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Post-Processing in Photoshop

STEP ONE:

Whether it’s a dusty sensor or rain on the front of your lens (as was the case here), spots or specks in your photo will immediately appear magnified in the tone-mapped image. While they’re distracting in an otherwise normal picture, they scream, “Look at me!” in a tone-mapped image. So, let’s take care of those first. Now, when you look at a photo full screen, it may look good, but you also may see a host of problems when you zoom into it. So, you should always zoom in to 100% to get the best idea of whether the image needs a little bit of spot work. When I zoomed in here, I saw all of the distracting areas shown circled here in red. Ouch!

STEP TWO:

For fixing spots on a background, the Patch tool (press Shift-J until you have it) does very well. Sometimes, it can be a little repetitive, though, so here’s a quick tip to help you: Instead of making one selection and dragging it immediately to patch, press-and-hold the Shift key after your first selection is made and then make another selection around another spot. This way, you can select a series of spots and, once you have all of them selected, you can then drag them in one fell swoop to get rid of them.

STEP THREE:

Now, you’ll notice that tone mapping an image can introduce a bit of color contamination in some areas. When things you expect to be a certain color look different, it automatically makes the viewer question the authenticity of the image. So, a small adjustment can go a long way here. In this image, the color in the mountains is looking a little electric, so we’re going to need to fix that.

STEP FOUR:

Go ahead and add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer (we covered this on page 64). In the Properties panel, click on the Targeted Adjustment tool (TAT, for short; it’s the hand icon near the top left of the panel). With this tool, you can click-and-drag on any area in your image that you think needs a color change. So, click on the mountain and drag to the left. You’ll see that the yellows in the image are desaturated, making the mountain color look a little more believable. The overall color of the image was still a little too saturated, so I then switched the pop-up menu back to Master and dragged the Saturation slider to the left a little.

STEP FIVE:

While it’s easy to make this hue/saturation change to the color, keep in mind that this color change is global—the white layer mask that appears in the adjustment layer reveals the color change throughout the image. Now I want to make a change to the sky color, but I only want to apply it to that portion of the image. So, create another Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and click on the TAT in the Properties panel. Now, click on any of the blue sky area in the image and drag to the left to desaturate it.

STEP SIX:

Next, let’s change the hue of that blue a little bit by pressing-and-holding the Command (PC: Ctrl) key and dragging to the left. You’ll see the Hue slider change, affecting the sky color.

STEP SEVEN:

Once that’s set, make sure the top Hue/Saturation adjustment layer’s layer mask is selected in the Layers panel (it should have a border around it), and then press Command-I (PC: Ctrl-I). This will invert the mask to black, hiding the entire effect. Get the Brush tool from the Toolbox (B), choose a soft-edged brush from the Brush Picker in the Options Bar, and then set it to a low Flow (also in the Options Bar). Now, press X to set your Foreground color to white, then paint the color change back in only in the sky area.

STEP EIGHT:

While a tone-mapped file can certainly provide a lot of contrast in images, there are times when you’ll want some portions of the image to pop out more than others. Curves adjustment layers are a great way to do this. A simple S-curve and a layer mask, and you’re good! In this image, I’d like to brighten up the cloud areas, as well as darken up some of the mountains to provide a little bit of texture. We’ll start with the clouds. So, create a Curves adjustment layer. Then, in the Properties panel, you’ll see the TAT near the top left of the panel. Click on it, and then click on a portion of the image you want to lighten—in this case, the dark area of the clouds. Drag up and the clouds will brighten.

STEP NINE:

Like before, invert the layer mask and paint back in the effect only on the darkest portion of the clouds by using a soft-edged, white brush with a low Flow setting.

STEP 10:

We used a Curves adjustment layer to brighten a portion of the sky. Now, let’s apply the same concept to darken the mountains. Create another Curves adjustment layer, and then click on the TAT in the Properties panel. Click on a portion of the image you want to darken—in this case, the bright part of the mountains. Drag down and the mountains will get darker.

STEP 11:

Then, invert your top Curves adjustment layer’s layer mask and paint back in the effect on some of the mountains. Don’t paint over too much of them—you want there to be patches of dark and light to match the sky above. This will also give the picture a lot more texture. Save the file, and you are finished.

If you got this far and thought to yourself, “Is it this easy?” Surprise! It absolutely is. The techniques are the same, but the results you get will be transformative!

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