While your in-camera technique is most important, the ability to post-process your landscape images also plays a role in your final product. Each photographer approaches the digital darkroom in their own way. Here are some post-processing workflow tips for your landscape photography.
You don’t need to apply each step. It serves simply as a guide to help you get started.
1. Check your White Balance or Color Temperature
If you shot your images in RAW, you retain the ability to change the White Balance after the fact. You can adjust the color temperature of your scene to make it either warmer (more yellow) or cooler (more blues).
Shot with Auto White Balance (AWB temperature 5800K).
Sunsets are often enhanced more to the warmer side, while winter scenes can benefit from both warm and cool tones, depending on what you are trying to depict. The temperature sliders can also be used to remove or correct any color casts captured in your original frame.
The same image with the temperature adjusted to 6700K to enhance the warmth of the sunset.
2. Expose it!
Check your exposure and fix it if it is too bright or too dark. Most people eyeball this process, but the histogram is a very useful tool for achieving your best exposure. The left side of the histogram represents the blacks or shadow areas of your image. The right side represents the brighter areas or highlights.
If you forget these basics, push your sliders to either extreme and look at how the image and corresponding histogram responds to these changes.
3. Chop Chop
With landscape photography, a good composition is key. Thus getting it right in camera is the best way to maximize your scene. You can apply rule of thirds/golden spiral, leading lines and a foreground interest optimally at this point.
Some photographers shoot with a specific crop in mind, so many times there is a “picture in picture”. If your end result is a square crop, then compose and shoot for your final vision. This is also applicable if you need to print your final image to a different ratio.
Applying your crop early on in the post-processing workflow can alter the next steps you apply. So work out your composition and then continue processing.
4. Clarify This
Clarity is an adjustment available in Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom. When you adjust the Clarity, you are working with the contrasts (edge contrast) in the mid-tones of your image.
Image prior to clarity adjustment.
This change makes your image look sharper, so you do not want it overdone.
The subtle changes of Clarity adjusts the mid-tones and apparent sharpness.
5. Shadow Me
Adjusting the shadows can either deepen the darker areas or lift them to retrieve some details. If you are recovering details, be aware of the appearance of noise in the shadows. You need to stop before reaching this point.
6. The Highlights
When you are shooting, an important concern is to retain details in the brightest parts (highlights) of your image. If you have heard the terms “blown out” or “clipped” highlights, they refer to those bright areas that have no detail.
If you are working with a RAW image, you can recover much of your overexposed highlights using the highlight slider. Of note, while recovering these highlights, pay attention to the overall look of the rest of the image.
Beach image unedited.
Beach image edited to adjust the Clarity, Shadows, and Highlights.
In the simplest terms, the Whites slider adjusts image pixels that are white or have a partial highlight. The Blacks slider adjusts image pixels that are black. The Shadow slider, mentioned previously, covers a smaller range of dark pixels than the Blacks. Similarly, when comparing Highlights to Whites, the White adjustment (like the Black) is more global.
A reason to adjust the Whites/Blacks after the Highlights/Shadows sliders is because of the way they (whites/blacks) affect the overall tone of the image.
Most people get confused with saturation versus vibrance. Saturation affects all your pixels, making them all either more colorful (saturated) or less colorful (desaturated).
Saturation adjusts all the colors in the image.
Vibrance, on the other hand, makes adjustments to the pixels that are not as saturated. This means it makes dull colors more vibrant and leaves already vibrant colors unaffected.
Vibrance adjusts less saturated colors only.
Bonus Tip: The Vibrance slider is used a lot to adjust images with people because it does not affect flesh tone colors!
9. Sharpen Up!
Sharpening increases the contrast between your bright and dark areas. In most post-processing workflows, it is done at or close to the end. This is because many other processes in your workflow, alter the “sharpness” of your image. Thus sharpening may be optional (or selective) when following those steps.
Read this for more on sharpening images: How to Make Your Photos Shine Using Clarity, Sharpening, and Dehaze in Lightroom
A vignette is when there is light fall-off towards the edge of your image. This is often seen in images shot with wide open apertures or with wide angle lenses. They can also be caused or strengthened by the use of camera additions such as filter holders, lens hoods, or filters. These cause less light to reach the edges of the image than the center.
If you do not get vignettes when shooting, you can add them during your post-processing stage. It is not a necessity, but works well when you want to draw the viewer’s eyes away from distractions in the corners and more towards the middle of the frame.
Vignette added to draw attention to the sunset and keep your eyes away from highlights at the top of the frame.
In landscape photography, you can either remove natural vignettes, so the viewer’s eyes move around the image or you can add a vignette to draw them in. It all depends on your final objective.
Developing a post-processing workflow for your images is a great step towards your final output. Keep in mind that less is more and that subtle changes can go a long way to enhance your already beautiful capture.
You do not need to edit every image the same way; take a minute and review each one and determine what it needs to take it to the next level.
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