How to Edit Landscape Photos

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This will be a very difficult question to answer – how to edit landscape photos.

There are a ton of editing bibles out there, and I am guessing that you, my dear reader, want to get started with “a proper way to edit landscape photos”.

But here’s the thing – as far as I know, there is no limit to creativity. There are probably endless ways to go about editing, and not a single “correct way” to get started.

So this is what I will do instead – I will share my own editing process, and pack this guide with various editing styles for your reference. Hopefully, these very useful editing tips will point you in the right direction.

Before we start, I have a few things to mention – This guide will be based on Photoshop. But you guys who are using Lightroom should be able to do the same as well.

A) THE VISION BEFORE EDITING

The underexposed RAW photo of a boring grey sunset… I have plans to make it great again.

Wait, before editing?

Is this guide about editing? Yes.

Which is why I have to share my first point on the things that need to be done correctly before editing.

I personally think that editing is not a part of post process per se. I know it does not make much sense, but let me explain. A great photo does not happen by randomly whipping out the camera, shoot and adding a few filter effects in editing.

A good photo happens when you:

  • Have a concept, visualize how the final photo look.
  • Plan and execute the shoot with some serious ninja skills.
  • Spice the photo up with editing.

So that ability to visualize the final image even before editing is the most important thing to have. You need to have a clear “final form” that you want to achieve, then carry out the editing.

When you cannot visualize the final image, editing will be like “let’s just try a bunch of different random things, see which one works”.

 💡 The ability to visualize (photographer’s eye) comes with experience, the more you practice, the more you are able to achieve nirvana see the final image.
If you have just started out and not know where to go, try to replicate the works of some experienced photographers… and even try to do better.
 💡 Shoot in RAW, not JPG. RAW files contain more information, and will give you better quality edits.

B) COOKING THE RAW FILE

If you shoot RAW as I have recommended, Camera RAW should fire up when you open Photoshop. (Lightroom should be using the same Camera RAW).

Just mastering this simple tool will improve your photo by miles. Promise.

Let’s dive into it.

B1) MASTER THE LIGHT AND DARK

This, is one of the most important tabs you must master.

The first thing that I usually do, is to draw out as much details as possible, and boost the contrast. For those who are new, I need to do a quick explanation of shadows and highlights :

  • Shadows : The darker parts of the photo.
  • Highlights : The lighter parts of the photo.

The trick to this step is to :

  • Push the shadows (slider to the right), recover some details in the darker parts.
  • Pull the highlights (slider to the left), recover some details in blown out lighter parts.
  • Add some contrast back by boosting the whites (slider to the right), and reducing the blacks (slider to the left).
  • If that is not enough, slightly move the contrast slider.

The vibrance and saturation are up to you – a pale soothing photo, or a punchy one?

I personally like punchy photos with high contrast, but that is my style though. You might want to play around the sliders and figure out which one works for you.

 💡 If Camera RAW is not firing up in Photoshop for some reason, you can do so with Filter -> Camera Raw Filter. Yep, this works for JPG files as well, but they are still inferior in terms of details.

B2) THE SHARPENER

Sharpen your photo… don’t cut yourself.

There is nothing too complicated with this tab, just to sharpen the photo. Depending on your camera and megapixel count, you have to push this accordingly.

The only rule of thumb here is not to overdo it until you start to see a lot noise, and crappy pronounced edges.

 💡 Technically, the more megapixels you have, the more you can push the sharpening amount without breaking it. I have pushed it to 75 only because I am on a 36.6 megapixels camera.

B3) FIX THE DISTORTION

Ever lens will have some sort of distortion – convex or concave. Fixing this is as easy as applying the lens correction profile in camera raw. If not, you can manually adjust the distortion too.

 💡 Feel free to not fix the distortion if your lens already have minimal distortion… or you might want to retain it for unique lenses such as the fisheye.

B4) COLOR CORRECTION

This is usually something optional for me, and I will mostly do this for boring grey sunsets. The “Split Toning” and “HSL” tabs are two places for you to tweak the colors to your liking.

You can still add colors to the photo later, but the perks of working in Camera Raw is that, you have more data and this edit is virtually loseless.

B5) CLEANING UP THE RUBBISH – CONTENT AWARE MAGIC


When you are done with Camera Raw, it’s time for a little bit of Photoshop work. In particular, cleaning up any pieces of rubbish and dust spots in the photo.

In the modern day Photoshop, this is as easy as using the spot healing brush (short cut key “J”) or content aware. (Select Area -> Edit -> Fill -> Content Aware)

B6) COLOR GRADING

If you are not already satisfied in Camera RAW (section B4), you can further add some color controls.

Plenty of ways to do so, and will probably take another long guide to explain. But in a nutshell, here are the things you can play with in Photoshop :

  • Adding a hue / saturation layer (Layer -> New Adjustment Layer -> Hue/Saturation)
  • Use a gradient layer as color overlay (Layer -> New Adjustment Layer -> Gradient Map -> Set the blend mode to color)
  • Balancing the colors (Layer -> New Adjustment Layer -> Color Balance)

B7) ADD YOUR WATERMARK

Finally, don’t forget your watermark… Which deters the digital age art thieves.

 💡 One small request. Please do not use huge oversized giganto watermarks. Those are just plain ugly.

C) THE VARIOUS EDITING STYLES

So we have come to the end of my editing process, but that is just a drop in the ocean. Let us now explore the various styles of editing, but before that, one last small bit for my editing (and my noob first YouTube video) :

C1) THE “MAGICAL LANDSCAPE”

DeathStar
Photo by Tony Prower

Well, “magical landscape” is not the official name for this editing style, but I just so happen to call it this way.

One of my personal favorites, the magic aims to create a landscape that “excites” the human eye :

  • An interesting composition
  • Catchy colors
  • Punchy contrast

A quick shoutout to YuriFineart, because his post process style is so very similar with mine… and in fact, one of the photographers who inspired me.

For those who are too busy to spend 45 minutes on the long video tutorial. The steps in summary, inclusive of my own additions are:

  • Bump the shadows, drop the highlights (bring out as much details as possible)
  • Play with the exposure, blacks, whites, and contrast to give it a more dynamic look
  • Move the clarity slider, negative values will result in a softer look, positive values will result in a harsher look
  • Move the saturation / vibrance sliders
  • Play with the tone curve : adjust the highlights, shadows and midtones
  • Sharpen the image if you must
  • Play with the colors in the HSL (hue, saturation, luminance) tab
  • Play with split toning
  • Do your lens correction
  • Clean up rubbish and dust spots using content aware and spot healing
  • Dodge / burn specific areas of the photo
  • Cheat if you must. Add in a new layer of color, or even replace the clouds entirely.

Yep, I used a lot of “play with slider” and “move the slider”. That is because every photo is different and I cannot tell you “which setting” will work miracles. You will have to decide the look of the photo for yourself.

C2) HIGH DYNAMIC RANGE (HDR)

You might have seen this on your smartphone.

But for those who do not know what “HDR” is, it is basically a stack of photos with different exposure settings, thus bringing out a lot more details than the “normal” photos.

Seems cool?

A fair word of warning to the newbies though, the serious way to do HDR is not “a single click” on your smartphone. This is a completely different ballgame, and you can easily go wrong. It is so much more that I had to write an entire guide on doing HDR.

Step-by-Step Guide On How To Do HDR Photography

C3) BLACK AND WHITE

One of the oldest classics, and really not my cup of tea. I sort of like the vintage feel, but can’t bring myself to love it. This is like the complete opposite of colorful and contrast punchy photos, my nemesis.

In any case, some may think that black and white is simpler and easier than color photography. Wrong.

Black and white photography is deep.

I shall point to another YouTube tutorial, as, not my specialty. Maybe you will find love in this one.

C4) TINY PLANET

The last editing style that I have to share.

Not a very conventional one, but I love this one! Take a break from your usual editing when you get bored.

D) THE END, NOT THE END.

This is probably going to be the longest ending I have ever written.

D1) DON’T LIMIT YOURSELF WITH MY EDITING PROCESS FLOW!

There are a lot of “editing tutorials” online, and the good ones share every step of their editing process flow as I have. Which I think is great. But I also think that it will become limiting if you take it in too deep. Step-by-step, law-for-law, must do it this way only.

What works for me may not work for you.

I like tea, you may like coffee.

So use this guide as a starting point to build your own work flow. Please don’t depend on this guide like some kind of iron forged law. A true photo ninja must be flexible in the craft.

D2) EDITING DOES NOT MEAN NEGLECT SHOOTING SKILLS

Hard truth – You can’t do everything in editing.

Screw up the composition, that’s it, can’t fix it.

You miss the money shot, it’s gone, no amount of editing can fix that.

 💡 Editing is only a part of the big picture. Learn to get thing right with pure photography skills as well. Use editing to spice up your photo, not to fix your screw ups.

D3) WHAT’S NEXT?

This is really the end of this guide.

If you are still really lost on which way to go, I will suggest starting with Camera Raw. Play around with the settings and colors. Camera Raw is actually very powerful, and if you get things right, you don’t even need further processing in Photoshop.

Nothing beats getting your feet wet. So go.

Cheers, and happy shooting!

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