Are blown highlights spoiling your landscape photography? Find out in this tutorial how you can use simple Photoshop effects like a Gradient Fill adjustment layer to get more balanced exposures.
When shooting landscapes, you can overcome the difference in light levels between a bright sky and darker terrain to produce an evenly exposed shot by using a graduated neutral density filter – also called an ND grad filter. If you don’t have one of these, don’t worry – you can reproduce the effect in Photoshop Elements.
The key to an effective ND grad in Photoshop Elements is to use selections, layers and gradients. The gradient will be on a separate layer, so you can easily adjust exposure to restore colours and details that are missing from an over-exposed sky.
In this Photoshop tutorial you’ll learn how to isolate the sky using selection tools, and how to apply a Gradient Fill adjustment layer to this selection. This will help darken the over-exposed sky at the top of the shot while blending it seamlessly with the shot’s correctly exposed clouds lower down.
You’ll also learn how to tint the gradient so that it contains the same colours as the clouds. This combination of subtly blended tones and colours will make the edited sky look natural.
As well as tweaking the sky’s colours and tone, we’ll show you how to make selective tonal adjustments to other parts of the shot to bring out texture and detail. We’ll also use layer masks to prevent the lighthouse from being altered by the gradient layer, and gently tweak its mid-tones with the Burn tool to make it look less flat.
How to rescue blown highlights in your landscape photography – steps 1-3
01 Adjust the mid-tones
Open your start image with the blown highlights. Click the Create New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers palette and choose Levels. Drag the grey Midtone input slider right to 0.70. This darkens the photo’s mid-tones, revealing more colour and texture in the over-exposed sky.
02 Select the sky
The sky adjustment works well, but the land is now too dark. We need to restrict the adjustment to the sky. Select the Magic Wand and set the Tolerance to 41. Keep Contiguous ticked. Hold down Shift and click the sky repeatedly until it’s all selected. Don’t worry if you include bits of lighthouse at this stage.
03 Fill the selection
To select the land choose Select>Inverse. Now click the white layer mask and choose Edit>Fill Selection. In the Fill Layer window set the Use drop-down menu to Black and click OK. The sky will remain in its adjusted state while the land gets restored to its original exposure.
PAGE 1: How to rescue blown highlights in your landscape photography – steps 1-3
PAGE 2 How to rescue blown highlights in your landscape photography – steps 4-6
PAGE 3 How to rescue blown highlights in your landscape photography – steps 7-9
PAGE 4: How to rescue blown highlights in your landscape photography – steps 10-12
PAGE 5: How to rescue blown highlights in your landscape photography – steps 13-15
PAGE 6: How to rescue blown highlights in your landscape photography – steps 16-18
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