Want to get the best out of your photos this year? Using one photo as an example — a photo I took in Paris with a Canon 5D Mark II to prove it can be done with a camera of nearly any age — I will show five easy tips that will make dramatic differences in your images.
Correct the exposure for the story you want to tell
To me, one of the best ways to get great results in landscape photography is to take three exposures instead of relying on one: a normal exposure, one that is overexposed to draw out more shadow detail, and one that is underexposed to allow highlights to have better detaili. Together, the three photos can work as a sort of “super RAW” file to play with. This technique is often either referred to as HDR photography or bracketing.
Here I want to tell a simple message: a nice, simple sunset. I like the idea of having the statue as a silhouette effect in the foreground element, as I think it is really contributing to the aesthetic of the photo.
Adjust the white balance for aesthetic
Depending on the software you are using to develop your photo, you can use presets for white balance and you can start with those. However, I really advise you to manually set the white balance with the right temperature and tint so that you can recreate the feeling and emotion you had while taking the photo. To me, doing this is key to staying realistic and using the correct colors so as not to distract your viewer from your visual message.
Don’t overuse clarity and saturation
I used to commit this mistake a lot and oversaturated my photos with lots of clarity. I thought that doing so would make my photos spectacular but what ended up happening is that people noticed that I was “good at Photoshop” instead of focusing on the photo, which was my intention.
Now instead of boosting the Clarity slider, I tend to do some minus clarity on the overall photo, and maybe with a brush I will boost a little bit of clarity on some parts, but that’s it. The same goes for saturation: you need to make sure that your viewer can fully experience the colors and be as captivated as you were when you took the photo.
Adjust Hue sliders to your liking
Using hue sliders is key when you want to nail the color and really tailor your photo so that you recreate the colors that were there when you hit that shutter button. Cameras continue to get better at capturing true-to-life colors and exposure, but they are still far from matching the human eye and many times, the photo just doesn’t quite have the visual impact that looking at a scene in person did. The goal is to try and get your photo to look as close to your memory of the scene as possible.
I advise you to not go over 40 on the Hue slider because it can create some weird colors, but otherwise, you can enhance some magenta or orange if you are developing a sunset shot.
Use the local tools to guide the eyes of the viewer
To me, this is the most important point. When done correctly, it makes a huge difference between an “okay” shot to a real, fine art photograph.
Use gradients to close your photo so the eyes of your viewer are drawn into your main subject. You can use a radial circle to enhance the sun itself and with a brush, you can bring back some light and details of some parts of your photo and hide some other parts of the photo.
One thing you can do is once you are happy with the retouching of your photo is that you can copy your settings and paste them onto your underexposed photo (depending on the look you are going for) and with some very basic retouching you can also get a great result, sometimes with less noise as well.
I hope those tips were useful to you and that you will be able to implement them in your retouching workflow!
About the author: Serge Ramelli is a landscape and fine art photographer who has published numerous books on the subject. His fine art photography has been sold in one of the largest gallery networks in the world. Ramelli hosts a YouTube Channel where he teaches photography and editing techniques which you can subscribe to here.