How to edit landscapes: get extra detail from shadows, midtones and highlights

How to edit landscapes: get extra detail from shadows, midtones and highlights

In our latest Raw Tuesday tutorial we’ll show you how to make adjustments to your landscapes in Adobe Camera Raw to get a well-exposed shot with more detail in the shadows, mid tones and highlights.

How to edit landscapes: get extra detail from shadows, midtones and highlights

By shooting your landscapes in raw format, you can give yourself a safety net that enables you to take a more relaxed attitude to setting your shutter, aperture and even white balance settings while on location.

Thanks to the extra information about colour, exposure and tone that’s packed into every raw format file, you can adjust your landscape with ease without jeopardising image quality.

Raw files are much more forgiving than compressed JPEGs when it comes to clawing back detail lost in the shadows – or rescuing textures in apparently blown-out highlights.

If you push a JPEG too far, you’ll end up adding unwanted artefacts, such as noise or halos, to the shot. In a compressed JPEG, there’s less information to work with, so existing artefacts such colour fringes caused by chromatic aberration are much more difficult to remove.

Raw files give you more editing options, which is why it makes sense to shoot in this superior format. You can always downgrade a raw file to a JPEG, but you can’t go in the other direction and upgrade a compressed JPEG source photo to a high-quality raw format file.

In this tutorial, we’ll take a fairly well-exposed landscape and tweak its attributes to give it a wider contrast range, more vivid colours, and restore detail hidden in the midtones and highlights. Follow these simple steps to make a good shot look even better.

How to edit landscapes in Adobe Camera Raw

How to edit landscapes in Adobe Camera Raw: step 1

01 Open your RAW file
Open your landscape in the Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) editor. By default, Photoshop tries to produce a wider tonal range of shadows and highlights by setting the Contrast to +50 and Brightness to +25. This can cause the cloud highlights to lose a bit of detail, so set Brightness, Contrast and Blacks to 0.

 

How to edit landscapes in Adobe Camera Raw: step 2

02 Boost exposure
You can now see the raw file as it was originally shot. The histogram has plenty of information at the left (shadows) and the middle (midtones). There aren’t as many pixels towards the far right (highlights). Our landscape is slightly underexposed. To brighten up the image, drag the Exposure slider to +0.80.

 

How to edit landscapes in Adobe Camera Raw: step 3

03 Clobber clipping
Click on the Highlight Clipping Warning triangle at the top-right of the histogram. The brightest highlights show up as red patches. These blown-out areas will print as pure white. To restore this highlight detail, drag the Recovery slider to 16. The red clipping warning patches will vanish and you’ll see more detail.

 

How to edit landscapes in Adobe Camera Raw: step 4

04 Fill in the midtones
Now the shot looks brighter and the contrast is less flat. The bridge is a prominent feature and consists mainly of midtones. Reveal the texture in its midtones a little more by dragging Fill Light up to 12. The midtones in the distant tree line are a little washed out, so gently darken them by dragging Clarity to 27.

 

How to edit landscapes in Adobe Camera Raw: step 5

05 Increase the blacks
For an even more striking contrast between shadows and highlights, increase Blacks to 4. This darkens the blackest shadows. Create a wider range of tones by sliding Contrast up to +13. The histogram looks more balanced, with plenty of tonal information in the shadows, midtones and highlights.

 

How to edit landscapes in Adobe Camera Raw: step 6

06 Vivid colour
To give your landscape a final polish, you can boost its desaturated colours and ensure that your final print has plenty of punch. The Vibrance slider enables you to enhance typical landscape colours, such as blues and greens. Whack it up to +63 to produce colours that are much more vivid.

Final Tip
Sharpening increases the contrast around the edge of pixels, which helps to give the shot more impact. Click on the Detail tab. Use the Zoom tool to view the shot at 100%.

The finer branches in our shot look a little soft, so drag Amount to 49. To keep the delicate branches looking sharp, move Radius down to 1.0, or you risk them looking woolly. Protect the smallest details by dragging the Detail slider to 23.

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