How to Give Your Landscape Photos Extra Punch in One Easy Step

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Have you ever felt that your landscape photography is missing a little punch? You look at other photographers’ images and their colours have a very appealing amount of contrast. But no matter how much you play around with HSL (Hue, Saturation, Luminance), Contrast, Vibrance or Saturation, your colours just don’t get the same depth and contrast and end up looking fake and oversaturated.

The quality of the lens being used affects color greatly (more expensive lenses generally give a much better colour contrast than entry-level lenses). But there is a step that you can do when post-processing your recent landscape photos to give the colours an extra little bit of punch and contrast and more importantly, keep them from looking overcooked.

before-after

Color space

You may be aware of a term Colour space which essentially determines how devices represent colour. The two most common colour spaces are Adobe RGB and sRGB. Adobe sRGB is used on the web and for many smart devices. Adobe RGB is a little bigger than sRGB and can show more colors. However, these are not the only colour spaces around. Lightroom, for example, uses one of the largest (able to produce a larger amount of colours) called ProPhoto RGB.

But enough about colour spaces! I can already see your eyes glazing over, mine are already as I type this. But knowing that there are different colour spaces can be helpful. Knowing exactly how they work isn’t necessarily all that important.

Convert to Lab Color

The colour space that you’ll want to recognize is LAB Color. How does it work? Doesn’t really matter. But how can you use it give your images that extra punch? In this article, I’ll explain how a very simple step (and I mean simple!) that will help give your images that extra punch using the LAB colour space in Photoshop.

Okay, so first up you’re going to want to bring your image into Photoshop. Before you do this, you may need to develop the image a little in Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom. Fix up any exposure issues, correct the white balance, etc.

This is the image that I’ll use as an example.

before

This image has had very little done to it prior to Photoshop. A simple crop, general contrast and exposure correction were all that was applied.

Now that your images is open in Photoshop, the very first thing you need to do is convert it from Adobe RGB or sRGB (depending on what you have set as the working colour space in Photoshop) to LAB Color.

To do this, go to: Image > Mode > Lab Color.

The tick next to RGB Color means that Adobe RGB is currently being used.

The tick next to RGB Color means that Adobe RGB is currently being used.

Now Photoshop is using LAB instead. You won’t notice a change at all at this step because nothing has changed on your end. All you have simply done is tell Photoshop which method to use to display colours.

Add a Curves Adjustment Layer

With your image in LAB Color, the next step is to create a Curves Adjustment Layer. Once this layer has been created, you should see something like this:

lab-curves1

Generally, this doesn’t look any different to any other Curves Adjustment Layer except for one thing. Instead of having RGB in the drop down menu, you will see Lightness.

With this adjustment layer created, the next step is to click on the Lightness drop down menu. This brings up Lightness, A, B; which is what LAB is short for!

lab-curves

Adjust Channel A

Now, you need to select the A-channel. With the A-channel selected, bring in the shadows anchor point at the bottom-left corner toward the bottom-centre. You will notice the Input numbers increasing from -128. As a starting point, I like to bring this value to -100. Now, find the highlight anchor point (top-right) and bring that toward the top-centre by the same value; for -100 set it to 100.

Notice the anchor points have moved toward the centre equally?

Notice the anchor points have moved toward the centre equally?

You’ll notice strange things happening to your colours as you slide the anchor points along. Don’t panic – this is supposed to happen.

Adjust Channel B

Now do the same steps by the same values for both shadows and highlights for the B-channel.

Same steps have been done for Channel B

Same steps have been done for Channel B

NOTE: make sure your Output value remains at -128 for the shadows and 127 for the highlights. If these numbers are altered it means that the anchor point is being lifted from the bottom for shadows and dropped from the top for highlights. You just want to drag the sliders along horizontally (not move them up or down).

With both A and B channels having been done now, the colour and colour contrast of your image should look different from the original. This is how my original image looks after these steps.

This is after setting A/B shadows to -100 and highlights to 100.

This is after setting A/B shadows to -100 and highlights to 100.

Fine tuning

For me, that is looking a little overdone. But no problem! To change this, all you have to do is reduce the amount you moved the anchor points in both A and B channels. I generally find going by increments of 10 is most helpful.
If you feel your image needs more punch, then you will want to bring the anchor points closer to the centre. Just remember to keep each value across the shadow/highlight, A/B channels the same.

After increasing the numbers in my images, I felt that -110/110 in A/B worked the best (see below).

after-110

Convert back to RBG

Once you are happy with how your image looks, it’s time to change it back to RGB. To change your image from LAB to RGB, go to: Image > Mode > RGB color.

change-to-rgb

You’ll be alerted that changing modes will discard adjustment layers, but that is fine. Select OK and you’ll be brought back into RGB. You’ll notice that the Curves Adjustment layer is now gone and that your image is now the background layer. However, the effect on the colours should remain. Now you’re free to go about editing the photo as much as you like.

So that’s a very simple technique to add more colour punch in your images. Just remember these two points:

  • This is something that you should do at the beginning of editing your image in Photoshop and not the end as you will lose all your adjustment layers when changing modes.
  • Remember to alter the anchors points from A/B b by the same value to eliminate strange things happening to your colours.

Read more from our Post Production category

Daniel is originally from Melbourne, Australia, but now resides in the UK. He specializes in sport and editorial photography and is a photographer with the worlds leading digital content suppliers. You can see more of his work by following him on Instagram.

  • Joseph Moore

    In practical terms, Lab is not a color space. It does not define the range of possible colors. Lab is a color model…it’s a way of describing and manipulating the properties of color. You don’t even have to convert to Lab to define colors that way, no more than you have to convert to CMYK to do so.

  • “Adobe sRGB is used on the web and for many smart devices.” – Completely inaccurate. That’s SRGB.

    Lab is a color model, not a color space. Color space should be kept as wide as possible while editing (proPhoto) and then exported in the correct space depending on output (print – Adobe/proPhoto, web – sRGB).

    We have a million better ways to add “pop” to an image that are non-destructive (unlike this), allow for more control and promote less image degradation.

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    One year ago I finally quit my previous job and that decision was a lifechanger for me… I started doing a job from home, for a company I stumbled upon online, few hours each day, and I earn much more than i did on my previous work… Last check i got was for $9k… Awesome thing about it is the more free time i got with my kids… http://korta.nu/MDe

  • Bill McKenzie

    I’ve used this technique before and really like the effect. Thanks for the reminder on how to use it.

  • Michael_in_TO

    Hey Daniel, I almost never learn ANYTHING (in this blog) I haven’t seen before or use in my everyday life as a photographer and constant photoshop user (since 1987!). But you just taught me something for which I am grateful. Gotta make an action to do this!! Thanks Daniel for taking the time to share this. Pay no attention to James L below (I agree with your descriptions of sRGB and AdobeRGB1998 (which is what I use so I do not run into printing issues with the wider gamut ProPhoto (which teases with an often un-printable screen depiction))). Not a single reader here distinguishes between “colour model and colour space”!!! They just want to see the results. Utter nonsense for the purposes of THIS discussion. Thanks again Daniel!

  • Hi Joseph. Thanks for the comment! Yes, you are correct in what you are saying. However, I did preface in my article that this was not about colour spaces – and by extension, colour models – and how they work. For the vast of majority of readers, knowing this information just isn’t going to be a huge benefit.

    This article was about how using curves in LAB can add extra colour contrast, without producing over-satuturated colours.

  • Thanks for the correction, James. However, as I said in a previous reply, this article was about one method to add extra colour contrast and not about explaining the workings of colour spaces, and by extension, colour models.

    As with many things in Photoshop, there are always more than one way to do something; as I’m sure you’re aware. This is just one way, among many. If people decide to use this method, fantastic! If not, that’s their choice…

    Thanks for the comment!

  • Thanks Bill! Always good to be reminded of techniques, isn’t it?!

  • Many thanks for the comment, Michael! That’s what I love about photography; no matter how long you’ve been doing it etc, there’s always some little thing here and there that you can pick up.
    I agree with your points in your comment, too!

    Cheers!

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  • 1861man

    Something that I have not seen before so glad to have it explained. Cheers

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  • Yannick Naets

    This was the most usefull article I read so far! Great help, great result! Thank!

  • David Blacker

    thanks, Daniel. interesting technique. i like it. one minor point though: when i switch back to RGB from LAB, and the curves layer is discarded, the changes go with it. i had to flatten the file in LAB mode before switching back to RGB.

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