Our goal as landscape photographers should be to always try and get the best possible image in camera…the exposure, composition, sharpness and lighting. Trying to fix a bad landscape photo is frustrating and usually does not end well. While capturing a great photograph straight out of the camera is a good habit to get into, processing can then take these great photos to the next level. I tell my workshop clients that Photoshop (or any other editing tool) should not be a crutch, but fine tuned photo editing is a basic necessity in digital photography.
Below, I have added my favorite Photoshop adjustments that I think every landscape photographer should master:
#1: Understanding the Histogram
The histogram is important both while taking the landscape photo as well as in editing. It is a graph that shows the tonal range of your image. This will help you judge the exposure of your landscape photo, so that you will know if you have highlights or shadows with no detail. There is no such thing as the perfect histogram since different subjects will produce different results. One such example is if you photograph a silhouette of a tree. Your histogram will have peaks at each end and very little in the middle. I tend to expose for the highlights and edit for the shadows. This way my highlights are not blown out.
#2: Cropping and Leveling
The crop and leveling tool is one of the first steps I take in my processing. If for some reason I did not get a level horizon in camera, I can easily fix this with Photoshop and then crop accordingly. Nothing is worse than working on an image, adding a vignette and then noticing it has a crooked horizon.
#3: Color Correction
Images right out of the camera may not evoke the same feelings you had while taking the photograph. Even if your camera is custom or auto white balanced, you can utilize custom white balance within photoshop to create the look you want from a warm tone to a cool tone photograph.
#4: Adjustment Layers
With Adjustment Layers you can make non-destructive edits to your image without affecting original image pixels. This allows you greater control over your edits. And then if you are not happy with the adjustments you made, you can easily delete or hide that layer. Since each layer contains data, you can determine how much of that data is visible in the final image with the use of blending modes or individual layer opacity.
#5: Brightness and Contrast
Brightness and Contrast adjustments is a handy tool in fine tuning slight exposure flaws. It is important to be careful with these Photoshop adjustments and not overdo it.
#6: Levels and Curves
While the brightness and contrast apply to the global (whole) image, the curves and levels Photoshop adjustment allow you to make more finely tuned adjustments. This option allows you to pick the exact black, white and grey points in the image and adjust them. The Curves panel is a bit harder to perfect, but once you do, you may end up liking it better that using just the levels adjustment.
#6: Saturation and Hue
Saturation is an Photoshop adjustment that can really take your image from good to bad. In the control panel, you can make adjustments to different colors independently of each other. This can result in a more natural effect then if you use the Master selection which controls all the colors at once.
#7: Color Balance
Color balance adjustments help to slightly tweak the colors in a selected portion of the landscape photo. It is different from the other Photoshop adjustments in that you can make small adjustments to the various tones in the shadows, mid tones or highlights. Landscape photographers use this tool when they have color shifts due to the color of the light at a particular time of day or if they don’t set custom white balance in the camera.
This is one of those Photoshop adjustment for landscape photographers where less is more. Too much sharpening will cause artifacts within your final print that can ruin the entire image. Look closely for halo lines and pixelation. So, I prefer to use a three part sharpening process. The first is capture sharpening. I do this to address the slight blurring that happens within digital camera captures. Next, during processing and editing, I do slight creative sharpening. I can be selective in sharpening just the areas that I want more detail within without affecting the whole image. And lastly, I apply sharpening right before printing so that I can customize the amount based on the resize and/or the medium I am printing onto.
These are Photoshop adjustments that every landscape photographer should know. Luckily as photographers, we develop our own workflow for the style we want to create, so how you use these are up to you. You may find that you will use some more than others. And all can be done in pretty much any other editing software you chose to use.