Light is the key component of all forms of photography. That’s because perfect focus and composition, and a great subject, are all for naught if the light is flat or dull.
Getting the light right is particularly critical when shooting landscape scenes that typically include a wide range of tones from deep shadows to bright highlights. In the quick tutorial below you'll see how to add interest and depth to outdoor images, by using Photoshop to “shape the light.”
German landscape photographer Christian Mohrle is one of our favorite image-editing instructors, and in this episode he explains a straightforward technique that dramatically improves the impact of travel and nature photos. His demonstration image is flat and rather boring, with minimal contrast, but he easily transforms it into something special.
Mohrle’s goal is to improve the visibility of both light and shadow areas, particularly in the foreground where patches of sunlight are a problem. The result of his method is a striking image with pleasing contrast and vibrance.
After changing the profile to Adobe Raw, Mohrle makes several basics adjustments to the overall scene. He modifies white balance to fix an objectionable color cast, while balancing overall brightness by increasing contrast, bumping up whites, and dropping the blacks.
Mohrle then turns to local adjustments to “shape” light in the scene, using a sky selection mask, a linear gradient over the dark clouds at the top, and another linear gradient over the dark patch in the foreground. The final step is to simulate light entering the frame from the right, and he employs a radial gradient to do that.
All that’s left is a bit of color grading to enhance the effect, and a quick cleanup with Photoshop’s Spot Healing Brush and Clone Stamp tool. Now the image is awesome.
You can find other great shooting and editing tips on Mohrle’s YouTube channel, so be sure and take a look.
And check out another powerful tutorial we posted for outdoor photographers, explaining how to shoot high-key, high-contrast nature and wildlife photos with the WOW factor.