Welcome to my guide on how to edit landscape photos. I know, editing can be a difficult topic to get started with. As far as I know, there are no limits to creativity. There are endless ways to go about editing, and not a single “correct way” to get started. To top it up, there are a ton of editing bibles out there, and everyone has a different approach to editing.
So this is what I will do – I will share my own editing process, and pack this guide full with editing tips that you can use. Feel free to adapt parts of my process into your own, or totally disagree – there are no right or wrong answers here.
AN HONEST DISCLOSURE
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
Before we go into editing, there are things that we need to address. In particular, the things that need to be done right during the shoot itself. If you are already a skilled photo ninja, feel free to skip this section.
If not, you are still in the right place for editing tips. Exactly because of that, I need to make these my very first points.
EDITING DOES NOT MEAN NEGLECTING YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY SKILLS
Generally, photo shoots have 3 stages.
- Pre-shoot : Planning, research, and preparation.
- The shoot itself.
- Post-shoot : Editing and closing up.
So what is the big deal with this process? Well, just think about it. If you screw up in the first 2 stages of the shoot, your job in editing is going to be very difficult or impossible.
- Did not do your homework and missed the fireworks? Editing is not going to bring it back.
- Got to the location only to discover that you need a permit to enter? You won’t have any photos to edit at all.
- Camera shake? That is going to be difficult to fix.
- Wrong timing? Missed the sunset? Editing is not going to help much… Not until you change the entire sky or landscape.
So please treat every stage of the shoot with importance. Most newbies like to chant “I will fix it in Photoshop”, and that is not correct. You cannot fix everything with Photoshop. Don’t use Photoshop as a poor excuse to stop advancing your photography skills.
GET IT RIGHT ON THE SPOT
If you have to change the settings during the shoot, the do it. If you have to remove a piece of rubbish, then do it. A gentle reminder here – Spend 5 minutes to change the settings on the spot, not spend hours trying to fix things in post process.
SHOOT IN RAW!
F*** the people who say “you need to shoot and edit in JPG”. If you want high quality edits, then always work with RAW files. RAW files contain a whole lot of information, and it can recover photos you thought were gone. If you are not convinced, here is a sample :
DON’T LIMIT YOURSELF WITH THE PROCESS FLOW OF OTHERS
Finally, there are a lot of editing tutorials online, and most people will share their editing process flow. Which I think is great. But do not let it limit your creativity.
What works for me may not work for you. I like tea, you may like coffee. So use these guides as a starting point to build your own work flow. Please don’t depend on the guides like some kind of iron forged law. A true photo ninja must be flexible in the craft.
COOKING WITH CAMERA RAW
Now that we are done with the basic stuff, we shall move into the editing parts. If you shoot in RAW as recommended, Photoshop should fire up Camera RAW when you open a RAW file. This is one very powerful tool that you need to master. Lightroom users, don’t worry, you should have the exact same Camera RAW as well.
Camera RAW can be very intimidating to newbies, and right on the very first “basic” tab, there are a whole bunch of sliders and controls. Not very “basic” now, aye? Just what are highlights, shadows, blacks and whites? If you do not already know these, you can read about it in my other guide – Photography Lighting Basics.
So how do we play with all of these?
The goal of using Camera Raw, is to tweak the exposures to where you want it to be. For example, I tend to under-expose my photos most of the time to preserve details in the sky. In Camera Raw, I turn the exposure up, and highlights down to get those nice cloud details back.
Some other people may do the opposite of over-exposing, and turning the exposure down in Camera Raw instead. Thus, there are probably endless ways to use the basic adjustments tab. But my personal touch to Camera Raw is :
- 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.
- Increase the vibrance to increase color contrast, but pull back the saturation to prevent a color puke.
That will give you a contrast punchy image. But that, is ultimately my style. You will have to play around the sliders and figure out what works for you.
Want a nice detailed sharp photo? Then it does not hurt to sharpen the photo a little more even when it is already TACK sharp. There is nothing too complicated with this tab in Camera RAW, just push the amount if you are unsure. The only rule of thumb here is not to overdo it until you start to see a lot noise, and crappy pronounced edges. I usually set :
- Amount : 50-75
- Radius : 1.4 (You can push this if you have more megapixels)
- Detail : 25
- Luminance, Luminance Detail, Luminance Contrast : 15
FIX THE DISTORTION
Every lens will more or less, 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.
COLOR CORRECTION / ADDING COLORS
Cameras these days do a good job of white balance and removing color casts, so color correction is usually optional for me. But if you want to do that in Camera RAW, the “Split Toning” and “HSL” tabs are two places for you to tweak the colors to your liking.
While this may be a good place to add colors to boring grey landscapes, don’t go crazy with it. A common newbie mistake is pushing the colors way too much, and ending up with a puke of messy colors. Sometimes, less is more.
At this point, the photo should be “good enough” and may not even need further editing. But for the sake of completeness, I shall reveal a few more of my usual tricks to make photos great (again).
REMOVE DUST SPOTS AND UNWANTED RUBBISH
Trust me, you will not want to skip this step. Zoom in your photo, and try clean any pieces of micro dust on your photo. Use the healing brush to remove them. You will be surprised how many eagle eyed photographer there are in this world, and how they can spot 1 pixel of dust.
For the bigger pieces of rubbish, you will want to use the content aware tool instead (Select Area -> Edit -> Fill -> Content Aware).
THE SEXY CURVES
Next step, using curves (Layer -> New Layer Adjustment -> Curves) to adjust the highlights/shadows. You can do this in Camera Raw as well, but I like to do it in Photoshop because of that extra edge in control using masks.
THE ORTON EFFECT?
What is the Orton Effect? It is basically that dreamy magical landscape effect. Originally, it is a technique meant for film photography by overlaying a sharp image with a blurry one. This technique still works for digital photography.
P.S. On second thoughts, while this might be an interesting technique to use for landscape photographers, it does not really apply to all photos. As I feel that it did not really look good with this example, I am just going to leave it out of my “final version”.
8 STEPS AND TIPS TO EDIT AMAZING LANDSCAPE PHOTOS
- Do your homework before the shoot. Know the location, know what to expect.
- Get the composition correct on the spot – don’t depend on Photoshop to “fix” it.
- Shoot in RAW.
- In Camera Raw – Adjust the basic exposures, sharpen a little, and fix any lens distortions.
- In Photoshop – Use the healing brush tool or content aware to remove unwanted dust spots and rubbish.
- You may use curves to further enhance the contrast.
- You may also want to use a color balance / gradient layer to do some color grading.
- Lastly, add your watermark.
We have come to the end of this guide. If you are still lost on which way to go, I will suggest starting with Camera Raw and just playing around with the settings and colors.
Camera Raw is actually very powerful, and you can do pretty well with just Camera Raw itself.
Well, nothing beats getting your feet wet. So go take some photos and try editing it. Cheers, and happy shooting!
Here is a little bit of an extra section, and my first try on making a YouTube tutorial on editing landscape photos :
Lightroom & Photoshop users, here is a long long list of all kinds of free presets, brushes and stuff for you.
Finally, for you guys who do not have a copy of Photoshop or Lightroom yet, you can click on the banner below to check out an offer. Alternatively, there is a free app called GIMP, which should do quite a good job in editing as well.