Most RAW processing tools (e.g. Lightroom, Capture One, Adobe Camera RAW) do many things brilliantly. Indeed, many landscape photographers consider them to be the only tool they need to use during post-processing. These programs tend to have a clarity slider which allows you to adjust the dynamic contrast of the whole image. This allows you to adjust the overall clarity, but it does not increase the clarity on a very small scale within the landscape photograph.....Read More
Dunseverick, County Antrim - Northern Ireland Landscape Photography by Stephen Dickey
One of the most important stages of converting your RAW landscape photograph in software such as Lightroom is determining your white balance. The white balance you choose determines the colours in your image. Think of it as the foundation of all your colour work that follows - saturation, hue etc.
My own experience as a landscape photographer has taught me that, during the golden hour and onwards into dusk, the camera's automatic white balance struggles to find a useable white balance. It often leaves the image with a very strong colour cast, typically cool in tone.
In the slideshow above you can see a landscape photograph I captured at Dunsererick Harbour, County Antrim, Northern Ireland. I have converted the RAW file several times, altering only the white balance. The best way to show the difference in white balance is to show you visually.
You can see that the 'as shot' white balance, which is what the camera automatically determined, contains a lot of magenta and doesn't feel like the sunset I was fortunate enough to enjoy.
Next is the 'auto' setting. Note that this is the automatic setting in Lightroom, not the 'as shot' value which was determined automatically by the camera. This makes the situation even worse and moves the colours further away from what I remember the scene looking like.
One might assume that by choosing a white balance setting which matched the weather conditions prevalent in the photograph, the correct result would be obtained. Whilst the 'cloudy' setting is closer to reality is still isn't quite warm enough.
I have found that in most circumstances, taking a custom white balance from a white breaking wave produces a very good result. I use this technique in many of my landscape photographs. If that fails then taking a reading from a grey cloud also works well. However, in this case I feel the best result was obtained from the wave.
In conclusion, don't feel tied down to choosing a white balance preset for your landscape photographs. Take the time to experiment and build that strong colour foundation that your work deserves!
Developing a consistent Photoshop workflow is an important part of improving your landscape photography. I normally use Lightroom to convert from RAW, and then use several layers in Photoshop to create my final landscape photograph.
Download this free Photoshop action by clicking the link above. Run it in Photoshop and you will see that the following layers have been created:
1) Shadow/Highlight layer: Run the shadow/highlight tool on this layer to balance your exposure.
2) Curves: Drag the curve on this layer into a shallow S-curve to add a little contrast to your image.
3) Levels: Use this tool to adjust the brightness, white point and black point in your image. I recommend adjusting this layer last.
4) Hue/Saturation: Adjust the saturation of individual colour channels to taste.
5) Selective Colour: The most useful colour tool in Photoshop and the least well known. Experiment!
I use this action when processing most of my Northern Ireland landscape photographs. I hope you find it useful!
Alex Nail, a very talented landscape photographer from England, recently posted an interesting article about landscape photography manipulation. His article was prompted by an article he had read on 500px.com. Essentially, Alex feels that image manipulation including brightness, saturation and contrast adjustments are acceptable, but when one physically alters the landscape by, for example, adding a different sky to an image, one has gone too far. Ignacio Palacios, the landscape photographer to whom Alex refers, is much more accepting of physical alterations to the landscape, including creating composites, changing the shapes of mountains in Photoshop and so on.
My own take on this debate is that changes to brightness, contrast and saturation are wholly acceptable. In fact, a camera can't capture an image as the human eye sees it. Some photographers proudly declare "I don't edit my images." However, taking this approach is somewhat of a false economy as, even when you shoot in digital RAW format, some other entity such as Adobe or Canon chooses how to display the pixels your camera sensor captured on screen. By taking control of brightness, saturation and contrast, you as the landscape photographer are choosing how that sensor data is displayed.
When one starts adding other skies to a landscape photograph, adding trees, stretching mountains to make them taller, I feel that the transition from landscape photographer to digital artist has taken place. Several images of average quality could be combined by a skilled digital artist into an interesting landscape image. However, in my opinion this requires far less skill than the pure landscape photographer who takes the time to compose the image carefully, wait for the amazing light and so on. I class myself as a landscape photographer, not a digital artist and I am against compositing and making physical changes. My own limit would be removing a bird that had flown into frame or removing a piece of rubbish that had been left in the landscape (assuming I couldn't remove it in the field). If you look at the example below you will see a before and after of my typical landscape photography post-processing. I'm sure you will agree that I did all the hard work with the camera, not the computer.
A RAW workflow for landscape photography.Read More