Arriving at a Final Landscape Image
I’ve received plenty of requests from readers asking for me to document my editing workflow. It makes sense that this is a popular request because photo editing software can be a little overwhelming, there are so many levers to pull that you can quickly find your photo looking nothing like it did in real life. Most of my experience editing photos has been of Landscape photos edited using Lightroom, so my Lightroom workflow highlighted here mostly applies to that. (If you need tips for taking better Landscape photos read this post I wrote)
My overall goal when editing landscape photos is to represent what I witnessed in person while also emphasizing something that stood out to me in the picture. That maybe the color of the sky or the architecture of a building but I like to highlight these special features when editing. My advice to you is to take a mental picture of the same landscape pictures as you are taking them with your camera. This is going to be easy or hard depending on your photographic memory. When editing, try and recall your mental picture and keep referring back to it with each editing step. I’ve found that this method is superior to sliding settings back and forth constantly saying “oh that looks cool, right?”.
I’ve found that in order to get the best landscape photos it’s best to underexpose your scene. It might look odd when you are reviewing your pictures on your camera but underexposed landscape photos have yielded better photos for me after editing them. I think the reason behind that is it’s much easier to pull out detail from shadows than it is to emphasize the detail in highlights.
This original picture was taken during Sunrise in Palm Beach, Florida. When shooting sunrises I’ve found that the light is best 5-10 minutes after sunrise (which is right when this photo was taken). For some reason I haven’t learned my lesson and I’ll generally take 50-100 photos as the sun is peaking out from the horizon.
Gradient Filter #1
When shooting straight into the sun it’s inevitable that the sky will be much lighter than the foreground of your photo. I’ve found Gradient Filters to be my #1 trick when editing landscape photos. When editing, I’ll use one Gradient Filter to reduce the exposure of the sky and the other to increase the exposure of the foreground. In this case I reduced the exposure of the sky by -0.6 and I also enhanced the color of the sky by making it more orange.
Gradient Filter #2
The second Gradient Filter was used to bring out the foreground of the photo. I increased the exposure by 0.5 and also gave the ocean a nice orange tint to complement the colors of the sky that reflect off of the water. This was a subtle change but effective change, notice how all of the sand is glowing, not just the direct reflection of the sun.
If you are new to Gradient Filters you can view videos on YouTube covering how to use the Gradient Filter on Lightroom. I like this video.
After finishing the Gradient Filters I could have stopped there but normally I like to play around with the Basic adjustments in Lightroom. I decided that I liked how the photo looked a little darker so I bumped down the exposure -0.25.
Standing for Hue, Saturation and Luminance these are settings that I doubt many people have checked out. I’ve found that they are really great for helping you achieve the colors that you remembered witnessing in person. You can also use these settings to create something completely different than what the scene looked like. Hue adjusts the color of the light, for instance, what the software picks up as Orange could be manipulated to make it look more Yellow or more Red. Saturation controls the richness of the color. Finally, Luminance is essentially how much the color glows.
I’m a fan of Saturation (sometimes I have to remind myself to tone it down a little bit). For this photo the only real change I made was increase the saturation of Orange and Yellow.
Before And After
Sunsets and Sunrises (especially over water) are very basic photos to edit. The straight lines and lack of obstacles makes these photos ideal for Gradient Filters. Not all photos work well with Gradient Filters so if you need to adjust the exposure of a certain part of the image, your best bet is to use the Adjustment Brush.