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 instead – I will share my own editing process, and pack this guide full with different editing styles, and tips that you can use instantly. Hopefully, these will point you in the right direction.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
REQUIREMENTS & ALTERNATIVE
Before we start, please take note that this guide will be based on Photoshop. Lightroom users, don’t need to despair – You should be able to pull off most of the stuff in this guide as well.
As for you guys who don’t 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.
Before we go into editing, there are things that we need to address. In particular, the things that need to be done before editing.
Wait, before editing? Is this guide not about editing? Yes, you are in the right place, and exactly because of that, I need to make this my very first point.
B1) EDITING IS ONLY A PART OF THE BIGGER PICTURE
A photo shoot normally has 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? 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. We want to make editing as easy as possible, not as difficult as possible.
B2) EDITING DOES NOT MEAN NEGLECT SHOOTING SKILLS
Common beginner mistake – “I will fix it in Photoshop”. No, you need to learn “not everything can be fixed in Photoshop”.
|💡 Editing is only a part of the big picture. So learn to get thing right with pure photography skills first. Editing is used to spice up your photos, not to fix your screw ups.|
B3) 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.
B4) HAVE A VISION BEFORE EDITING
A great photo does not happen by randomly whipping out the camera, shoot and add 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 the ability to visualize the final image before editing is one of the most important skill to have. 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”… which often does not work well.
| 💡 The ability to visualize (photographer’s eye) comes with experience, the more you practice, the more you are able to
B5) SHOOT IN RAW
Forget the people who says “it is ok to shoot and edit in JPG”. If you want high quality edits, then always shoot in RAW. JPG files simply don’t have as much information as RAW files, and they are lossy. RAW files are loseless and you can even recover some details with it.
B6) DON’T LIMIT YOURSELF WITH THE PROCESS FLOW OF OTHERS
There are a lot of “editing tutorials” online, and the good ones share every step of their editing process flow. Which I think is great. But I also think that it is kind of limiting if you take everything in too deeply. Step-by-step, law-for-law, it must be done this way only.
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.
CAMERA RAW EDITING
Now that we are done with the pre-shoot 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.
C1) MASTER EXPOSURE
|💡 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 to RAW.|
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 – What are highlights, shadows, blacks and whites? If you do not already know these, here is the quick explanation – Photography Lighting Basics.
So how do we play with all of these?
In the most basic way, get the exposure to what you want it to be. If the photo is under-exposed, you want to boost the exposure. If the photo is too bright, you might want to tune back on the highlights and whites. There are probably endless ways to use the basic adjustments tab.
But personally, I like a contrast punchy photo and my trick 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.
- Increase the vibrance to increase color contrast, but pull back the saturation to prevent a color puke.
That, is ultimately my style. You will have to play around the sliders and figure out what works for you.
C2) THE SHARPENER
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.
|💡 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.|
C3) 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.|
C4) COLOR CORRECTION / ADD SOME 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 I usually do not do color correction with Camera RAW, this is a good place to add colors to boring grey landscapes. 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.
C5) REMOVE DUST SPOTS AND UNWANTED RUBBISH
When you are done with Camera Raw, it’s time for a little more Photoshop work. In particular, cleaning up any pieces of rubbish and dust spots in the photo. Newbies, don’t need to sweat. There are only two tools that you need to master are the spot healing brush (short cut key “J”) and content aware. (Select Area -> Edit -> Fill -> Content Aware)
C6) COLOR GRADING
If you are not already satisfied with your color settings in Camera RAW, you can further color control within Photoshop itself. One of the easiest and first method that I learnt, is to use a gradient map.
- Create a gradient map layer as the color overlay (Layer -> New Adjustment Layer -> Gradient Map)
- Set the blend mode of the gradient map to color, screen, overlay… or whichever that works for you.
- Play around with different color gradients, and the layer’s opacity/fill.
- Personally, I like to add another hue / saturation layer (Layer -> New Adjustment Layer -> Hue/Saturation).
- Desaturate the image a little to give it a more “movie look”.
C7) NO BIG AND UGLY WATERMARKS, PLEASE.
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.
THE VARIOUS EDITING STYLES
Now that we are done with Camera Raw, we are done with the first step. The first drop of water in the ocean.
Let us now explore the various styles of editing, and how to add more epic to your photos.
D1) THE MAGICAL LANDSCAPE
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.
D2) 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.
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.
D3) 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.
D4) THE ORTON EFFECT
What is the Orton Effect? It is invented by Michael Orton, and basically overlaying a sharp image with a blurry one to bring out that dreamy effect. Originally meant for film photography, it is now adapted for digital photography – A good technique to pick up for landscape photographers nonetheless.
D5) 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.
This is the end of the 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, further processing in Photoshop is optional.
Nothing beats getting your feet wet. So go. Cheers, and happy shooting!