When you shoot in RAW you’re taking full advantage of what digital photography has to offer in terms of versatility. With this file type good images can become great, and even problematic shots can be rescued. With control over exposure, tonality, color and much more, RAW is the perfect option for landscape photography.
Shooting long exposures with a 10-stop ND filter – aka a Big Stopper – attached to the lens is incredibly popular for shooting landscapes. But if you’ve ever shot with one you’ll be familiar with the strong color cast they create. For this reason many Big Stopper shots are converted to mono so they don’t have to deal with the color cast, even when shooting in RAW. But this is a limiting way of working.
Long exposure images in color are particularly eye-catching because of how infrequently you see them. The secret behind correcting colors is simply using manual white balance. This will produce natural-looking results in just a couple of minutes. And for professional-level exposure control, the Graduated Filter Tool and Adjustment Brush are a must. With these you can apply precise adjustments in localized areas of your images. They’re so good, once you start using them you’ll never stop.
1. Make basic global adjustments
Open your RAW image in Photoshop, and the Adobe Camera Raw dialogue window will open. Set Contrast to around 50 before increasing or decreasing Exposure as required. With our waterfall image the increase in exposure overexposed the highlights, so we dragged the Highlight slider to the left to recover detail. Shadows were increased to +30 to recover detail in the darker areas of the image.
2. Manually control white balance
To remove a color cast created by a 10-stop ND filter, drag the slider in the opposite direction to the color you’re aiming to remove. So, to remove a blue cast drag the Temperature slider right to add yellow. Our image has a strong magenta cast so we first adjusted the Tint to -11 to add green. We then dragged the Temperature slider to 3900 to neutralize the yellow cast by adding blue.
3. Finalise global adjustments
For landscape images where color and detail are so important, it can be beneficial to use the Clarity, Vibrance and Saturation controls to enhance the images. Clarity controls midtone contrast, and is excellent for accentuating detail. We set this slider to 20. Increasing Clarity too much can result in an unnatural look, so use it with care. To improve the colors in the image, we increased Saturation to +10.
4. Create a Graduated Filter
Click on the Graduated Filter icon at the top of the Camera Raw window or press G. Left-click your mouse just above or below your image, hold down Alt to keep the Graduated Filter straight, and drag into the image. Now you can use the controls on the right to apply adjustments. We increased Exposure of the foreground to +0.65. The Graduated Filter can be repositioned and adjustments can be changed at any time.
5. Lighten Shadows in a localised area
We’re going to create a Graduated Filter again, but this time to recover detail in a dark shadow area. In our shot the dark area top-left is at an angle, so we dragged the filter over this corner without pressing Alt. This allows you to apply freely at any angle. For our image we dragged the Shadows slider to +55 and the contrast slider to +10 to eliminate the lack of clarity that occurred when the shadows lightened.
6. Use the Adjustment Brush
Click on the Adjustment Brush icon at the top of the Camera Raw window or press K. When the controls show on the right, scroll down and make sure Show Mask is checked. Now when you paint over areas of the shot to be adjusted you’ll see a mask. If you make a mistake hold down Alt and paint over the offending area. Once happy, uncheck Show Mask and apply the adjustments. We set Exposure to +20 and Saturation to +15.
If you prefer to follow a video guide for this tutorial, watch below:
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