Landscape Resuscitation (part 1)

Have you ever been to a location , taken an image as well as you could technically, then viewed the image afterward in lightroom with disappointment? Often these are the photographs that fall victim to the fact that no matter how good your on field technique is, the camera sensor just can’t match the human retina let alone the memory of a scene! However, a big mistake to avoid is to ditch that RAW file and forget about it. There are ways to bring out the best in what seems like a bland capture of a remarkable scene.

This isn’t a post on how to resuscitate a photo that was badly taken, nor is it one that encourages over processing. This is an attempt to write a tutorial on how I go about editing a typical landscape photo to bring out the most memory and life from an image. In this case, the example is Gullfoss from Iceland – a magnificent sight and one that photographs have difficulty in conveying its raw power and awe.

This is the final image here:

Roaring Gullfoss

1. Lightroom steps:
– I import RAW files into lightroom and correct a few things in preference to using photoshop
– Cropping is much easier for me in lightroom
– White balance correction is best done in lightroom
– Recovery , exposure and fill light are all done with sliders and is easier though done with less control than in photoshop.
– Dust spot removal is also easy in lightroom.

The original raw:

The forgotten RAW amongst other catalogued images

The original raw with lightroom edits:
– Exposure changes with addition of contrast
– Minor colour and vibrance changes

Lightroom edits in place

2. Shadow & Highlight Correction:

After exporting the image as a 16bit TIFF at 300 DPI with no sharpening, I open in photoshop and duplicate a layer (so I never lose the original TIFF as a fallback).

On this layer I usually do a minor shadow highlight correction if the image needs it. In this case, the rocks were a tad dark, there weren’t any blown highlights so highlights needed no adjustment.
I find that adjusting the slider too much usually results in the dreaded banding of colour particularly when there is blank sky.

Shadows 5% enhanced

3.  Non specific corrections

Next, I usually create 2 new layers that will affect the whole image: one for vibrance and one for levels. (sliders adjusted to varying degrees depending on image)

Vibrance and Levels

4. Adjustment Layers:

Next, I work on the colour of the images using adjustment layers for different colours. The steps to creating each of these layers are:

– Select a specific colour using the dropdown menu as in this image:  In this example, I wanted to boost aquas of the water.

– The icon for adjustment layers can either be navigated from the top drop-down bars or from the bottom right of screen with the layers panel. The following layers were what I chose for this image:
– colour balance adjustment layer for the aquas
– levels layer for the whites in the image to be a little brighter
– colour balance layer for the browns in the image.
The end result is a bunch of adjustment layers which can all be turned on and off and adjusted to varying degrees with the opacity slider. Hopefully the image is looking a little better and truer to memory than the original RAW at this stage!

5. Non destructive dodge and burn!

If you have ever tried dodging and burning on a copy of the image itself, you may have found that if you had made a mistake, other than using the step-backward tool, you’d have to start all over. By using a transparent layer to dodge and burn without affecting any pixels on the image, I find it easier to make corrections and adjust previous changes.

-Create a new layer in overlay mode, fill it with 50% neutral colour as per this image

-Next, select the brush tool (B) and set the brush to very small increments and with a soft edge : typically I use 10% opacity and flow, 0% hardness for this layer.
– Then , select the colour you with to brush with from the palette on the toolbar.
– White for dodging, black for burning
– Sometimes to accentuate a colour, I might click on the palette, use the dropper on a colour on the image and use that colour as my brushing tool.
– The other advantage of using this technique to dodge and burn is that the layer itself takes up less memory than another merged layer of the image ( I should probably upgrade my pc RAM!)

6. High Pass Sharpening
-I’ve come to favour using high pass sharpening but all of the other methods have their pros and cons over this one.
– To do this, duplicate your background layer, select filter>other>high pass
– I don’t usually go over 2 pixels as it may result in over sharpening
– You’ll end up with a gray mess but in this state, you can see the attempted areas photoshop is trying to sharpen.
– You can then change the blend mode to vivid light, overlay or soft light depending on how harsh you want the sharpening to appear. I usually stay with overlay or soft light.
– There are some areas that you don’t need to sharpen – like pure blue skies , smooth water etc. high pass will sometimes introduce noise into these areas, so I create a layer mask and remove these parts from the sharpening layer .
– The images below help to explain (I hope)

A preview of what is being sharpened

Masking out what doesn’t need to be sharpened (roughly in red)

7. The rest before the sequel!

I’ve actually done more to this image (for part 1 of the tutorial) but usually I would end here by :

-Converting the 16 bit file to an 8 bit file

-Saving it with its layers in tact in case I want to change anything in the future

-Flattening the image

-Resizing for web (1500 long edge, 100 dpi)

– Repeat sharpen (Unsharp mask)

-Border (Canvas size increase by 5% white)’



I hope that was helpful to someone!
Just remember, this is the workflow that I’ve developed and have found works best for me.
There are so many different paths you can get to the same result and each of them has their utility for different images.



Posted on June 10, 2010, in How we..., Photography and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Great tutorial and a beautiful shot 🙂

  2. Thanks for the tutorial! I linked your blog from my Travel Blog.

  3. Dylan, this is a great tutorial, thanks! I didn’t even know you had a blog and was looking for tips on how to do this!! Look at that!!

  4. Thanks so much Dylan. Right now I am travelling to catch some nice photos and I am not satisfied with the colors, brilliance and sharpness of my photos. So I will have a look at your tips 🙂
    Is there a part 2 actually?

    Kind regards,

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