Saturday, May 24, 2014

Learn Landscape Photography Series: Post-processing

Editing is almost as important to landscape photography as capturing the image on the camera in the first place. The reason is that so much of how the final photograph feels and looks can be decided with your edits. Whether it's simple contrast and color correction or a full blown blending of three exposures this is where we decide how we want the scene to be interpreted by a viewer.

Once all of the files have been loaded onto the computer the post-processing
workflow can begin. My preference is to load and catalog through Lightroom first. Here I'll adjust for lens correction, white balance, fine tune exposure, and adjust the vibrance and clarity.

Lens correction is simple enough just select the box or use the drop down menu for a list of lenses to choose from. White balance usually needs an adjustment and shooting raw allows for it to easily be fixed. Grab the dropper and click on a middle tone until it looks fairly accurate. Then fine tune the warmth and coolness slider to get it perfect. For exposure I'll sometimes bump it a little up or down depending on the scene, but usually I will rely on the shadow and highlight sliders to get the exposure right and bring back important details that are lost. Just remember that blown out highlights can't be saved and boosting shadows too much will cause excessive noise(plus shadows add depth so keep some please). I will also dodge and burn the exposure levels a little with the brush. Placing an emphasis on important subjects in the image. 15 to 25 for clarity and vibrance is the most I will apply and definitely leave the saturation slider way down to 5 or even better none at all.

If you like minimal editing without Photoshop or plugins, then a little sharpening with Lightroom is useful. While holding the alt key, use the masking slider and you will see your image in black and white. The farther to the right the less the sharpening will affect the overall image. 30-35 sharpening at 80+ for masking will do a good job of sharpening the edges without over-sharpening everything else.

On to Photoshop. Import into PS through Lightroom and start the fine detail adjustments. A good way to look at is for broad scale adjustments use Lightroom and for detailed adjustments use Photoshop. Of course anything is possible in Photoshop, but more often than not overworking an image will just lead to an image that looks overworked. So easing into the adjustments and the mantra more is less works wonders here.

More and more I am relying on the plug-ins from Nik and usually I just use the Tonal Contrast filter and sharpening. It does very similar adjustments to Luminousity masks(I'll get into these more in a minute) without all of the complexities. In other words I can adjust contrast in specific or localized areas at varying levels of strength. The best part about doing this in PS is I can mask or brush the areas I want effected and leave out the areas. Photoshop's most powerful tool is masks and the ability to paint in is why I almost always use Nik in PS and not in LR.

If you aren't familiar with masks check out Youtube and the net for a little homework. It's worth it. Primarily I use masks for making detailed local adjustments, but masks are also my favorite tools for blending exposures. I don't really like HDR software due to the lack of control and usually I find that there is at least one area in an image that just doesn't look right. After I made the synchronized adjustments in Lightroom I prefer to import as layers and use masks to gradually brush in the various exposures of the sky and land. By using feathering or a lower opacity in the brush carefully blending the layers together tends to look more natural. Also there is an artistic skill to it that can't quite be replicated any other way.

I'll touch briefly on Luminousity Masks. They are a very useful tool, but take quite a bit of channel and mask knowledge to use effectively. The general idea is individual channels of the highlights, the shadows, and the mid-tones are created in order to have total control. In fact up to five or six different channels for each of the tonal ranges or eighteen channels total from the darkest darks to the lightest lights. Each channel can then be made into a mask or multiple channels can be made into a mask for crazy amounts of fine tuning. Tony Kuyper was the first to develop this method and has a wealth of knowledge on his website.

Overall my goal for editing is not to only recreate what I saw, but to capture the feeling of that moment in time. By using these various techniques there really is nothing holding me back. Remember whether you are going for the simple more journalistic approach with minimal edits or an all out HDR, it's all art and do what makes you feel good about your work and it will show.

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