Embracing the power of creative post-processing can transform your landscape photography from dull and lifeless, to lustrous and vibrant overnight!
We’re acutely aware that the preceding statement reads suspiciously like the voiceover script for a ‘next generation, nano-organic hair care’ commercial, but it’s true – digital post-processing can be a transcendent experience for your landscape images.
Sunset over the Mount Egmont from Wai-iti Beach, Taranaki Coast, New Zealand (by Sarah). Post-processing doesn’t always have to be complex to be effective. This image has received some basic adjustments to color, contrast and exposure to enhance its visual impact.
Why we need to post-process our landscape images
In the days of film photography we never performed any post-processing on our landscape images. Doing so entailed spending a small fortune on drum scanning and knowing someone with access to a supercomputer. Most landscape photographers were restricted to capturing everything in-camera and living with the results.
That state of affairs meant we needed to make decisions in the field that had permanent repercussions;
- Which film stock and ISO to use?
- Which color filters to apply?
- How to achieve perfect exposure?
It is likely fair to assume that, for most dPS readers, film photography is either a distant memory or something that needs to be looked up on Wikipedia. We digital landscape photographers can gleefully wallow in the knowledge that RAW image capture and robust digital workflow allows us to make most of these decisions from the comfort of an office chair well after the time of capture.
The problem with RAW capture is that it usually produces really, really bland and unappealing images straight from camera. If you want to maximize the visual impact and creative options contained within a RAW file you need to post-process your images. It’s that simple.
Sunset at Gentle Annie Beach (by Todd) West Coast, South Island New Zealand. This scene has all the ingredients of a successful landscape image, interesting visual elements, motion, and a nice blend of textures throughout the scene. However, the RAW file delivers an image that is bland, cold and lacking in contrast. Some simple post-processing of a single image file in Adobe Lightroom has resulted in an image that is visually inviting and makes the most of the tonal and color data contained within the image file.
Lake Matheson and the Southern Alps at dawn (by Todd). Three distinctly different results were achieved from this one (bleak looking) RAW file! Long gone are the days where your creativity is restrained by in-camera results.
Two types of post-processing
In our latest dPS eBook Loving Landscapes – a guide to landscape photography workflow and post-production we break down landscape photography post-production into two distinct approaches:
- Single exposure post-processing
- Multiple-exposure post-processing
Let’s take a quick look at these two different approaches enhancing landscape photos.
Single exposure post-processing
As you will have figured from the name, this approach creates the finished image by processing a single image file. This is primarily accomplished within Lightroom and is the simplest approach to post-processing – if you read our first eBook, Living Landscapes, you will know that we love simplicity, particularly when it comes to post-processing!
We always attempt to capture a scene in a single file if possible, as it reduces the time spent in front of a computer and introduces less technical barriers to creativity than are found in multiple exposure post-processing.
Lake Alexandrina (by Sarah). Single exposure landscape photography offers huge creative scope. Combining in-camera single exposure techniques such as long exposure with post-processing (black & white conversion) can create results that are stunning.
Multiple exposure post-processing
Occasionally it is impossible, for technical or creative reasons, to achieve the desired result with a single image file. Cue multiple exposure workflow – where the final image results from processing and merging elements from two or more image files. Multiple exposure landscape photography is a significantly more complex approach – both in the field and during the post-processing workflow. We use a combination of Lightroom and Photoshop to combine multiple images into a single final result.
One of the most common uses of multiple-exposure post-processing for landscape photography is exposure blending – where two or more exposures are combined to overcome high dynamic range in a scene.
The dynamic range of this high contrast scene (image above) exceeded the camera’s capabilities. Exposure blending allowed us to create a technically excellent result from two exposures. We detail three different approaches to exposure blending landscape scenes (including the making of this image) in Loving Landscapes.
Misty sunrise at Castle Hill (By Sarah). HDR is another multiple exposure post-processing approach that resolves technical limitations as well as offering creative options.
In addition to providing solutions to technical challenges, multiple exposure landscape photography allows creative options that are simply impossible to achieve in a single frame. A good example of this is the merging of ‘best elements’ from multiple shots of the same scene taken at different times. This allows us to composite different elements together to create an image that exceeds the results achievable in a single exposure.
Lake Pukaki (by Todd), merging best elements in this scene allowed us to combine the best sun starburst and clouds, with the most dramatic waves and shoreline from the field sequence (of over 20 images). Covering the sun in another frame also allowed us to minimize the appearance of lens flare on the cliff face.
Give it a go!
Post-processing opens up a world of creative opportunities that allow you to better express your vision of the world around you. The technology is there, it is easy to use and the results can be spectacular – why wouldn’t you want to post-process your images?
Post-processing may seem a little overwhelming at first – and it can be – but you don’t require an art school diploma to start making dramatic improvements to your images. Our oft repeated advice is to keep it simple when you are starting out. Take the time to learn about the post-processing tools that affect the fundamental variables of photography: color, exposure and contrast and your images will improve dramatically.
Once you have those mastered, start experimenting with more complex tasks in Lightroom’s wonderfully non-destructive editing environment (there is nothing that can’t be undone in Lightroom) before transitioning to the more complex realm of multiple exposure Photoshop.
We hope that this has been of interest to you and we look forward to your feedback in the comments section.
*Note: photo-puritans can still experience some of the old school ‘thrill’ of making a finished image in-camera by shooting in JPEG-only mode. All of the color, tone and quality decisions can be set by messing around in the bowels of your camera menu. These settings are then baked into the finished JPEG, leaving much less scope for post-processing than with RAW capture. Why anyone would choose to do this deliberately is unclear – apparently, some folks love a challenge.
Check out the newest dPS ebook – Loving Landscapes A guide to landscape photography workflow and post-production – a brand new dPS ebook by the authors of Living Landscapes
Table of contents
- 5 Tips for Setting the Focus in Your Landscape Photography
- ADVANCED GUIDES
- CREATIVE TECHNIQUES
- The Power of Post-processing for Landscape Photography