Have you ever been browsing through 500px wondering “what do I have to do to get my landscape photos to look like that”?
Well, the good news is that its probably a lot easier than you think – and you don’t even need plugins, presets or actions to do it.
So in this post, I am going to share my twelve step process to editing landscape photography.
The 12 Step Program for Editing Landscape Photography
1. Start With a Good Landscape Photo
It is very important to understand the goal of post-processing landscape photography before you get started.
You’re trying to enhance your photography. You are not trying to fix your photography.
In other words, you have to start with a good quality photograph – something that is interesting, with good light, atmosphere and composition that’s sharp and clean. It also really helps if you’re working from a RAW file.
If you want to know what I mean, these two articles might really help:
Once you have a good quality landscape photo to work with, and you have your image imported into Lightroom – its time to start editing.
2. Lens Correction
This is my first move in Lightroom.
Applying a lens correction profile is critical, especially if you’re working with a wide angle lens. As the lens correction often slightly changes the exposure (in the corners for lenses with vignetting), I apply lens correction before adjusting anything else.
If you’re working with architectural photography, or anything with a lot of straight lines, you might also want to use the amazing new Upright tool to correct the perspective.
3. Exposure and White Balance
Now, adjust the exposure and white balance.
Remember that exposure and white balance are an artistic choice – there are no right and wrong settings, and you can be a little more free with the white balance slider in landscape photography than with portraiture.
If you want a really cool winter scene – go for it. If you want a really warm sunflare – do it.
4. Basic Adjustments
Next, go through the Basic panel, working from top to bottom.
To me the blacks slider is the most important adjustment to make here – make those blacks black!
While you’re at it, open up the shadows a little and make sure the highlights aren’t clipped.
5. Specialized Adjustments
Once you’re done with the basic adjustments, its time to apply some specialized adjustments: Clarity, Vibrance & Satruration.
The key here is to be subtle. Resist the temptation to crank that Clarity slider to +100 and avoid the acid psychedelic region with Vibrance and Saturation.
6. Adjust the saturation and hue of individual colors.
This part is the most fun for me. I love the HSL (Hue, Saturation, Luminance) panel!
Start with adjusting the saturation of each individual color – then do the same with the hue.
Again remember that there are no right or wrong adjustments – you are adjusting these colors to suit your artistic vision for your photograph.
However, there is also something to be said for subtlety – you want your colors to say: “Wow that’s amazing!” – Not “Wow, that must be fake.”
7. Gradients & Local Adjustments
Now that you have your global adjustments finished, its time to apply some region specific adjustments.
Use the Graduated Filter tool, the Radial Filter and the Adjustment Brush to fine tune the exposure, highlights, shadows and color of specific regions.
8. Use denoise and sharpen mask.
Almost all digital photography can benefit from some denoise and sharpening enhancement.
In the Detail Panel, apply denoise and sharpening to a level that you think looks good – then back it off.
And don’t forget to mask your sharpening adjustment!
Only details should be sharpened – never blank gradients of color – otherwise you are just sharpening noise and other schmutz.
For example, you want to sharpen the details in the clouds, but not the clear blue sky itself.
9. Chromatic Aberrations
Go back to the Lens Correction Panel and click Color. Now take a look through your photo at 1:1 for any areas of chromatic aberration (specifically areas where you are shooting into a bright light source).
If you find any chromatic aberrations – remove them.
10. Tweak contrast – burn shadows, dodge highlights
At this point, sometimes I jump over to Photoshop for this, and sometimes I stay in Lightroom – it just depends on the image.
In Photoshop, use the dodge & burn tools to first burn the shadows, then dodge the highlights. Use a huge, super soft brush with the exposure set to 2-5% for both. If you need to back off the intensity of the effect, just lower the opacity of your Dodge & Burn layer.
If you want to stay in Lightroom, I have found that a kiss of the new Dehaze filter tends to look very similar to this technique – and its a lot easier and faster to apply.
11. Get rid of distractions
No matter how careful you were in the field, chances are there are some distractions that you’re want to remove.
Sensor dust, a bush that’s in the wrong place, people, garbage etc.
If you’re in Photoshop, the Patch tool is my go-to for this.
If you’re still in Lightroom, the Spot Removal tool does a pretty damn good job except for the most difficult removals.
12. Final adjustments – exposure, clarity, saturation / vibrance
If you were in Photoshop, jump back to Lightroom.
Now take a final look at your image. If necessary make any finishing adjustments to the exposure, clarity and saturation or vibrance.
And finally, crop your photo and you’re done!
This was just a quick overview of how I edit landscape photography. If you’d like a bit more of an in-depth explanation of these tips – including five step by step examples – I just released a full online class on Skillshare that covers everything in detail.
We arranged for 50 free enrollments only for DIYP readers – just click here (first come first serve, expires in one week from today).
Or, if you miss the free enrollment, don’t worry – you can also get a 14 day free trial that includes access to this class and other photography classes on Skillshare – just click here.