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.

Practical Photography (UK) - - Welcome -

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.

Right This tech­nique works best on land­scape im­ages with a strong sub­ject, like this light­house. You’ll need a tex­ture to com­plete the look too.


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