In this article we shall go through a basic 7 step post processing routine that I personally follow for my landscape photos. Please note – this technique does not involve any local adjustments, though it is highly recommended that you attempt a few to tweak your images to closely match what your vision was. Please also note – this is not a full-proof method, just one way of doing things. This is something that I personally follow to process my images, that is, if they don’t require local adjustments like dodging and burning. This method uses Adobe Lightroom 5 but earlier versions of the software should be able to replicate all of the steps mentioned herein.
Having imported the image to Lightroom step 1 is to do a lens profile correction and eliminate any chromatic aberrations as well. Click the Develop module and bring the image up for correction. Before changing anything select a Profile for Camera Calibration. By default it is set to Adobe Standard. I prefer Camera Standard.
Next, scroll all the way down to Lens Correction and Check ‘Enable Profile Corrections’ and ‘Remove Chromatic Aberrations’. Most wide angle lenses tend to suffer from what is known as barrel distortion and it is imperative that you follow this step to eliminate this issue.
Next come up to white balance. This is where you can adjust the white balance setting and or give the image a tint. But I prefer to start with the Exposure slider first. Sliding the Exposure Slider all the way to the right will increase exposure and vice versa. In this image I prefer to slide the Exposure Slider to around – 0.40. It tends to give that mysterious look to the image while retaining the textures in the clouds.
Slide the Contrast slider all the way to the right. This again is a subjective thing and it works for me this way and for this particular image. Next is the Highlights slider. The Highlights slider is pulled all the way to the left. This cuts down on the glare that comes from the center of the image where the sun would be. It also balances the overall exposure together with the Shadows slider which is also pulled down all the way to the left. You will notice that I am deliberately trying to give the image a bit too much of contrast, which is what I had in mind when I captured the image. It kind of gives the image a sharp edgy look, which I like.
White’s slider is also pulled down all the way to the left. Blacks Slider is pulled to the right just a bit, toabout +26. I intend not to get too much of detail from the shadow side as I will lose the contrasty look and remember I am not going to use any HDR methods for developing this image. I don’t mind a bit of shadow in the image. This is how I saw the scene and this is how I want it.
At any given point if you would like to check your progress press ‘\’ to see the before and then press ‘\’ again to see the current view.
As you can see already the image is looking a lot more dramatic than what the camera was able to capture. Good thing though that I shot in RAW as it allows me to do thesechanges without losing any information. All the changes that I do are saved in a separate .xmp file in the same folder. If I don’t like the changesI can simply reset everything and start over.
Now is the turn of the ‘Presence’ sliders. First up is Clarity. I have pushed the Clarity Slider all the way to the right. Again, this is in line to the ‘edgy’ look that I am after. If you love a slightly softer look keep the slider at about three quarters to the right. Too much to the left and the image will appear as if it is a painting!
Notice that I have pushed the Vibrance slider all the way to the right as well. It helps to bring out the colors. However, I have left saturation to the default middle position as tweaking it makes the colors unrealistic. There were also some patches of blue sky in between the grey clouds which can now be spotted.
Adjustment Brush tool. Though Lightroom isn’t my preferred tool for local adjustments, for this exercise the tools in Lightroom are more than enough to demonstrate what I am trying to convey here.
The thing about Adobe’s powerful editing software is that you could do the same thing with more than one combination of tools. Thus, what I am going to divulge here isn’t the best or the only method. There could be other methods just as well or more effective.
Ok, the Adjustment Brush tool looks like a magic wand and is located at the top far right of the tools panel. Click it and you are presented with a series of options. Dial in the settings you want. Select a size of the brush by rolling the mouse scroll wheel up or down (bigger / smaller). Now’s the time to make some changes.
What can you do with the Adjustment Brush tool? A lot really. E.g., you can change the exposure and bring more details out of the shadows, change the contrast, give certain areas of the image more tint and so on. Like I have increased the exposure of the beach bringing more detail out of the shadows. I have also brushed the buildings at the far left corner and brought more details by increasing the exposure.
Noise reduction is an important aspect of post-processing, especially in an image like this where a lot of detail has been recovered from the shadows. As you are aware the more you bring details out of shadows the more noise your image is susceptible to.
I start with the Luminance slider. Enlarge the image and isolate a section you recovered some detail from. Drag the slider towards the right and watch how magically noise gets eradicated from the image. I want to retain some amount of detail so I resist from dragging the slider all the way to the right. I leave it at 51. I drag the color noise reduction to 50 as well. Another way to do this by pressing down the alt key and dragging the sliders till you find that the levels are acceptable. I prefer to trust my eyes.
Straighten and crop the image. Since the horizon line is bang down the middle of the image, I don’t quite like it that much. It is against everything that I preach about the horizon line. If you notice closely, the horizon line is also crooked. So, let’s correct it now.
Next click the Crop Overlay tool. It will now show a number of new options. Click on the Ruler symbol which is the Straighten Tool. Click and drag a line between two points on the horizon line. The image will automatically straighten. Click on Done to accept the changes.
As I always do. At this point I shall shut off my computer and come back after a few hours to recheck the before and after results to see whether I had pushed things a bit too far. I suggest you do the same. If I like what I see, I shall make any final adjustments which may be well be zero. I can then go straight into copyright information to close the processing and make the JPEG.