Going from a dark, dingy before to a bright, inviting after.
Photo by Ben Yoder
So you see a great landscape picture laid out right in front of you, so you line up the shot, read the exposure, and take the picture. But you end up with something that looks like the picture on the left. But then you go home and see something like the picture on the right, and wonder how you could have gotten that one.
As I touched on in my article about sensor size, your camera can't quite see the world the way you see it. There isn't as much dynamic range, or differences in shades of gray. So in cases like the picture above, you need to give your camera some help with some post processing. What we are trying to create is a High Dynamic Range (HDR) photo. This is easy to do, even though some people would have you believe differently. Keep in mind, too, that this is only one way of creating this effect; you can probably find dozens of different ways of doing this.
The first thing I did to get from the "before" to the "after" was to open the image in Photoshop and adjust the levels (accessed by either going to Image > Adjustments > Levels or by pressing "Ctrl+L"). I set the black and white points and adjusted the mid-tone contrast to my liking. I did this according to the sky, as the ground was still too dark to get a good read on.
Make multiple layer copies using the "Screen"
The first thing you need to do is to bring the foreground exposure up to where you want it. To do this, I created a copy of the "Background" layer, and then changed the blend mode to "Screen" (circled in red). This lightens the image by removing the black values, making everything a bit brighter. When I saw the results of the first layer, I thought I could go a bit more, so I copied the layer "Background copy," which made my top layer (Background copy 2) while keeping the same blend mode. This worked well in this instance, though if one is not enough, and two is too much, you can lower the opacity (to the right of the blend mode drop down box) to get to the point you need. After I got the foreground where I wanted it, I combined the top two layers by hitting "Ctrl+E," which will merge two layers: the one that is highlighted (Background copy 2 in this instance) and the one right below that one.
Using a layer mask and the brush tool.
The next thing to do is to get the sky back to where you had it. This can be done easily through a layer mask, allowing you to "paint" back in what should not be effected by the changes you've made. To do this, click on the top layer, and then click on the layer mask icon (circled in red) to add a layer mask to the top layer. Then click on the brush icon (circled in blue) to paint onto the layer mask. The brush colors will default to black and white, and you will use black to paint onto the white layer mask. In the brush size drop-down box (to the top left of the image screen), it is a good idea to set the "Hardness" level to something much lower than 100, as that will give you a softer touch to the brush, and make the change between what is masked vs. unmasked more subtle. Now "paint in" the sky. This will cause the sky to go back to the way you started with it, while leaving the ground alone, preserving all your hard work.
The after shot a bit larger.
So there it is, a nice, bright landscape. When I first did this, it took me no more than 8 minutes, and is a good looking effect. Now it is up to you to take this and apply it to your photos. Experiment with the different blending modes, and use different techniques with the layer masks (such as using a brush with less opacity) to see what you can achieve.
For more helpful photography articles, check these out:
Check out the new and highly recommended Corel Digital Studio 2010
You paid for that flash, now use it!