Give lacklustre landscapes a lift by adding a texture in Photoshop
Kingsley Singleton demonstrates how to transform a flat landscape by making sweeping changes to the lighting, contrast and colour.
LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY covers an enormous spectrum, as there are many styles in which you can indulge your creativity. At one end of the scale, photographic purists do little to their images in Photoshop, perhaps just tweaking colour alone. At the other end, dramatic changes can be made to the original photo, giving a highly dramatic, fine art look that’s perhaps closer to a painting in style.
They’re both perfectly legitimate, but here we’ll embrace the latter, using an image that’s quite flat and working on the lighting, contrast and colour to create an impactful result. A large part of this fine art landscape technique has its roots in traditional hand printing, with its reliance on lightening or darkening an image selectively, just as the purists’ favourite, Ansel Adams, and his contemporaries did. The modern method of using Layers and Masks to do it is, of course, far more accurate and adaptable. Washes of colour and texture complete the look.
For this image, I used a picture of a lighthouse, and you’ll need to find or shoot something with a similarly strong subject. The rocky texture used was also taken in the same location, so it feels appropriate to the scene, but you can use paper textures to the same effect.
1 Crop to square
Open the image and click on the Crop Tool in the toolbox, or press C. In the Options bar, click on the list of aspect ratios, choosing 1:1 from the list. Now position the cropping marquee over the image using the corner and side handles. Using the overlay guide (which can be set in the Options bar), position the subject on one of the thirds and click the tick.
2 Darken the image and start masking
Open the Layers palette
(Window>Layers) and click on the Create new fill or adjustment layer icon. Pick Curves from the list, then drag the curve down in the middle. Click at the top of the curve and drag that part down too, as shown. You’ll see that the Curves Adjustment Layer has a Layer Mask attached. The mask will be active by default, illustrated by having a frame around it. To work into the mask freehand, click on the Brush Tool in the toolbox (or press B), then in the Options bar click the Brush Preset picker and set a large Size with Hardness set to 0%. Set Opacity to 100%, then press X to set Black as the colour. Paint onto the picture to start masking, running the brush over the subject to bring the original lightness back there. As you go on, lower the Opacity to get a softer join.
3 Mask the subject
Add another Curves Adjustment Layer in the same way as before. This time, for a bit more control over the lighting changes, mask more accurately using a smaller, harder Brush.
Back in the Options bar, reduce the Size (here to 25px), and set the Hardness to 80%, Opacity at 100% and painting black, run the brush along the edges of the subject.
If the edges are straight, like the lighthouse here, you can click at one end of an edge, hold Shift and click at the other end to draw a straight line. Work slowly and carefully, and if you make a mistake, press X to switch to White, then paint out the error. Try not to leave any scruffy areas at the edges.
4 Complete the masking
Some detailed areas may be tricky, like the chains around the top of the lighthouse in the example image. To deal with areas like those, try softening the edge of the Brush Tool, and also lowering its Opacity to around 40%, then running the brush over them several times. This will build up the mask in shades of grey for a more graduated look.
When you’re done with the detailed masking, you can check you haven’t missed any bits by holding Alt and clicking on the Layer Mask to see a full-screen preview. Fill in the gaps then Alt-click the mask again.
Next, go back to a larger, softer brush and soften the edges where the subject meets the landscape. So here, for example, I painted along the join between the lighthouse and the rocks.
BEFORE Above Using simple masking techniques to control contrast, as well as tweaking the colour and adding texture, can give a painterly, fine art look to your landscapes.