Digital cameras have come along way. Recent models are able to capture stunning detail, high dynamic range, and brilliant colors. But with all of their improvements, digital cameras still can not quite duplicate images the same way our eye sees them. Especially when shooting in RAW, the image straight out of your camera can look flat or dull. This post will demonstrate some of the methods I use to post process landscape photos in photoshop to make them “pop” or give them a little extra “wow” factor.
Start by opening the RAW image in photoshop. As the image opens it will automatically open first in Camera RAW, photoshop’s RAW image plugin. I like to make some basic adjustments in the RAW plugin. Feel free to play around and see what each adjustment slider does to the image. I find that small or subtle changes work better, although I’ve pushed this image a little farther than normal to illustrate what can be done. I typically will adjust the exposure to where it looks like nothing is too dark or blown out. I’ll then pull the shadow slider to the right a little to reveal a little detail in the shadows.
Most of the time I find that if you shot the landscape on auto white balance, you won’t need to adjust the color temperature or tint, but experiment with warming or cooling the image slightly to your taste. I usually then add a touch of contrast, clarity, and sometimes vibrance. Again, small changes are key.
Once you have the RAW adjustments how you like them, click the “Open Image” button and the file will open in photoshop so you can do more editing. The next thing I will do is use the crop tool to straighten the horizon of the image. If you select the crop tool in Photoshop CC and hover over the corner of your image, your cursor will turn into a rotation arrow and you can rotate the image to straighten it. When you release the mouse, the crop tool automatically crops off the white edges that were created when you rotated the image. At this point, I find that I usually want to bring out a little more detail or sharpness in the clouds or water. I use a technique called “sharpen with blur” that I learned from Clay Cook’s video:
Once the action is complete you will see a group with two images inside of it. The top image should be selected.
If it’s not, select the top image and then go to Filter > Blur > Surface Blur.
In the dialog box that comes up, experiment with different values for the Radius and Threshold. I find that most of the time I want to stay between 8 and 15 pixels for both of these values. Any more than that and you start to get unrealistic results. Again, the key here is subtlety.
Once you hit “Ok” you can select the Group folder in the layers panel and adjust the opacity to soften the effect of the sharpening if you need to. Once you are happy, you can combine all the layers and duplicate into a new layer by pressing Command + Shift + Option + E.
Sometimes I will then add some tonal contrast and the sunlight filter to this new layer using the Nik Software plugin collection from google. This collection of plugins for photoshop costs $149.00 but it offers a ton of very useful time saving presets, color adjustments, contrast tools, and more.
Everyone develops a workflow based on personal tastes that work for them. Keep playing and experimenting until you get a look that you like.
I’d love to answer your questions or offer advice on your landscape photos over on the Camera Stupid Facebook Page. Please go like the page and leave me a message. I’d be happy to hear from you.