The great thing about photographing landscapes is that you don’t have to worry about your subject not smiling or looking at the camera.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t improvements that can be made after the fact in post-processing.
Though some photographers poo-poo the idea of manipulating your photos in post, I’m of the school of thought that doing some light editing to enhance the look of your photos is no different than what we did in darkrooms long ago.
The problem is that programs like Photoshop can be on the overwhelming side, with hundreds of features and functions for your editing pleasure.
Fortunately, Joshua Cripps of Professional Photography Tips has put together a quick, yet effective 5-minute landscape photography workflow for landscapes. See it in action in the video below, and read about each step of the process in the text that follows.
Step 1: Open the Image in Adobe Camera RAW
If you aren’t shooting in RAW, you should be. And if you aren’t editing your RAW files in Adobe Camera RAW before importing them into Photoshop, you should be doing that too!
RAW files retain all the data that your camera’s sensor collects, so there’s a lot more information to work with than with a JPEG.
In looking at the image above, you can see how it’s underexposed.
Using Adobe Camera RAW adjustments allows you to increase the exposure level, work on the highlights and shadows, adjust the whites and blacks, and manipulate the clarity, vibrance, and saturation too.
After making all those adjustments, you can see how much the image is already improved. But Camera RAW has other functions that allow you to further prep your image for Photoshop.
Opening the tone curve panel, you can adjust the highlights and shadows to add some contrast to the scene, which helps it look more dynamic and less flat.
Another neat function in Camera RAW is the ability to add a graduated filter effect to the shot.
In the field, a graduated neutral density filter darkens the sky and has little to no effect on the foreground. The purpose, of course, being to even out the exposure levels between the foreground and background.
Making that adjustment in Camera RAW has a similar effect by selected an area of the image to work on, as seen above.
Once you do that, you can manipulate shadows, highlights, saturation, vibrance, and so on in that specific area.
In the lens correction panel, there’s another neat trick you can use to enhance your photos: vignetting.
In this case, adding a slight vignette effect darkens the edges of the frame just enough such that the sun-kissed features of the sky and the mountains stand out a bit more.
Step 2: Open the Image in Photoshop
Simply click “Open Image” in the bottom right-hand corner of the Adobe Camera RAW window, and it’ll automatically open in Photoshop.
Once you’re there, you have a whole new set of tools at your disposal to improve the image.
Since Joshua brightened the foreground, there’s some noise showing up that needs to be removed.
To do that, add the Neat Image plug-in to Photoshop, then select Filter > Neat Image > Reduce noise.
Next, to bring more attention to the mountain in the background, you can do a little dodging and burning to add some brightness to it.
Just add a burn/dodge layer, grab a bright color from the sky, and set the opacity of the brush to about 20 percent.
Then simply paint over the mountain peak to brighten it up and bring more attention to that area of the photo.
Step 3: Work on the Sky in Photoshop
At this point, the sky is a little too flat still, so that requires some work on with the targeted adjustment tool and a curves adjustment layer.
First, add the curves adjustment layer, and then using the targeted adjustment tool, click on a shadowed area of the sky and drag it down to darken it. Then grab a highlighted area and drag it up to brighten it.
The result is a sky that has more contrast and visual punch!
Step 4: Crop to Fit
The final step in this process is really the easiest.
Since there’s a lot of visual weight on the left side of this image, it makes sense to crop some of that out.
By bringing the left edge of the frame inward, you’re also able to make the image adhere better to the rule of thirds. As you can see above, the mountain peaks are more in line with the left-hand vertical gridline, and there’s also a better visual balance between the mountain peaks on the left and the rising horizon of the mountain on the right.
Learning how to edit your photos in post-processing is a crucial step in becoming a more informed and skillful photographer.
Should you try to get everything right in-camera? Absolutely.
But that doesn’t always happen. And even if it did, I would still work on my images in Photoshop to bring them to life.
And as we’ve seen here, it doesn’t have to take a long time to have a tremendous impact, either. After all, it took Joshua just 5 minutes to create the image above from the very first one we saw at the start of this lesson!