the scene to controlling depth of field to guide the viewer's eye.
Another option is to help the viewer's eye in postproduction, doing things in postproduction that are going to change how the viewer interacts with your image. That's what we're going to here through the judicious use of some very carefully constructed adjustment layers. So continuing with what subject matter of our last image we are still in Panamint Valley, next the Death Valley, and what made me stop to take this shot was that the storm had, in the middle of it, this big hole opened up in the clouds and all this light shined down, right on this huge dune field.
That's the thing that I wanted to see, and while it's there, it is, unfortunately, overshadowed, or upstaged, by all the stuff in the foreground. At the time, I knew that. I worked hard to try and get around that. I stood on top of the car. I tried this. I tried that. It just couldn't - there was no way to not have all this in the foreground. Unfortunately, it was very brightly lit also. I thought maybe I could just walk out to the ridge here, but that turned out to be a long way away, and the storm was just getting worse. So instead, what we are going to do is we are going to try and darken this with a Levels adjustment, and that's going to be just the first of the adjustments that we are going to make to this image.
So I am going to make a new Levels adjustment layer here, and I am not going to worry about anything that happens up here while I am adjusting. I am simply going to trying to darken this. I am going to start with a black point adjustment, which does okay. The problem with it is if I push this too far, I am going to lose all my detail in these bushes here, and I don't like that. Playing with midtones is not going to get us very far. I can't really get anything blacker in there, so I am going to restore that to where it was.
There are two sliders that we haven't looked at yet, and those are these Output sliders here. These allow me to change what is white and what is black in the image. So I'm going to change the white point to be more about here. Now, this is darker. What I've done is said that the whitest thing in the image should actually only be as bright as this middle shade of gray. So it's made it a lot more dull, but again, that's kind of our goal here is to dull that foreground down a bit, so it doesn't upstage the rest of our image.
Now, obviously the problem we're having is that we've lost the rest of the image. That's okay. We know how to deal with that. I just pressed D to set my foreground color to white and my background color to black. I am going to hit Command+A to select all, Command+Delete to fill the layer mask, and I know it's going to be the layer mask because that's selected over here in the Layers palette. Command+Delete to fill the layer mask with black and then Command+D to deselect. Now I can take a paint brush with white paint, make my brush a little bit bigger, and start brushing in the foreground here.
I have got a soft edged brush, so that's getting me a feather along the top. So I have actually inadvertently darkened a little bit of that, but that's okay. The scene has weird light, and I am going to exploit that by making people think it was just weird light that caused that little dark halo along the top edge, if anyone notices at all. So that's pretty good. Now, it would be nice to work on the clouds a little bit. They are the next big dramatic element in the scene. So I can't really do anything with this adjustment layer.
In the last lesson, we were fiddling with painting gray in varying amounts to get varying degrees of an effect, but this effect that I've applied here I don't want that up here. I don't want the clouds darker. I want them more contrasty. There is lot of subtle shades of gray in these clouds. If I increase the contrast, I will bring that more and be able to see more of this cool fractal-y cloud details. So I am going to make another new adjustment layer. Now when I have an adjustment layer selected down here, I don't get that menu of adjustment layer options.
There are two things I can do. I can click off the adjustment layer and that comes back, but my Levels adjustment layers are going to be added in between these two. I really wanted them next. So I am going to come down here and say Levels. Now, again, without looking at any of this down here, I am going to keep my eye on the sky and drag my black point over to increase my contrast, and that's looking pretty good. I could consider moving my white point around. I got to be very careful that I don't blow out these highlights in here.
Yeah, that's getting too bright. We'll maybe do that a little bit and maybe pull it back. So that's pretty good. We are now in the same problem we were facing before. My adjustment layer that's good for up here is bad for down here. Select All, Command+Delete to fill the adjustment layer, Command+D to deselect and now B for the brush. If you are ever wondering what keyboard shortcuts are for the tools, just mouse over them, and you will get a little tooltip. In parentheses that tells you the keyboard shortcut.
I'm going to paint in that Levels adjustment. I am not going to paint down here, because I know already that that's going to end two contrasty-. In fact, I already brushed over that a little bit. Kind of what I'm choosing to do is paint over just some parts of the image. See? That's starting to look a little weird. So I am going to switch back to black paint. The X key swaps foreground and background colors.
This is a very easy way that you can switch back and forth between black and white paint. That's no good. I am going to undo that, and I am just going to paint this contrast adjustment that I have defined into my image. Again, clouds are somewhat random textures, so I am just kind of painting, not totally randomly, but the fact that I am not painting uniformly doesn't show up as a bad thing. That's before.
That's after. I like those clouds better. So that's looking pretty good. The problem now is what originally caught my eye was that this was all lit up, and it's still kind of lit up, but it's not great. So let's increase the brightness of this by adding yet another adjustment layer - Levels. And I am going to drag my white point over here. I am not worried about what's happening with the clouds. I know they are blowing out, but that's okay.
I am going to open up the mids a little to get me a little more texture in here. Now same thing, Command+A to select all, Command+Delete to fill with the background color, Command+D to deselect. I'll grab my brush, and we will go to down here. I don't like brightening up the sky that much. I am going to undo that. I am going to go over the mountains, and I am going to go over this foreground area.
That's a little too bright in there. I am going to select middle gray, paint some of that back out. So that's pretty good. I am going to try a crop. I am in Photoshop. C for the Crop tool. This is just like the Crop tool in Camera RAW, except that this is going to be destructive edit. If I don't like this later, there is nothing I can do about it. In Camera RAW, I now have the option for a Crop Guide Overlay. I am going to just going to double-click to take the crop. That's working better.
Getting rid of some of that foreground has helped a lot. Now I've got an image that's - my eye knows a little bit more with to do. I see this up here. I come down here. As westerners, we can reach an image from left to right. So I like that more. There are some tonal adjustments. I've managed to constrain the viewer's eye to the part of the image that I had found compelling. I've taken a broad landscape and cropped a bit out of it, and given some tonal cues that lets the viewer know where they need look.
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