Improve Your Landscape Photographs Using Photoshop
Most good landscape shots relies on dynamic range. The amount of details in the highlights and shadows play an important role with the shot. Not all of us (myself included) are readily equipped with filters that’ll help balance out the exposure and while high-dynamic range (HDR) photography seems to answer that issue, most HDR attempts attempts by newbies result to very unrealistic effects that look downright tacky. It takes a lot of skill during capture and post-processing to create HDR photographs.
Naturally, it’s important to capture a proper image to begin with. It’s best to retain highlight details when using a digital camera or slide film while it’s better to retain shadow detail if you shoot with negative film. Regardless, we’ll attempt to balance out a single exposure from a high-contrast scene and get a more balanced and dynamic photo with this simple post-processing technique.We start off with a photo.
1) Took this shot during a company outing in Puerto Galera, Philippines, a couple of years back. I metered for the highlight details (clouds) and in turn, sacrificed the shadows in the foreground, but with digital sensors, shadow details can be extracted quite effectively.
Lighting is a bit flat as well, shot was taken without any filter at around 11am.
2) We open this image in Photoshop and duplicate the background layer (CTRL+J)
3) We then use the Lasso tool and roughly trace the area of the photo with the sky/clouds in it. There’s no need to be accurate about this, just make sure you include the whole sky, so it’s OK to include part of the mountain and the foreground branches. You’ll now see the “marching ants” surrounding your sky.
4) Next we’ll narrow down the colors to be manipulated WITHIN the area we’ve selected previously. For this, we’ll use SELECT >> COLOR RANGE tool. Make sure that the Black Matte selection is on to make it easier to see what you’re selecting. Set your “Fuzziness” to about 50-100 depending on your image size, and use the + dropper (the one in the middle) and click all the areas around the sky and clouds.
You’ll end up roughly with this (foreground masked in pure black, while the sky/cloud selection in white).
You’ve now isolated the sky and clouds selection.
5) Click the Add Layer Mask button at the bottom of your Layers Palette to create a mask for this layer. Your palette will now look like this:
The black/white thumbnail is your layer mask.
6) Change the Blend Mode to “Multiply” and you’ll instantly see a polarization effect on your sky.
7) But we have a problem, the transition between the modified sky and the mountain/horizon is very ugly, we’ll need to soften the transition.
We can do this simply by BLURRING the mask thumbnail. Go to FILTERS >> BLUR >> GAUSSIAN BLUR, adjust the slider until the hard line disappears.
I applied around 20 radius and got this…
Looks decent enough. You can adjust the layer opacity if you think the sky is too blue.
Subtle yet visible. I’ll leave it real purple for now, for illustration purposes. Right now, we have this:
A much improved polarized sky effect with fluffier clouds. But we’re not done, we haven’t address the flat, boring foreground.
8 ) Instead of re-selecting the areas under the sky, I clicked on the Background layer and made another duplicate layer by pressing CTRL-J. Now we have three layers, with the new layer underneath our modified sky layer.
I then ALT+dragged the layer mask THUMBNAIL on the sky layer down to our new layer. This COPIED the layer mask that we had previously.
We only need to modify the areas underneath the sky, so the easiest way to do this is to flip the mask around, meaning, this layer will only display changes made to the mountains, sea, and foreground. The sky will NOT be affected.
Select the Layer Mask thumbnail you just created and press CTRL+I to flip it around. As you can see, the layer mask is now the exact opposite of the one above.
9) To make things brighter, change the Blend Mode to “SCREEN”, everything will now be a lot brighter (except for the sky, of course, since we’ve masked that off already).
You can use your brush to paint over the mask if you don’t want to brighten certain parts of the scene, just click on the layer mask thumbnail and choose a soft brush and paint with a black color onto the MASK (not the image).
10) Add a basic Curve layer to add some contrast to the scene, if you wish.
Here’s our before and after….
Subtlety is key… Hope it’s useful for y’all.
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