Landscape Composition and Retouching Secrets Part 2 of 2

Every day you are walking past places that hold amazing compositional opportunities hidden within them. Read this article to find out how to start capturing these hidden masterpieces.

Hello again! If you haven’t read Part 1, then you are missing out on a great joke I told at the beginning of the article, but more importantly I pull back the curtain and expose one of the wizards of Landscape Photography Composition, but I’m not in Kansas, I’m in Florida. (You know…the Wizard of Oz?)

In Part 2 I’m going to show you how to retouch the photos I took in Part 1 and make them look like this using Adobe Lightroom!

If you want the RAW files for this tutorial and all my other free presets and goodies, just subscribe to my newsletter here. You can also follow along on my video tutorial for this lesson here.

Step 1. Adjust the Highlights and Shadow. I open up the shadows and bring down the highlights and this helps bring a lot more visible detail into the photos.

(If you’ve read my tutorials or watched my videos, you know this is part of my workflow. You can get a more complete statement on why I do this in almost all my photographs by reading this how to article here. )

Step 2. Adjust the Whites and the Blacks. Then I do my whites, I hold the alt key while I move the cursor to the right until I see some whites dots. I then do the same thing for the blacks I hold the alt key while I move the cursor to the left until I see some black dots. This again helps ensure that I’m not clipping information and losing details into the whites and blacks.

(If you’ve read my tutorials or watched my videos, you know this is part of my workflow. You can get a more complete statement on why I do this in almost all my photographs by reading this how to article here.)

Step 3. Adjust White Balance . For the white balance I go to the Basic tab at the right side of the Lightroom interface and I start experimenting with the drop down menu to see what looks best. And for this photo I love what Lightroom’s Shade white balance setting does adding to the mood. But also because it was sunset, I add a little bit of magenta to make it warmer and give a nice hue to it: 

Step 4. Punch up the clarity and vibrance . I add some clarity and vibrance to help make the colors and the crispness of the photo begin to take on an almost surrealistic feel.

Step 5. Adjust exposure. Go to Lightroom’s Basic Tab and lower the overall exposure to help create the mood.

Step 6. Apply Lens Corrections. I go to the lens correction section and select enable profile corrections and remove chromatic aberration:

Step 7. Apply Sharpening.
For the sharpening I put the amount at 92:

Step 8. Apply these settings to the other photo. I took two photos that I wanted to stitch together to create one wide semi-panoramic shot. And now that this photo is retouched I want to do the same on the second photo. But I don’t want to do it all manually. So I select both photos and press Sync> Check All> Synchronize:

Step 9. Stitch the photos together in Photoshop and create the panorama. Now that both photos are retouched the same way I select both of them and use the mouse to right click and choose Edit In> Merge into Panorama in Photoshop.

Once I am in Photoshop I select Auto in the Layout> Blend Images Together> and choose OK:

Here is what Photoshop did with the two photos:

Now I go to the Photoshop drop down menu at the top of the interface and choose Layers> Merge Layers to make the panorama into one layer:

Next I press command J to duplicate the layer and I make the bottom layer invisible:

I press command T for the free transform tool and in pressing the command key I am dragging the corner of the photo upward to fill the space, like so:

I’m trying to stretch this so that I have the branch higher up and helping make a frame within a frame composition. Then I press enter.

Next I take the crop tool and crop the photo so there is as little blank space around the edges as possible:

Once I have it set I press enter.

You can see that on the top of the photo there is a small blank space so I take the Photoshop Magic Wand tool and try and do some magic with it:

Make sure that the check box for Contiguous at the top of the interface is on and select the blank space. Next we are going to grow this selection by going to the Photoshop Select drop down menu at the top and choose Select> Modify> Expand:

I am going to expand it by 20 pixels.

Now I am going to Edit > Fill> and choose Content Aware. Sometimes the results can be amazing and sometimes not so amazing with Content Aware. Often if you just change your selection slightly and try again you can get what you are looking for the second or third time around if you aren’t happy with initial results.

But in this case it did a great job!

If you take a moment now and look at the photo you can actually see the composition and I think I nailed it for this scene. We have a strong foreground element with a nice vertical line as well as a very strong horizontal line that helps focus the attention on the lake in the background.

Step 10. Save it and go back into Lightroom. I go to the Photoshop File drop down and click Close. And then select save in the pop-up window and now I am back in Lightroom!

I am now going to double process this photo. What does double process mean? It’s a super complex highly incredibly specialized photography term that only the inner circle of secret society photographers know. Just kidding, it means we already processed the photo once, and now we are going to do it again. Double (two) process. Get it?

Step 11. Double process the photo. So again I work my way through the Lightroom settings on the right side of the interface. I lower the exposure, add clarity, add vibrance, and open up the shadows:

Step 12. Apply a gradient filter. I want to close the photo and focus the attention towards the middle of the scene so I use a gradient filter on the top and the bottom of the photo and lower the exposure within these which darkens the edges.

Step 13. Recreate the sunbeams to complexify the light. Again this is where we as photographers have to capture hyper-reality. And really, recreating sunbeams is one of my big retouching secrets and you’ll see why when you see the before and after on this.

There were actually a lot of sunrays coming through but we can’t really see them on the photo. So I am going to recreate them with a brush. For this brush I boost the exposure and add some yellow and red to match the warmth:

Make sure that the flow and density of the brush is at around 60. So now I just brush over the photo:

I try to make the light more complex and to recreate what I saw.

This is before the sunrays:

This is after the sunrays:

And this is the final result for today. Really the last thing to do is similar to how you make a great pancake or waffle. Once you have prepared the mixture, walk away from it for a little bit and let it rest a little bit. Then come back to it with a fresh set of eyes. Look and see if there are any other things you want to do to make it a more pleasing photo. I’m talking about the photo now but you are imagining pancakes and waffles. Me too actually, I think I’m going to go make one!

I hope that you learned a lot today with this article and just to re-iterate what I said in Part 1: I know many people see really beautiful photos and think that the photographer must fart magical fairy dust that somehow miraculously gives them amazing compositions. Well, it’s not true! Often it’s taken a lot of work, a lot of walking and testing angles and positions and lenses resulting in dozens or even hundreds of photos to find the perfect composition for a given shot. It’s hard work, and that’s what distinguishes the professional from the amateur: are you willing to put in the hard work to get the professional result?

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter here to get all the RAW files and other free goodies! Thank you for your support and Au revoir!

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