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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
We are going to do something we've done before. We are going to create, of course, a Levels adjustment layer that brightens. Then we are going to use the Gradient map to wrap it into the background. So, I am going to brighten that up there. I'm even going to adjust the black point a little bit. Notice that I have put this adjustment layer above all of the others. I want this one to affect everything below it, including the brightening effects that we added before. This is something that needs to hit the whole image. Now, I am going to be masking this layer, so I am not worrying too much about nailing my Levels adjustments layer settings right off the bat.
I've got my level mask on there; I am ready to fill it with black. Now, I am going to grab the Gradient tool, white in the foreground, black in the background. I know that I want from here down to be brightened, so, I am just going to click from about here up to about here. Before. After. So, my foreground is brightened. I am not liking how much this gotten brighter, though. So, I am going to actually drop my gradient down to about here and go up to there. That didn't really do much, did it? Before. After.
I like that better. What I'm worried about is this transition zone. I don't want to be able to see the seam. I am not sure we got all the brightening in here that we need, so I am going to crank the Levels adjustments a little bit more, and the black point, make a little more contrast-y. What I am worried about is I don't want it to be visible that there is this gradient mask in here. Having made the mask, I know what to look for, so I see there is this bit here that is plainly the transition zone. But we are so lucky that this is a valley full of mist, which means uneven light, which means anyone else looking at it is going hmm! Look at the beautiful mist in the valley.
So I am not going to worry about that. I think we are okay with that transition, which is great. That's a really quick and easy edit. It's almost a hack, actually. So before, after. I can't take my eyes off this section. I am really worried that is visible, and I don't think it is. But what I am thinking is let's expand the gradient so that it's not a sudden change, and out to there. Now, that's brightening maybe. I think that looks better. I don't see as much of a change there. Unfortunately, I am also now getting the darkening that I was aiming for there in the first place.
So, let's try again. What you're seeing here is that every time I redraw my gradient it just replaces the old one, which is nice. Okay, that's looking pretty good. I think, though, that I have darkened the house a little bit, so what I am going to do is with this same adjustment layer mask selected, I am going to choose black and a very small brush. I am going to go over these elements. Oh. No, they were okay. I wanted them lightened. I want to go over with these white to make sure that this area is not picking up any of the darkening, and it looks like it was.
So, being careful not to paint above any of the trees. Oops! I missed there. Normally, you would think, "Well, painting around trees is a drag," but these trees are kind of silhouetted. So, I don't have to be real perfect. If the tops end up dark, that's okay; it just looks like part of the silhouette. I am not doing anything that compromises my mask. All right, now this stuff is really standing out. So, that's before.
That's after. That's working pretty well. There's a lot more little detail I could go in and paint, but I'm trying to just give you an idea of what we are after here. I think there's something else that the image needs though, and that is that the sky needs to be darker. It needs to be more dramatic. I want to do a gradient darkening from here to here, but I am little worried that it's going to interfere with the other gradient lightening that I've done from here to here. So, I would like to actually do the exact opposite mask that I did here, and that's very easy to do. I've got nothing selected, currently.
I am going to right-click on this layer mask and say Add Masks to Selection. That actually creates a selection from the mask. There is a gradient in here you can't see it, but trust me its there. Now, I am going to go up to the Select menu and choose Inverse, or Inverse if you prefer that sort of thing. Now, I've got exact opposite mask. If you have a selection made when you create an adjustment layer, a layer mask has automatically created that matches that selection.
So, now I'm going to make a Levels adjustment layer, and as you can see, it comes in with the mask. Now, I can hit darken. I'm going to have to be careful. Obviously, if I go too far, the mask becomes visible. So, this is going to be a very subtle edit, and even with it, I am not sure that the mask isn't visible in here. So, I might need to do a little mask work in there. Before. After. I think that sky looks better. I am going to see what it looks like if I - yeah, that's not good. I am going to switch to 50% gray.
I am just trying to break up the mask here. Again, I am facing the problem of I know there is a mask there and so I am noticing it. I am not sure that the viewer would. I think that's looking better, though. Again, we have got so much weird striations of light and things in here that I think that that really does just look like a varying sea of mist down there in the valley. Before. After. I'm going to make one more change. I'm going to lighten the blacks up a little in the foreground.
Before. After. Well, the problem with this darkening is I've picked up more contrast on the mountains, and things have gone a little bit hazy. So, I'm going to redo this layer mask. Command+D to make sure nothing is selected. I am just going to pick a gradient, turn this layer back on, and do something like this. I think that looks better. Now, I've got the mist back on the mountains. I've got more drama back in my sky There is something I want you to notice about what I'm doing here, which is I want you to notice that I don't actually know what I'm doing here.
I don't mean that I don't know how to make these adjustments. I mean that I don't know what the image needs; I am finding my way through the image. I'm not looking at the image and saying, plainly, this image needs a 1.08 gamma adjustment. I don't know that. I'm feeling my way through. I am not just feeling my way through the individual sliders. I am feeling my way through even an understanding of what the image needs. I didn't really, when I first opened the image, realize, oh! there's the nice, misty background. I am going to have to be careful about contrast there. This is a very normal way to work, and I think very often when you listen to a tutorial, because, so often, tutorials are prebuilt or planned, it's very easy for you to think "Gosh! this person just really knows what they're doing like, by the numbers.
I never feel that way." Don't worry; I never do, either. I'm finding my way through the image. I am finding what works. I may keep going and ultimately go, "Mm...it's not working. What I'm doing is not working, or the image doesn't work." There have been plenty of times where I have been an hour into an imaging session and then decided no, there is not an image here to be had. This is not one of those times, fortunately. But it's perfectly normal if you are just stumbling through trying to figure what an image needs. I think we are done with this. Let's take a look at the before and after. I am going to turn off all of these adjustment layers, and there is a very easy way to do that.
If I click on the first one, I can just drag over the others. Then when I let go, they all turn off. This is the image as it came out of HDR Pro. HDR Pro did a great job of giving us a sky with lots of detail in it, a foreground with lots of detail, but it's kind of flat. So, we added all of these and got this: an image with a lot more depth, and fixing our tone we've picked up some color saturation. It's an image that our eye knows a little bit more about what to do. Let's take a quick look at what we did, step-by-step.
We added an overall Levels adjustment layer that improved the contrast in the image. In the process of doing that, I stopped up some shadows down here so you can see there's little black spots in the mask, where I painted black to open those back up. After that, we added brightening: the trees, the foreground, this hill over here. We added those to create a greater sense of depth, not just to make this look more three-dimensional, but to separate the foreground from the background. But we didn't quite get as much separation as I wanted, so we added a layer to brighten the foreground, and then because the sky wasn't looking quite dramatic enough, we darkened the sky - a very subtle adjustment.
It would be nice to maybe to go a little bit further, but I don't think we can without compromising the image too much. So, though there might be a little more that I'd want to do to this image, I am going to leave it as is right now, and I am going to hit a Save. It comes in untitled. It's a 16-bit image. I am going to save it though as a Photoshop document. Because a Photoshop document will preserve all of my layers, a Photoshop document supports 16-bit images. I am going to call this Drakensburg Merged.
And while I like this image, it's going to need sharpening, sizing, and I'm going to want to print it to make sure that it looks okay. There's another approach that I could've taken to this image, and we are going to look at that in the next lesson.