Watch video: Make the colors in your landscape photography sing
At first glance a freshly shot landscape may appear more muted than you expected, but there’s often a whole heap of color info in there just waiting to be teased out. In this tutorial we’ll look at how to make the colors in your landscape images sing – but rather than applying a uniform saturation boost to the scene, we’ll instead make a series of targeted edits that are tailored to specific areas.
We can make use of Photoshop CC’s array of intelligent selection tools, not least of which is the Select Sky command, which isolates the sky for us. Once done, we’ll use the Curves command to boost tones and colors. Not only can we use Curves to add punch, we can also target the red, green or blue channels and use them to subtly shift the colors in the scene.
This is where Adjustment Layers come in. When we add an Adjustment Layer the active selection is converted to a layer mask, which enables us to make a local adjustment. It’s this combo of Adjustment Layers and Masks that makes editing landscapes in Photoshop such a joy, as we have complete control over the changes we make.
At any time we can change the area that’s affected by altering the layer mask, or change the strength of the tonal change by tweaking the Adjustment Layer settings. Get to grips with this workflow and you’ll be able to make precise, targeted color enhancements to your landscapes, whatever the scene.
01 Target the sky
Open the landscape_before.jpg image, then go to Select > Sky. Go to the Layers panel, click the Create Adjustment Layer icon and choose Curves. We can drag the curve line up or down to change brightness or alter color channels. The Red channel controls the red / cyan shift, Green shifts green / magenta, Blue shifts blue / yellow.
02 Add a Curves layer
Drag the bottom left point on the curve line inwards as shown to darken the sky. Next, go to the RGB channel dropdown. Select Red, then drag down on the red line slightly to add cyan to the sky. Then you want to target the Blue channel. Drag the bottom left point upwards to intensify the blues in the sky.
03 Enhance the tree line
Highlight the bottom layer, then go to Select > Color Range. Use the eyedropper to sample the yellows in the trees, then adjust fuzziness until you have a precise selection of the trees. Once done, add another Curves layer. This time plot an S-shaped curve to boost contrast and saturation in the tree line.
04 Boost the water
Highlight the bottom layer again, then grab the Object Selection tool from the toolbar. Drag a box over the water to select it. Add a Curves layer and plot a bottom-heavy S-shaped curve line, as shown, to boost contrast and deepen shadows. Target the Red channel, then drag the top right point down to add cyan.
05 Reduce the haze
Grab the Quick Selection tool and paint over the mountains to select them. Use the Select and Mask command to improve the selection edge if needed, then add a Curves layer. Make another S-curve as shown, then go to the Blue channel and drag the bottom left point inwards to reduce blue in the shadows.
06 Give the rocks some punch
Select the rocks in the foreground with the Object Selection tool, then add a Curves layer and plot an S-curve to boost contrast. Next, add a Hue / Saturation Adjustment Layer. Hold Alt and drag the mask from the curves layer below onto the new layer to copy it over. Increase Saturation to boost the rocks.
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