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- Getting the shot: landscape-specific shooting tips and tricks
- Choosing the right equipment
- Cropping and straightening images
- Making localized color and tonal adjustments
- Reducing noise
- Guiding the viewer’s eye with localized adjustments
- Adding a vignette
- Using gradient masks to create seamless edits
- Approaching adjustments like a painter–thinking in light and shadow
- HDR imaging
- Creating panoramas: shooting and post-processing techniques
Skill Level Intermediate
Let's zoom back in, though. I am zooming in and out with Command+Plus and Command+Minus. These power lines here, to be honest, they don't bug me. They are not super-high contrasty, they don't stand out, and they are a real part of the image. I'm not going for, plainly, a really natural empty landscape. I've got parking lots and houses and things here, so I don't mind these coming across here. And here is a cesspool or something. I should probably get rid of that, but I'm okay with that level of reality in the scene. So I am going to keep that. So that takes care of our retouching.
Now we are ready to move on to our next bit. There is no spot removal or anything we need to do. So I am ready to head on into Tonal Adjustments. So what do I need to do here? The image looks a little low contrast to me. Let's take a look at the histogram, and click the exclamation mark to update it and sure enough, there is no strong black. There's not really any strong whites, but there is obviously the stuff up here in the clouds. The bulk of our image data is from here to about here. Well, the bulk of our image is these gray tones. Obviously, some of the sky is reflected in these tones, but what this tells us is that the majority of our foreground is pretty dark.
That's going to have to be brightened at some point. So I am going to start with black, because black, as we've learned, is the key to all contrast problems. I am going to add a Levels adjustment layer. I am going to drag my black point in and immediately, our image has better contrast. Now there is still a lot to do contrast -wise, but I'm first trying to get an initial hit on what is a good contrast, and you might say, but you've clipped these shadows here, and that's true. So what have I lost? I've probably lost some detail down here, maybe up here, maybe a little bit in here.
I don't care. There is nothing down there that I need to look, at and having detail everywhere means that the viewer's eye just doesn't know where to go. Now I might go in and open that up a little bit later, but just because there's detail to be had - and this is the thing with digital cameras. They're able to capture such good shadow detail that it can become very easy to go, ooh, ooh I want to pull that detail out there, and it's important to understand that shadow is part of your photographic vocabulary. So I am going to leave that about right there. I said that this area needed to be brightened, so I am going to pull that up, and that's pretty good, except I've lost my sky.
So I am going to see about, now going in with the Black brush in my layer mask. Okay, that's not really working because as I am doing that I'm getting a color shift. There is some brown in here that just doesn't look right. I am going to undo all that, painting white back into that area. I could not simply undo that because there are multiple brush strokes in there. Oops. I am not painting with white. Okay, there we go. Now I am painting with white. Let's just do a whole fill. There we go, now it's back to normal. So that's more of a white adjustment that I am willing to make.
In fact, I am thinking now, maybe I am going to leave the white where it is and attack this foreground brightness problem separately, because that's going to be something that just needs to be dealt with. Let's do look at these shadows down here and think about opening them up. If I paint black into these areas to protect them from that black point adjustment, I get a little bit of detail back in there, and I think I do like that. So I am going to open up some of these shadows just a little bit, the really, really dark ones. I think that's probably a good choice for the image not looking too contrast-y and looking too manipulated.
We should be able to see detail in these areas. Okay, maybe now up there, that's starting to look gray, and I don't mind there being a shadow of this rock face. And that's also looking a little gray and a little contrasty, so I am going to shift from painting into the mask with black to painting with light gray, so that I am not creating quite as extreme an effect. All right, now as is often the case with HDR, we have a problem of overall, I got similar tone throughout the image. From here to here, it all looks about the same, and you might think, well, yeah, it's green.
I am not talking about color. I am talking about tone. I am talking about brightness, and though this is green, and this is a different hue of green, they have roughly similar tones. In a landscape image, I need depth. I need to see landscape. I need to see big and grand, and that kind of thing, and I am not getting a real sense of depth from here to here because everything is mostly the same tone, and it's shift from lighter to darker that's going to imply depth. So what I want to do is brighten up some areas to make them standout more.
And to figure out how to do that, I need to actually look at the light in the scene. This storm is breaking up. There is all this light coming through, shining down onto here, shining down onto here. So I am going to paint some light into these areas and see how that looks. I am going to go and create a new Levels adjustment layer. I am going to brighten, not worried about what's happening up here, because the very next thing I am going to do is hit D. Watch this area down here. I press D. I get white and black back. Command+A is to select all. Command+Delete, Ctrl+Delete if you are on Windows, to fill this layer mask with black. Command+D to deselect.
Now, B to select my brush. I've got white as a foreground color. I am going to paint white into this mask, and where I do, the image will get brighter, because this adjustment level brightens things, and by punching a hole in the mask, that brightening comes through to my image, and what I get, effectively, is painting light into the image. This is a very important thing for you to think about. Landscape photographs are very often just about the light. I didn't really need to take a picture of this little housing addition.
But it's plainly a beautiful scene. It's a beautiful little housing addition, but what struck me was the light. The storm was breaking up. There is these incredible Jacob's ladders of lights coming down. Look, there is one just shining right down onto this house. So I am trying to exaggerate that and accentuate that and really bring that to the fore, and by thinking more like a painter, and thinking about where light falls in an image, and what that light should look like and how to play up that light, I can create an image that's more interesting. So I am painting highlights onto areas that are already lit up, but just by way of exaggerating them, making the light that's falling into the scene more pronounced.
And now, here is the one that I particularly like. I am going to go along and paint light on the tops of these trees, because the tree should be really glowing with light. And you can see that they are. There is already highlights on there. I am just playing them up more. To be honest, I think I am painting a little too much light onto the trees, so I am going to back off to more of a shade of gray. But what that means is rather than painting white into the mask, which is allowing the full levels adjustment to come through, I am painting gray into the mask, which is allowing only some of the levels adjustment to come through, but I am still getting brightening.
In a minute, I am going to give you a little before-and-after look, and you'll get a better idea of what this is doing. Just moving along, painting highlights in. I had mentioned before that for work like this a Wacom pressure-sensitive tablet is wonderful. It doesn't have to be Wacom, a pressure-sensitive tablet is wonderful. I prefer Wacom tablets. I think they are very well made. Their software is exceptional. Pressure-sensitivity means that as I push harder my brush gets bigger, which can make it very nice for painting subtle painterly-like masks.
This is not so subtle. I don't really need pressure- sensitivity for this bit that I am doing, because I am really just choosing how much light to paint in by the color of my Mask. So hitting Highlights, you may notice that when I do work like this, I start talking as if I'm narrating a golf tournament. I don't know why that happens. I think it's possibly because I am concentrating on other things. Oh, I know what it is. It's because I have to hold my tongue in a particular position, and it makes me talk funny.
I probably do the same thing when I am using scissors. Using scissors is very dramatic when I do it. All right, I think we're coming along here. I am going to turn this adjustment layer off and you are going to see before and after. So first watch this area in here. It lightens up, which reflects this shaft of light that's hitting down. Now watch these trees. They just brighten up. And if you notice the overall effect is the trees look more three-dimensional now; they are not just a flat color.
They have light and shadow on them. So I've an Adjustment layer here that allows me to paint light into the scene. I can paint that light wherever I want. So let's think about the light that's hitting back here, and maybe go in. I don't want to paint as much light, because this area is farther way. It's obscured by more atmosphere, which is a good, strong depth cue for us, but I can maybe highlight this. As a landscape photographer, it's worth spending some time looking at landscape painting.
Look at the old masters. Look at how they use light. Look at how they will paint extremely contrast-y light into a situation. They won't let their blacks go totally, totally black, but they will hit a strong highlight of light, a good accent of light onto an area, to really bring it out, and that's what we are doing here. I think those bluffs I might have gone too far there. I am going to paint black back over those to take those out, but I like this lightening here. This is very evocative of the type of light you get when a storm breaks up.
Let's now focus on these rocks in here. One of the things that happens when a storm breaks up is you can have small shafts of light hitting all over where a rock may be sticking into light off of a face that's still in shadow. Okay, so that wasn't happening here, but that doesn't mean we can't make it look like it was. Again, we are not going after photojournalism here. We are going after an image that's evocative of the scene, and when I was standing there, what was striking me was light erupting all over the place.
You cannot necessarily always capture that in a single frame, or even in an HDR frame, as it is. Sometimes we have to point that out to the viewer. That's all we're doing. It's as if I'm standing here next to you, saying, "Look at that tree right there. See how it's lit up?" Since I can't actually be there, standing next to you, pointing that out, just exaggerating a little bit to make sure that you see it. That's all it's happening. Let's do before-and-after. Again, before-after. That's looking pretty good.
Now these trees are bugging me. I think they are too lit up. I am going to calm down that shadow. I think I painted full white into there. I love the look of the individual trees. I like that they really look more three- dimensional, but I don't think there is actually that much light hitting this part of the scene, so I am going to try to darken them a little bit by painting over it with a darker shade of gray. That's looking a little more believable, and I am going to completely take the highlighting off of these.
The reason I'm making that decision is I'm trying to follow the light that's realistic in the scene, and it's getting much darker over here. So before/after. That's great! That has added some depth, and yet there's still not enough distance, to my eye, between this foreground element and this background. I want this background to recede more into the distance. I could try to darken the background, but that's a really difficult thing to pull off in this situation because part of what's making this background work is its very low contrast, because there is a bunch of haze and mist in the air, and that's creating depth cues and obscurations that are making this look farther away.
If I try to darken this by changing the black point, you can see what's going to happen. I am going to immediately make that part of the image more contrast-y. So let's just do a quick example and you'll see what I am talking about. I have now got Levels adjustment layer that's darker, but when I paint that in, it's serving to take the haze off the mountain. It's improving the contrast on the mountain, and that's actually doing the exact opposite of what I want, which is to make this look farther away. So rather than darkening the background, I am going to look at leaving the background where it is, and I am going to lighten the foreground.
As we have already said, the foreground needs lightening anyway. Let's look at our global histogram here. The bulk of our images are these foreground tones. Most of those tones are falling in here, I think. These big shadow areas are this stuff over here. All of this highlight detail are all of these clouds. So this stuff in here is going to be this foreground area, and it's kind of just a bunch of midtone data. It needs to be brighter.