Basic Landscape Editing Techniques

After several people asked about my editing style and techniques, I decided to make a  brief tutorial on how I manipulate my landscape photographs in order to bring out the color and detail of the beautiful landscapes. Editing used to be something that I struggled with, but once you get the hang of things and understand what each tool is properly used for, it isn't so daunting. Now, editing is one of my favorite pastimes and is a total stress reliever. 

The most important part of manipulating photographs is shooting the initial scene in RAW mode. RAW is a file format that captures all image data recorded by the camera sensor when you take a photograph. When shooting in a file format like JPEG, lots of image information is lost due to compression. RAW files allow a photographer to bring out all the colors and details that the camera captured when shooting the landscape. This helps to have a seamless editing process.

In this brief tutorial, I will show you a basic editing process that I follow for quick fixes. I use Lightroom CC for my RAW editing and then Photoshop CC to resize for web and place my watermark. Keep in mind that some photos require spot fixing and more time tweaking to make the image look realistic. For this fix, we will use strictly Lightroom.

Here is an image of Mt. Rainier as seen from Reflection Lakes at sunrise. When I took the image, I wanted to expose the mountain properly because it is the focus of the image. In doing so, the foreground was under exposed quite a bit due to the lack of light. Here is what the shot looked like straight off of the camera.

The first step for this image was adjust the exposure because I felt like the image as a whole was a bit dark. I added +.5 to the Exposure slider in Lightroom (see image below). 

After I adjusted the exposure, I brought the Highlights slider to -100 because the sky was overexposed. You won't always need to bring it too -100, but for this image it was what it required. Bringing the Highlights down darkened the sky and took away the bright white tones in the sky and mountaintop- just what I was looking for.

Now that the mountain and sky are starting to look better, I focus on the foreground. I started by bringing the Shadows slider up to +90. This lightened the dark areas, or shadows, and made the green trees start to pop. Be very careful with the Shadows slider. If you camera does not have a large enough dynamic range, bringing the shadows up too high can yield very grainy results (also known as noise). In this case, my camera was able to handle the +90 Shadows without adding much grain at all. See the photo below for how the greens are brightened.

Next, you may notice the shadows area that I recovered look a bit flat. At this point, I like to play with the contrast a bit. I actually prefer not to touch the actual Contrast slider. In order to add better contrast, I use the Whites/Blacks sliders. I moved the Whites to +10 and the Blacks to -40. You will notice that the trees and mountain have gained a bit of contrast to make it look more realistic with the depth in colors (see image below). 

Finally, I like to make the colors pop. If you bring the color sliders up too high, you will see the colors begin to blow out and this will look extremely unrealistic. Be cautious with the color sliders. I normally don't like to move the color saturation sliders above +50 and find that I am normally satisfied around +30. 

After the above adjustments, I got a result that I was satisfied with. Below you can see the before and after results with the newly added tweaks. These simple adjustments of the sliders took me about 5-10 minutes and reached a product that is beautifully exposed. The photo is now something to be proud of.

I hope that you found this quick tutorial helpful. Remember, this was a very brief adjustment to the photo and Lightroom has hundreds of other sliders to use. This will hopefully get you started when editing landscape photos with simple exposure changes. Once you familiarize yourself with Lightroom, you can start using the Brush tool to spot treat problem areas and dive into other features like Sharpening and Lens Correction. I'd be happy to write a tutorial on this in the future. 

Please feel free to contact me if you have any further questions or if you need clarification on anything that I have talked about in this tutorial. Happy editing!