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How Scott Kelby Saved a Sorry Looking Landscape Shot Using His 7-Point System

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Best-selling Photoshop author Scott Kelby can fix any photo with his revolutionary 7-Point System for Adobe Photoshop CS3. In this sample chapter, he works his magic on a less-than-lovely landscape shot.
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Landscape, Page, Arizona

It doesn’t look like it, but I took this shot right around dusk on my way to a tiny airport in Page, Arizona, to meet my buddy Matt’s flight. When I opened it in Photoshop, I was surprised to see it didn’t look nearly as warm as it did when I took the shot, and I was disappointed that the water looked so, well...lame. We’ll use the 7-Point System to fix the exposure and color balance problems, but we’ll use a good ol’ bit of Photoshop magic to make the water look the way we wish it had.

  • ADOBE CAMERA RAW PROCESSING
  • CURVES ADJUSTMENTS
  • SHADOW/HIGHLIGHT
  • PAINTING WITH LIGHT
  • CHANNELS ADJUSTMENTS
  • LAYER BLEND MODES & LAYER MASKS
  • SHARPENING TECHNIQUES
  • Step One. Here’s the original, unadjusted image opened in Camera Raw. Now, normally we would start by adjusting the white balance for the image, but in this case the photo is so underexposed that we’ll need to fix that exposure problem first, so we can clearly see the white balance changes we’re making.
  • Step Two. Start by increasing the Exposure setting to around +1.25 to brighten the highlight exposure. Now that you’ve got a better exposure, you can go back and adjust the white balance. In this case, to make the photo look a little warmer, drag the Temperature slider to the right (as shown here, where I dragged it to 6100).
  • Step Three. The photo looks pretty flat, so to increase the saturation in the color and make the shadows richer, drag the Blacks slider to the right until the shadow areas look good to you. I like really rich shadows and nice saturated colors, so I dragged the Blacks slider to 25.
  • Step Four. Although the highlights and shadows look much better, increasing the shadows that much made the mountains at the back of the lake too dark. Luckily, that’s an easy fix—just drag the Fill Light slider to the right until those mountain areas lighten up (I dragged it over to 17).
  • Step Five. Now that we’ve made all these adjustments, the image looks much better, but now it looks a little too dark overall. So, we’re going to go back and increase the overall exposure just a little bit by dragging the Exposure slider to the right (as shown here, where I increased the Exposure setting from +1.25 to +1.45). The photo looks pretty decent at this point, so click the Open Image button at the bottom of the window and we’ll continue on in Photoshop.
  • Step Six. Once the photo’s open in Photoshop, we’re going to deal with the next thing we wish were different—the water looks boring. It’s not glassy enough to give us a good reflection, and it doesn’t have enough ripples or waves to look interesting. It’s just incredibly “blah” water, but you’re going to fix that. Get the Rectangular Marquee tool (M) from the Toolbox and make a selection from the bottom of the mountains (right where the mountains meet the lake) on up to the top of the screen (as shown here). Basically, you’re selecting the top two-thirds of the photo—just make sure the bottom of your rectangle is right along that lake line (as seen here).
  • Step Seven. Once your selection is in place, press Command-J (PC: Ctrl-J) to put that selected area up on its own separate layer. Now press Command-T (PC: Ctrl-T) to bring up Free Transform, then Control-click (PC: Right-click) within the selected two-thirds of your image and choose Flip Vertical from the contextual menu.
  • Step Eight. This flips your layer vertically (as seen here). To lock in your flip, just press the Return (PC: Enter) key.
  • Step Nine. Switch to the Move tool (V), press-and-hold the Shift key, and drag this flipped layer straight downward until the top of that layer meets the bottom of the mountains, which creates the “reflected in glass-like water” look you see here. By the way, the reason we held the Shift key when dragging was to keep your image perfectly aligned while you were dragging it.
  • Step 10. Go to the Layers panel and hide that flipped layer from view by clicking on the Eye icon in the first column. Now, you’ll need to put a selection around the lake, and you can use any selection tool (or tools) you feel comfortable with. I used the Magnetic Lasso tool (press Shift-L until you have it), which did a pretty good job of selecting the lake for me. You just click once on the edge of the lake (I started on the lower-right side), then release the mouse button and move slowly along the edge of the lake, and the tool snaps to the edges as if it was magnetic (that’s how it got its name). Once you’ve gone all the way around the lake, you’ll probably have to go back and add in any little areas the Magnetic Lasso tool missed by pressing-and-holding the Shift key and using the regular Lasso tool (press Shift-L until you have it) to add in this area. To remove any areas that got selected that you didn’t want selected, press-and-hold the Option (PC: Alt) key and draw a selection around those areas until just the lake is selected (as shown here).
  • Step 11. With the top layer still selected (your flipped layer), make it visible again by clicking where the Eye icon used to be. Your selection will still be in place (as seen here).
  • Step 12. Now, at the bottom of the Layers panel, click on the Add Layer Mask icon (as shown here), which masks your flipped reflection of the sky into the lake selection (if you look in the Layers panel, you’ll see the black mask added to your layer). So now you’ve got beautiful reflective water in the lake, and you can flatten the image by choosing Flatten Image from the Layers panel’s flyout menu.
  • Step 13. Let’s now darken the top of the sky as if you had used a neutral density gradient filter on the photo when it was taken (this is my way of saying, “I should have used a neutral density gradient filter when I took the photo”). Return your Foreground and Background colors to their default black and white settings by pressing the letter D on your keyboard. Then, click on the Create New Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel (it’s the half-black/half-white circle) and choose Gradient. When you do this, it darkens the ground and gradually lightens as your gradient moves up to the sky. This is exactly the opposite of what you want.
  • Step 14. What you want is a darkened sky graduating down to the ground, where your gradient is 100% transparent. To do this—to reverse your gradient—just turn on the Reverse checkbox in the Gradient Fill dialog (as shown here) and click OK.
  • Step 15. Now, to get this gradient to blend in with your photo, at the top left of the Layers panel, change the blend mode of the Gradient Fill layer to Soft Light (as shown here).
  • Step 16. Once you change the blend mode to Soft Light, you’ll see the image again—your sky is much darker up top, and it gradually lightens as it moves closer to the ground and the bottom of your image area. If it looks too dark, you can always lower the opacity of this Gradient Fill layer at the top right of the Layers panel.
  • Step 17. Go ahead and flatten the document by clicking on the triangle at the top right of the Layers panel and choosing Flatten Image from the flyout menu. Now when I look at the image, it looks like the mountains are a little too dark. If we lightened them, not only will it make them stand out more, it will separate them visually from the reflection in the lake. (Note: Whenever I do a reflection technique like this, I usually either darken the reflection or lighten the subject—in this case the mountains.) We’re going to use Photoshop’s Shadow/Highlight control, but we’re going to turn it into the next best thing to an adjustment layer so we can paint with light using the brightened version of the photo. To do this, start by going under the Filter menu and choosing Convert for Smart Filters.
  • Step 18. Once you convert your Background layer for Smart Filters, go under the Image menu, under Adjustments, and you’ll see that almost everything is grayed out, except for Shadow/Highlight.
  • Step 19. Choose Shadow/Highlight and it brings up the Shadows/Highlights dialog (seen here). Adobe assumes that if you need this dialog, you need your shadows opened up, so by default it opens up the shadows by 50% (which, to me, usually seems like way too much). So, lower the Shadows Amount to 0%, then slowly drag the Shadows Amount slider to the right until the mountains start to lighten and more details are clearly visible (as shown here, where I dragged it to 17).
  • Step 20. When you click OK, it applies your Shadow/Highlight adjustment as a Smart Filter. If you look in the Layers panel, you’ll see that a layer mask has been added below your photo, but it’s tied to that layer (that’s the way Smart Filters work). The Shadow/Highlight control brightened the shadows in the entire image, and we only wanted to lighten the mountains. So click on the Smart Filters thumbnail to select it (you’ll see a black outline around the corners) and press Command-I (PC: Ctrl-I). This inverts the mask to black and covers the Shadow/Highlight effect, which lightened your shadow areas (so, now your photo looks just like it did before you applied the Shadow/Highlight adjustment).
  • Step 21. Now you’re going to apply those brightened shadows only to the mountains by revealing the brighter version using a brush. Start by pressing X to set your Foreground color to white and pressing B to select the Brush tool. In the Options Bar, click on the brush thumbnail and choose a small, soft-edged brush from the Brush Picker. Start painting along the mountain line in the photo, being careful not to paint on the water or sky—just carefully paint over the row of mountains (as shown here).
  • Step 22. Once those mountains look brighter and their shadows more open, flatten the image (choose Flatten Image from the Layers panel’s flyout menu). We’ve done all of our edits at this point, so now all we have left to do is apply our sharpening. Go under the Filter menu, under Sharpen, and choose Unsharp Mask. This is a landscape shot with lots of well-defined edges, so you can get away with some nice crisp sharpening. Try Amount: 120%, Radius: 1.0, and Threshold: 3, and then click OK.
  • Step 23. Once the sharpening has been applied, go under the Edit menu and choose Fade Unsharp Mask. When the Fade dialog appears, change the Mode to Luminosity (as shown here) to apply the sharpening to just the luminosity in the image, rather than the color (it’s the color where most of the sharpening problems occur). The final before and after images are shown below.
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