Some days ago I posted this photo on my social media pages (Facebook, Google+ and Instagram) and also on 500px and Flickr. It got some great attention and I was really happy to see it go all the way to a Pulse 98+ on 500px – even tough 99+ would have been better 😉
Lately I have been getting requests on almost all the photos I have posted to make some workflow guides. So before I posted this photo I had planned that this should be the one that I would show a workflow of how I created.
Normally I flatten my images when I’m done with the post-processing, but this time I have saved all the layers so I could share the PSD file with you. You can download it at the end of this photo editing guide.
The first step in making a great photo is to take a great photo.
The most important part when you try to capture a high dynamic range scene is to get a good base exposure. I normally do that by setting my camera to manual and then using my cameras metering to guide me. You need to learn your camera’s metering to be able to perfect this. On most camera’s you need to underexpose your metering a bit if you have a very dark scene and vice-versa if it’s a bright scene.
Another important step when doing brackets is a good sturdy tripod. The more aligned your exposures are, the less chance there is to get ugly artifacts in your image when it gets merged by either Photomatix or Photoshop HDR Pro
The second step is to make the photo by post-processing it.
So how did I make this photo? Let’s get straight to it.
1 First I exported all the exposures to Photoshop HDR Pro from Lightroom. There I selected that I want it merged to a 32 bit file. After that you will be left with a pretty boring looking image in Photoshop – but don’t worry. When you save the image it will be imported back into Lightroom, and here the fun begins.
Now you have a tiff file with all that information from the 5 exposures. The first thing you will notice is that your exposure stops now goes from +10 to -10 (normally +5 to -5) – that’s 20 stops! And you will have a lot more information at each stop.
The rest of the sliders will also be able to pull way more information out of your picture when you adjust them.
Here is the adjustments I made for this image.
One important step is to pre-sharpen your raw’s, this will generally give a much better result at the end.
You can choose to edit it only in Lightroom and keep on tweaking the different adjustments – saturation, curves, local dodge and burn with the brush tool, and so on. But I like to take it to Photoshop at this point.
So by right clicking on the image and selecting ‘Edit in -> Edit in Adobe Photoshop CC’ I can choose to export with my Lightroom adjustments.
2 Now that I’m in Photoshop I always start out with cleaning up the image. In a landscape that’s typically involves removing dust spots and maybe even remove some parts of the landscape, to make it “cleaner”.
3 Now it’s time for some contrast adjustments. In this case I just used the Pro Contrast in Nik Color Efex.
4 By using Gradient Fill (set to ‘Screen’ blending mode) I could add some light across the scene, to really highlight the light falloff from the sun.
Pay close attention to how the gradient is made. You can use the same gradient in many sunset photos.
To make it blend more into the scene I use ‘Apply Image’ (‘Image -> Apply Image…’) on the mask.
5 Then I wanted to boost the contrast even more. I did that by making a stamp visible layer (Shift+Ctrl+Alt+E (Windows) or Shift+Command+Option+E (Mac)) and set it to ‘Multiply’ blending mode. The opacity needs to be dropped on this – around 20% is fine.
6 I then added some dodging and coloring to the highlights in the clouds. It’s simply done by sampling a warm color from the sun and then painting it over the highlights in the clouds with the brush. When you set the layer to ‘Screen’ blending mode and drop the opacity, it will blend really nice with the highlights in the clouds.
7 To enhance the saturation using LAB color space is a fairly new method to me. I first heard of it when I watched a workflow video made by Lee Varis. He explains how he can pull out more color data by increasing the contrast in LAB color space. You can watch this part of he’s video where he shows an example.
The LAB workflow for this picture is:
Duplicate the image (‘Image -> Duplicate’) and select the ‘Duplicate merged layers only’.
Then change the color space to LAB (Image -> Mode -> Lab Color’)
Add a curve adjustment layer and set it to ‘Soft Light’ blending mode.
Go to ‘Blending options’ for the adjustment layer. Uncheck ‘L’ under Channels.
Now you can add contrast to the a-channel in the curves. This will saturate your image.
Now simply flatten the image and drag and drop it to the original RGB edit while holding shift.
I only wanted this layer to affect the colors in the image, so I changed the blend mode for this layer to ‘Color’.
I also only wanted to saturate the bright parts of the image, so I used a luminosity mask to don’t make it affect the dark parts.
I will probably write a more detailed guide to use LAB color space to enhance your saturation when I get some more experience with it.
8 The next adjustments I make are somewhat self-explaining.
The sharpening is done with an action that Michael Woloszynowicz has made. It’s a bit more advanced to use, but it does a better job then a normal high-pass sharpening or unsharp mask does.
To learn more about this method please check out he’s guide.
So there you have it. That is how I created this photograph. I hope that you liked my little workflow guide and that you find it useful.
I would love to see some of your work. If you have any suggestions to something that could be done better or easier please leave a comment.