How To Edit A Landscape Photograph In Adobe Camera Raw

In this tutorial, I’m going to show you how to edit a landscape image from start to finish. I’ll also go through the equipment I use and why I use them. To get started with the post-production side, you’ll need a computer with Adobe Photoshop installed. Download the latest version here. Now, you can choose your editing style if you’ve used Photoshop before, however, in this tutorial, I’ll show you my methods and practices for a landscape image.



Camera Raw


Before I start with any processing in Photoshop, I always process the raw image in Adobe Camera Raw to ensure I get the most out of the image. The benefits of raw outweigh the benefits of shooting JPEG by a long shot. With Raw images, you have full control over the exposure, shadows, highlights, tonal ranges, and overall quality of the image. With a JPEG, all those values have been flattened and cannot be changed once shot. I could go into a full overview of the benefits of raw vs. JPEG, but I’ll leave that for another day. So in reality, step one would actually be to shoot raw in the first place.



Now, once you have your raw image loaded in Adobe Camera Raw, have a look at the panel to your right, showing you all the values of your image. From the histogram at the top to the colour temperature, exposure, contrast, colour values and more further down below.




Exposure & Contrast



Let’s start by taking a look at the exposure of the image we’ve loaded. It’s well exposed for highlights and shadows, however, I’d like it to be a bit darker and moodier. In order to get that look I’m after, I’ll make the image slightly cooler by dragging the temperature slider to left. After that, I’ll drag the exposure slider down a notch and increase contrast. We don’t want to lose any shadow details, so I’ll increase my shadows slight to bring the exposure of the foreground back up. Once that’s done, I’ll move further down to the Blacks channel and use this in combination with the clarity and dehaze sliders at the bottom of the panel. Playing around with the Blacks and Dehaze sliders will effectively increase haze and, in this instance, increase the foggy and mysterious look of this image.







Once we’ve got the basic contrast sorted, let’s move on to colour.

Raw files in general are flat in terms of colour and contrast. This means we have to bring it back to the values that were true in nature or the subject we were photographing. Now, I’m by no means a purist landscape photographer, while I respect the work that goes into creating a true to life image, I do tend to bend the rules to suit my narrative from time to time. While we’re not going to do sky replacements or change the colour of the leaves from green to purple, I do tend to dramatise what’s already in front of the camera by accentuating contrast and colour and leading the viewer’s eye where I want it to go.


Scroll further down the Raw panel to reveal more settings. For this exercise, we are specifically going to look at three different options, the Color Mixer, Color Grade and Calibration panels to get the most out of this raw file. Let’s start with the Calibration tab. Open the tab to reveal the seven colour sliders.


I’m going to start by moving the shadows slider slightly toward the green. There is some beautiful green foliage in the shadows I would like to bring to life this way. Next up is the Red Primary. Move this up to the left to saturate the leaves on the ground slightly. Moving the saturation slider will increase the luminosity (brightness) of the red channel and increase the overall contrast of the image.


Next up is the Green Primary slider. There’s not a lot of green in this image, apart from the bushes in the foreground, but we’re going to bring more colour into those as well by moving the green slider to the left and increasing the contrast as we did with the Red Primary sliders.


Finally, we’re at the Blue Primary slider. Increase the contrast and saturation of the leaves by moving the blue primary slider to the left to introduce a more orange/yellow colour, while this would shift any blue you have in the image to a more teal look. This slider is often overused to introduce the Teal/Orange colour seen in many Hollywood Blockbuster movies (Thanks Michael Bay!).



It’s time to further tweak the colours to get even more out of the image. Head up to the Color Mixer tab and click on Saturation. Here we’ll increase the values of the colour channels slightly to introduce a bit more saturation. Once that’s done, click on the Luminance option and tweak those colour settings as well. Play around with each slider to see how it changes the overall colour and contrast and adjust to your liking.



The next step is completely optional, as we will now add a colour grade to enhance the mood and feel of the image. This is purely subjective and if you feel like your image doesn’t require this, feel free to skip to the next step where we introduce dodging and burning.

In the Color Grade panel, we’ll introduce a slightly colder feel to bring a darker, moody feel to this image. Colour grading is a great tool to introduce and aid visual storytelling in your image, and we’ll apply that to this image taken in dense fog near Painswick, UK (half expecting a headless horseman to come down the path at any moment). The Color Grade panel uses three different sliders, one for shadows, mid-tones and highlights. What you add is depending on the mood and feel of your image. In my image, I opted for a red/yellow in the shadows, blue/green in the mid-tones as well as the highlights. Green and blue tend to make the viewer feel cold and perhaps a little bit uncomfortable, while red is meant to bring more colour to the leaves on the forest floor.


We’ve now completed the colour and tone part of this image. Next up, I’ll add some layer masks to introduce localised contrast, in other words, dodging and burning.


Dodging & Burning


This is probably the trickiest part and a method where restraint has to be your main discipline. Going overboard introduces halos and breaks apart the colour and contrast of your image while using it with restraint to emphasize certain areas of the image will create a bigger impact and lead the viewer’s eye exactly where it needs to go.

The first step is to click on the Mask button, located on the toolbar on the right-hand side of the screen.




Clicking on the Mask button will open up a new panel full of options to create different masks, refine them and change how the image is changed within the masked area.

Let’s start off with a Linear Gradient Mask. We’re going to create two gradient masks, one to darken the foreground and one to bring more emphasis to the fog in the background. Click on the Linear Gradient Mask Option and hover your mouse at the bottom of the image, holding shift, click and drag towards the centre of the image. This will create a new mask that fades out as it reaches the centre of the image. It’s perfect for just gradually darkening the foreground slightly. This will aid in guiding the viewer’s eye straight down the path towards the fog.



We’ve only created the mask, while the image is still left unchanged. Next, we need to alter the exposure within this mask. We need to adjust the exposure (bottom right) just ever so slightly. Darken it too much, and it looks unnatural to the eye, however, just slightly decreasing the exposure will create a more pleasing effect. We’re going to do exactly the same for the top of the image, but instead of decreasing the exposure, we’re going to add dehaze and increase the black channel. Click on the Create New Mask button to create a new Linear Mask and hover your mouse over the top of the image and while pressing shift again, click and drag down towards the centre of the image. Head to the exposure and colour panels (bottom right), and take the Dehaze slider down to a negative value. Again, it’s important to practice restraint here as overdoing will again result in an unnatural looking image. Scroll back up to the Blacks slider and add a positive value to that. It’s important to find a balance between the Blacks and Dehaze sliders for best results.



Sticking to masks, we’re going to create some more localised dodging and burning down the pathway to lead the viewer’s eye down towards the background. Press the Create A New Mask button again, but this time select the Radial Gradient. With the Radial Gradient now selected, click and drag over a part of the image you want to brighten further. In this image, we’ll use the path as an example. Click and drag (not holding shift this time) and select the area you wish to brighten. Once selected, increase the Exposure slider slightly and scroll down to the Clarity slider (located above the Dehaze Slider) and add a positive value. Next, we’re going to repeat the process of creating a mask and brightening up an area, except this time, we’ll add a bit of brightness to the tree trunk to the right. Using the adjustments on the mask itself, we can rotate, enlarge, stretch or flatten the mask to fit the shape we are trying to mask.



Final Result

There you have it You’ve successfully edited a raw landscape image in Photoshop. You can now go ahead and either export this image as a JPEG or open it up as a Smart Object in Photoshop if you wish to add further adjustments, such as the Orton Effect, Sharpening and advanced Luminosity Masks.

If you’d like to see more tutorials on Photography (and perhaps some filmmaking in the future), please subscribe to my newsletter, follow me on Instagram/Twitter.