There are all kinds of excuses for unappealing landscape photos: The sun is too bright, weather is awful, no clouds in the sky, dull, drab light—just to name a few. But if you’re serious about photography, and know your way around Photoshop, it’s time to stop complaining and transform these duds into something really special.
In today’s tutorial from German pro Christian Mohrle you’ll learn his workflow for turning a sow’s ear into a silk purse with a little help from Photoshop. His demonstration image in an uninspiring seaside shot that we recommend downloading with the link beneath the video, so you can make the changes yourself as he explains the straightforward steps.
Mohrle’s goal for this transformation is to give the boring image a dark and gloomy appearance full of drama. The first step in the process is to change the profile from Adobe Color to Adobe Standard. This immediately lessens contrast and slightly brightens up the dark shadows.
The next steps involve a few basic, global adjustments to the image, which are accomplished in Photoshop’s Basics panel. Mohrle drops the overall exposure, further brings down highlights for more details in the sky, and opens up the shadows a bit for more details in those areas too.
Mohrle also slightly increases the whites to give the image more life, and after a few additional simple tweaks the image is much improved.
With the preliminary enhancements out of the way it’s now time for selective adjustments that provide the look he’s after. Mohrle’s first objective here is to darken the top portion of the sky, while leaving the area near the horizon quite bright. To accomplish this he turns to Photoshop’s masking panel and demonstrates how its done, using a Radial Gradient with a nice round edge that matches the area to be adjusted.
Mohrle then adds a Linear Gradient to the very top of the image to further refine the result. A second Radial Gradient is employed to add a subtle glow to the middle of the scene. A bit more fine tuning, and he turns to simple color grading and sharpening.
All that’s left is a bit of cleanup, and careful dodging and burning using a TK plugin that’s available in a free version. After comparing the before/after images we think you’ll agree that the transformation is quite impressive. You can find more great editing tips and tricks by visiting Mohrle’s instructional YouTube channel, so be sure to do that when you have time.
We also suggest watching another tutorial we posted earlier, with a very helpful beginners guide to shooting dramatic long-exposure photos.