Ansel Adams has had a tremendous lasting effect on photography. In this tutorial we’ll show you how recreate the classic look and feel of an Ansel Adams landscape in Photoshop.
When we talk about great landscape photographers, Ansel Adams has to be the first name on the list. His starkly beautiful images of the American wilderness displayed flawless technique and a uniquely crafted vision.
Most of his work made use of monochrome film; lens-mounted filters (usually yellow or red) to emphasise skies; and darkroom techniques that added contrast and controlled detail.
All of these great effects are simple to recreate. The first step is to convert our image to mono. Some methods for this are better than others. The best tools give you control over the brightness of individual colour ranges in the image during the mono conversion.
One such tool is the HSL panel in Camera Raw. Just as Adams used filters, we can use HSL to control colour brightness for a dramatic sky. Our technique differs slightly from the normal approach to Camera Raw mono, in that we’ll use HSL’s saturation sliders for greater control.
In the zone
Adams’ prints were painstakingly crafted using his Zone System to ensure the best gradation of tones. Similarly, we can use Photoshop tonal tools to ensure we have rich shadows and delicately detailed highlights. Adams wasn’t adverse to a little dodging and burning, despite his emphasis on ‘pure’ photography, so we’ll follow suit.
How to make an Ansel Adams landscape in Photoshop: steps 1-9
01 Fix the fringing
Download our start image and follow along! Navigate to our tutorial image in Bridge, right-click and choose Open in Camera Raw. We’ll start by quickly fixing the fringing you find in areas of high contrast, such as where the mountain meets the sky. Click the Lens Correction panel on the right, then go to the Colour tab and tick Remove Chromatic Aberration.
02 Remove the colour
Click on the HSL Panel, then go to the Saturation tab. Drag all eight sliders back to -100. The reason we’re removing colour like this rather than ticking Convert to Grayscale is that this way we can use the Temp, Tint, Saturation and Vibrance sliders to fine-tune the look of the black and white later.
03 Darken the blues
Click the Luminance tab, then use the sliders to change the brightness. We want to darken the sky and lighten the foliage, so set Oranges to +84, Yellows to +65, Greens to +54, Aquas to -65, Blues to -58 and Purples to -58. Use the Targeted Adjustment tool to drag over the image to change colours.
04 Add a grad
Grab the Graduated Filter tool from the Toolbar, then click and drag down from near the top of the image towards the middle. Hold Shift as you drag to keep the line vertical. Next, go to the Graduated Filter sliders on the right and set Exposure to -2.30. Make sure all the other sliders are set to their default values.
05 Set white and black
Click the Basic panel. Set Contrast to +18, Shadows to +24 and Clarity to +18. Hold Alt and drag the Whites slider right until you see areas appear in the image. Set the Whites to a point just before the areas appear, at about +17. Do the same for the Black slider by dragging until the areas disappear at about +10.
06 Play with temperature
Now we can use the Temperature and Tint sliders to fine-tune the black and white conversion. By dragging the Temperature slider to the left, we can shift the colours, which results in a different black-and-white look. Next, set Temperature to 5900 and Tint to +22.
07 Increase the saturation
We can also use the Saturation and Vibrance sliders to vary the contrast and intensity of the mono effect. Set Vibrance to +18 and Saturation to +58. The changes are quite subtle, but add to the control you have over the look and punch of the black-and-white effect.
08 Add more punch
Click the Tone Curve panel and go to the Point tab. Click to add one point near the top right of the diagonal curve line, and drag up to lighten the image. Add a second point near the bottom left of the line and drag it down to darken the shadow tones, increasing contrast.
09 Paint an adjustment
Grab the Adjustment brush from the Toolbar. Paint roughly over the mountains and the foreground. Use ] and [ to resize your brush as you paint and press Y to toggle the mask overlay on and off. Set Exposure to +25 and Clarity to +42 to change the area covered by the mask.
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