When shooting a landscape on a wind-free day, water acts as a mirror, adding symmetry to your composition. However, the reflection may not be as bright or clear as the rest of the scene, upsetting the balance.
When improving a waterscape’s colours and tones, you will need to make separate adjustments to the reflective areas to boost their differences in colour, contrast and detail. Fortunately, Photoshop Elements’ Adjustment Layers make this easy, giving you complete control over selective enhancements.
Our magnificent mountain is slightly washed out contrast-wise, and a little desaturated, while its more saturated reflection has lost some detail to the stronger foreground shadows. By brightening up the shot to reveal the reflection’s darker details, you run the risk of over-exposing the mountain’s brighter highlights.
Here, we’ll show you how to use Adjustment Layers to apply non-destructive colour and tonal edits, so you have the freedom to experiment with your image processing without permanently changing your original image.
By painting brush strokes on an Adjustment Layer’s mask, you’ll learn how to brighten the darker reflection without over-exposing the lighter areas. This selective adjustment will enable you to reveal more of the reflection’s colour and detail and get it to look more like the colours and tones of the original mountain, balancing the composition.
Step 1: Open the start file
In Photoshop Elements’ standard editing window, go to File>Open and browse to find your original image that you want to enhance.
The camera’s Auto White Balance (AWB) setting has added a cool blue tint to the shot, and the mountain contrast is a little flat. We’ll start by warming the scene up a little.
Step 2: Try Photo Filter
If it’s not already visible, go to Window>Layers to open the Layers palette. Go to the main menu bar and choose Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Photo Filter. A New Layer command window will appear. Click OK. The Photo Filter Adjustment Layer will now float above the image layer in the Layers palette.
Step 3: Warm it up
To produce a warmer hue, drag the Density slider up to 30%. This brings out some of the warmer yellows on the mountainside and the foreground reeds. As the blue sky doesn’t need to look much warmer, you’ll need to make a selective adjustment.
Step 4: Edit the mask
Click on the Background layer’s thumbnail. Grab the Magic Wand tool and set Tolerance to 35. Shift-click on the sky to select it, then click on the Photo Filter Adjustment Layer’s mask. Go to Edit>Fill Selection. Choose 50% Grey and hit OK.
Step 5: Selective warming
Press Ctrl+D to deselect the sky. By filling the Adjustment Layer mask’s sky section with 50% grey, you reduce the intensity of the Adjustment Layer by 50%, so the sky isn’t being warmed up as much as the mountain. The shaded refection’s sky is more saturated, so still looks nice and blue.
Step 6: Adjust tones
The mountain’s midtones lack contrast, so you’re losing delicate details. You can tease out these rocky textures with another Adjustment Layer. To create one, click the Create New Adjustment Layer icon and choose Levels. A new Levels Adjustment Layer will appear at the top of the layer stack.
Step 7: Boost midtone contrast
You can see from the histogram that the shot has a strong range of shadows at the far left and highlights at the far right. Drag the grey midtone slider to the right to darken the midtones. Now they stand out more against the highlights, revealing more texture.
Step 8: Before and after
Click on the Levels Adjustment Layer’s eye icon to compare the edited tones with the originals. The mountain’s contrast looks better, but its reflection is in the shade, so the tones in the water now look too dark. You can protect these tones from being darkened.
Step 9: Modify the brush tip
Click on the Levels Adjustment Layer’s mask. As there’s less contrast in the darker reflection it will be tricky to select with the Magic Wand. Instead, grab the Brush tool. Choose a soft round tip from the brush Preset picker in the options bar. Set Size to 700 pixels.
Step 10: Protect the reflection
Change the foreground colour swatch to black and click on the Levels Adjustment Layer’s white mask. Spray over the reflection. The black strokes will protect the reflection from the adjustment, and the white areas will only adjust the tones in the mountain.
Step 11: Enhance the reflection
To reveal detail in the reflection, create a new Levels Adjustment Layer. Drag the midtone slider left to 1.22. This reveals more detail in the reflection’s midtones. However, it also brightens up the correctly exposed mountain in the top half of the frame.
Step 12: Protect the sky
Click on the Levels Adjustment Layer’s mask and grab the Brush tool. Set the foreground colour to black and spray over the top half of the shot to stop the mountain and sky from being brightened. The mountain and reflection now have similar tones.
Step 13: Darken the sky
Click on the Background layer’s thumbnail. The reflected sky is now much more saturated than the original. To get a more balanced image, click on the Set Foreground Colour swatch in the bottom of the Tools palette to open the Colour Picker.
Step 14: Sample the water
Move the cursor over the reflection’s darker blue patch. Use the eyedropper to sample the saturated blue pixels. The Set Foreground Colour swatch will turn blue. Click OK. Click on the Gradient tool’s icon and then on the Gradient Editor at the top.
Step 15: Enhance the sky
In the Gradient Editor, click the Foreground to Transparent preset. Click OK. Create a new layer, then drag it to the top of the stack. Click and drag down from the top of the image to draw a gradient. Set the Blending Mode to Linear Light and Opacity to 45%.
Step 16: Boost colour selectively
The sky is more saturated, but you can make further adjustments. Create a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer, select Reds and boost Saturation to +31. Set the Yellows Saturation to +24 and the Blues to +25 to make the sky and reflection more vibrant.