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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Photoshop: Creating Vivid Scenes from Dull Landscapes

I conceived the following procedure when I realized how dull some winter snowscapes can be. Depending on which area of the world you live in, snow might or might not be something you see often. But the principles describes here apply in a variety of other situations, when you have a landscape with a dull prevalent tone (e.g. fog, or featureless dirt)

The image I'll be working with is this one. Straight out of the camera, is underexposed and pretty dull. This may very well be a very realistic scenario for many of you. The photo just doesn't seem to have the same vividness and life the scene had when you saw it, right?

It's a beautiful scene, but it needs work

Well, worry not! Because I'll show you how to turn the above dull result into this:

Much better!

1. Firstly, I corrected the obvious vignetting.
2. I created a Levels Adjustment Layers. Noticing the histogram, it was obvious there was plenty of room for the right slider (highlights). I dragged it to the left until the bulk of the histogram was arranged

3. The snow looks much better, but the sky will always look better if it's not too bright. So, let's use a gradient on the layer mask, to remove the effect from the top part of the image. I pick a dark grey/white gradient, so that we remove the effect a bit from the sky

4. We need to increase micro-contrast now. Hitting Control+Shift+Alt+E stamps the visible layers. Now I use the Unsharp Mask dialog, with the following values: Amount 20%, Radius 50, Threshold 0.

5. Now it's time to make some decisions about color. This is largely a matter of taste. To my eyes, this scene needs a touch of red. You can choose to work with curves if you prefer, this time I'll use a Color Balance Adjustment Layer. I select highlights (keeping the 'Preserve Luminocity' ticked) and move the Cyan/Red slider to the Red side, +30. For midtones, I moved the Magenta/Green slider to the Magenta side, -17. And for shadows, I moved the Yellow/Blow slider to +15.

6. Post-Processing on jpeg files (like this one, from a micro 4/3 Olympus camera) can create artifacts, noise, or banding (posterization). Here, they are mostly visible on the sky - the large even surface. I want to correct them, so I hit Control+Shift+Alt+E once again, to stamp the visible layers. Then, I duplicate the layer (Control + J) and add a layer mask. On the top layer, I apply Gaussian Blur to smoothen the sky - I picked a small value, 2.0 pixels. Now, I use the mask to keep the effect only on the sky. Since there were no other items (like clouds or intervening trees) on the sky, it was easy to use a simple gradient (As you will see soon, I decided to remove the moon anyway)

7. I flattened the layers at this point. Then, using the healing brush tool, I removed the moon from the sky. Finally, I applied a light unsharp mask (amount 95%, radius 0.4, threshold 2)

The difference is significant, I would say:

And as I mentioned, this is something to consider for many other kinds of scenes that might look dull straight out of the camera. A similar procedure was applied to the following image. Again, the difference is stunning:

Left (before), Right (after). The difference in size/orientation is because I corrected a tilting horizon

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