This is the first in what I hope will be a series of articles showing how I edit some of my images, in the hope that the self taught techniques that I picked up through the years can be of use to others. I remember asking other photographers about techniques that they had used when editing their photographs and very rarely would I get a constructive reply. So I know how it feels to imagine a photograph in your head and not know how to make it come to reality when you get back to the computer.
Modern cameras offer us the ability to tweak and edit images to create the scenes that we picture in our head. Sometimes the camera doesn’t pick up light in the way you had wanted for whatever reasons or you’ve captured a photograph really quickly before the environment changes and although you’ve got the composition right the colours or the exposure wasn’t ideal.
The best thing digital cameras gave us is the RAW file format. This is essential your negative in digital format. We can record so much detail in a RAW file that it is possible to change a whole myriad of settings and end up with an image almost unrecognisable from the original in-camera RAW file. We’re going to be working with the RAW file in this tutorial.
I’m going to be using Lightroom 5 for this tutorial. I’d love to do it in Photoshop but I find Lightroom is good enough 95% of the time and it’s a relatively inexpensive piece of software that is worth having in your toolbox.
I’m hoping that this tutorial will give you some of the basics required to make the biggest changes in your photographs. This is not an in depth tutorial, those will come later but you can apply these techniques to your own photographs and give you the encouragement to go out and play with your photographs.
You might have seen this image on my website. The image of the River Etive running through Glen Etive. I’m going to edit one of the other images that I captured on that day. Starting with the original we’ll reach a finished image that we can be proud of.
We can see from the image that it is relatively flat. We’ve lost a little detail in the skies as the image was exposed for the landscape and we didn’t have a filter on the lens at the time to compensate. The composition is ok but needs some work, we’ve got a lot of foreground with very little detail for example, and the river leads the eye but it struggles a little because its starting off the frame to the left.
The first thing that I’m going to do is work on the crop a little in order to make the composition a bit more visually appealing. So if we switch to Develop mode and access the crop tool. Bring the crop in a bit from the bottom left so that we remove a fair chunk of grass and some of the river.
The image is looking better already. We’ve got rid of some of the grass and water at the bottom and made the crop a little tighter on the right hand side.
The next step is working on the sky. We can see that there are clouds there but they are not all that distinct. One of the elements that that makes the biggest impact on a landscape image is the sky. Many people think that blue skies make for great photographs but this can often lead to an imbalance in the image; a little bottom heavy and the blue skies can be overpowering and a waste of space if there is nothing to hold the interest.
So here we are going to rescue our sky and try and bring out the detail in the clouds as well as the blue in the atmosphere. If we switch the the Graduated Filter option and from top to middle drag out a graduated filter on the image we can play with some of the attributes.
In this example i’ve
The difference that has made is plain to see. In fact because the graduated filter overlaps with the mountains in the distance we’ve also managed to increase the distinction between the landscape and the skies and added a little more depth to the image.
Next we turn our attention to the foreground. Because we’ve boosted the colours in the sky we need to pay some attention to the grass and the water. Particularly to the water because we need to make sure the water reflects the colours that we now have in the sky.
Using the graduated filter tool again this time drag from bottom to the middle and adjust a little so the gradient is tighter and raise the filter toward the middle of the image. We want to make the grass greener, add some depth to the rocks in the water and boost the blue tones in the water to reflect the colours that we now see in our sky.
In the screenshot above you’ll see the following changes:
Again, looking at the above screenshot and the one prior to that we can already see a major change in colour and balance of the image.
Ok. We can start getting into some of the smaller, but none-the-less important details. I remember when I captured this photography the colour of the rocks in the water. An interesting orange / brown colour made all the nicer with the reflected sunlight. I want to make those colours a little more obvious. So we are going to have a look at the colour levels.
With colour levels we can play with the hue, saturation and luminance of different colours within the image.
When we alter the hue setting we change the amount of the actual colour in the image.
Altering the saturation changes the amount of grey in the image.
Altering the luminance of the colour alters the amount of white or black mixed into the colour.
With our image I’ve switched to the HSL/Color/B&W section in the right pane. I’ve chosen Color because I want to modify a specific colour in the image, orange, and made the following changes:
Looking at the image we have now there is a definite change of the colour tones in the rocks. The prominence of the rocks adds interest to the water and the eye follows the rocks up stream toward the mountains in the distance.
The same technique can be applied to the other colours, or you can switch the HSL and modify everything. So if you wanted to make the grass even greener you could. If you wanted to make the rocks grey instead of orange then you can do that too.
With a little sharpening and noise reduction in the Details section we can tidy the image up a little.
Because we’re editing the RAW file the image file has no sharpening. JPEG is normally sharpened in camera as well as colour adjustments which is why when you shoot JPEG+RAW the JPEG file looks different to the RAW file.
And we end up with the final image below.