Tutorial Learn Photoshop Editing 01. Logo. David Osborn

04. Photoshop Retouching
~ Landscape Photography


Learning Photoshop editing is learning artistic and creative craftsmanship. Photoshop post-processing is the creative step, turning your generic camera raw file into a photo that is a unique personal, artistic statement. Photoshop is the painters palette. Adobe Photoshop is not hard to learn, just not as intuitive as Adobe Lightroom. The labelled sliders offer ease of use at first glance but come with severe restrictions. Very important techniques possible in Photoshop are not possible to achieve in Adobe Lightroom. Learning Adobe Photoshop is learning a few basic tools and concepts, then combining them to create a limited number of standard techniques. The art of Photoshop is using those few techniques very well and in the correct order.

Tutorial Learn Photoshop Editing 02. Valencia, Spain. David Osborn

Learn This Digital Workflow On …

Subject 03: Photoshop Retouching Landscapes

Syllabus 15. Editing the Photographs

The first step in the whole workflow, is to edit down our exposures to the ones we need to create our final photo. We aim for the minimum number possible, every exposure has a very specific and an essential job. We begin with the base image and look what improvements it requires. We edit four types:

1. The Base Image –

The best overall single exposure; as if we only had one shot to get the photograph. This base image will become our final photograph. It is the photograph that we add all our corrective exposures to.

2. Technical –

Exposures to improve the technical quality of the final photograph, creating rich shadow detail and beautiful tonality. Generally bracketed exposures for maximum shadow and highlight detail.

3. Artistic –

Exposures to create the artistic vision for the final photograph. Generally, exposures taken of the light when it fell on various elements in the photograph not found in the single base image.

4. Sky –

We may want to use the sky we have shot in the above exposures or choose to replace the sky with an alternative we have on file. The course will show you how to shoot replacement skies that match.

Syllabus 16. Preparing the Photographs

Having edited down our exposures to the minimum required, we now need to prepare each file, so it is in mint condition, ready to construct our final photograph. The aim is to catch any imperfections before they get passed onto the production workflow. For each individual file, we need to:

1. Raw Conversion –

Each file is converted, and the raw converter used for some minor global adjustments and improvements. The raw converter is not a replacement for Photoshop but has some very useful features.

2. Clean Photo  –

Checking for and removing any dust spots and any objects or details we do not want in the final photo. Small details with the clone stamp, larger objects require a different technique.

3. Sharpen Photo –

I sharpen the photo at the beginning with a very precise, three-part process that gives an incredible clarity and detail. The course will explain the sharpening logic and process in detail.

Syllabus 17. Compositing the Photographs

We now need to combine all the benefits from the technical, artistic and sky exposures to the base image; creating a single photograph as if it were the most perfect raw file taken by the camera. I teach you all the masking and blending techniques required to composite the elements. We need to:

1. Align Exposures –

Open all the files as separate layers in a single Photoshop file. Then align each layer to the base image. I explain how to check alignment and attempt to correct any misalignment.

2. Add Technical –

Blend or mask in the bracketed technical exposures for maximum shadow and highlight detail. There are many various ways to do so, I cover all of them and how to choose the best option.

3. Add New Sky –

If required, we drop in a new sky and perfectly blend or mask the join with mountains, buildings etc. I teach how to approach this common problem for maximum quality.

4. Add Artistic –

Blend or mask in all the artistic details and content not found in our base image, for example light falling on mountains not lit in the base image. These need to be added so they look totally natural.

Once we have completed the above, we check that the joins are perfection. There must be absolutely no Photoshop technique, errors or signature left showing anywhere in the photo. The common ones are lighter or darker halos along joins e.g. mountain edges. This stage represents a major ‘end of Part 1’. Only if 100% perfect, then the file is flattened down to a single layer to represent a single frame as if taken ‘in camera’. This file is now our final photo, but in an unpolished state that we finalize from here on.

Syllabus 18. Adjust Global Contrast

Global contrast is enhanced in several of ways to start giving the image some ‘snap’. There are many methods taught on the course. Curves is one, but not my preferred choice. We discuss and practice multiple methods for increasing global contrast, methods that produce extra benefits not found using curves. We take the photo as far as we can from a global change point of view, but we do not work on the details yet. We use the ‘global to local’ approach to Photoshop where details are improved last.

Syllabus 19. Separate the Information

The file is now separated into color information and black and white information. We now look at the photo from those two perspectives next. If our final photo is black and white, we can discard the color information. Many techniques that alter tone, also alter the color. Separating the two issues limits the effect on each other. Importantly, many techniques we use on a black and white, do not work well on a color photo. Without this critical separation, our toolbox of techniques is greatly restricted.

Syllabus 20. Adjust Color Content

It goes without saying, that color plays a critical role in setting the aesthetic, artistic and psychological tone of the image. I teach you multiple ways to add, then control color both globally and locally. Color is important also to give the photo cohesion. There are two main color factors to consider:

1. Color Cast –

An overall color cast is added to help give a cohesive feel to the photograph, a continuity element. Without this, large areas of conflicting strong color give the image a feeling of disparity.

2. Saturation –

How strong to make the color? There is a point where if the color is too strong, it overtakes the content. There is also a point where the subtle tones are replaced by the color, the details loose structure.

Syllabus 21. Adjust Tonal Content – Part One

This is the first of two critical steps in the complete process. Working on the black and white or tonal information, we have already improved the global contrast, now we work on the local contrast. Bringing up all the detail to be supper rich. Overly rich detail that takes no effort to read and in every inch of the photo. I cover multiple techniques, including dodge and burn. The reason for creating super rich detail is that when pushed down in overall tone, they still retain subtle detail and separation.

Syllabus 22. Adjust Tonal Content – Part Two

We now have an extremely good technical photo that is sharp, full of detail and good contrast. We must create the three-dimensional illusion qualities. We use techniques to build in the elements of reality; that create the illusion. We look at our image to date and ask it four questions:

1. Light –

We look at the image from the perspective of light. Where is the light coming from and how is it falling on the objects? We enhance both the feeling of the light quality and a story about the light.

2. Form –

We study each object and use our techniques to enhance the feeling of roundness to objects, the sides of objects, the three-dimensional form of everything so we feel we could touch them.

3. Texture –

We look at the image from the point of texture and enhance the texture of everything from rough tree bark to smooth water. We want to create a tactile feeling to every object.

4. Distance –

We divide the image into three distances, fore-ground, middle and far distance; using tonal changes to convey the feeling of distance; every object having the correct tonal positioning.

The emphasis too date has been to work in a very systematic way to create a beautiful, technically perfect foundation to the photograph.  Without this foundation of sharpness, tonal richness and three-dimensional optical illusion, the image would fail the minute we drastically darken areas. The darkened areas would block-up, no longer having substance. Now we have the foundation, we can move onto the final step, the artistic expression layer. This is a much freer process, working like a painter.

Syllabus 23. Create Cohesive Quality

Having separated the photo into two points of view, we now look at the photo again and from a cohesive perspective. We must give the picture a clear visual journey; making it clear to the viewer, what is important in the image and what you want them to look at. This is a two-part process:

1. Knock It All Down –

We darken the whole photo, now treating the image we have as our canvas ‘under-painting’. Now very dark, it still retains all the detail, separation and depth due to our previous work.

2. Bring Up Hero’s –

We can now paint in the areas the areas we wish to bring up in tone and emphasize as our main actors and supporting cast (read the tutorials). This will involve free-hand painting and detailed masks.

Syllabus 24. Create Artistic Quality

Working freely like a painter, we work in a less structured way, molding and fine tuning the artistic and aesthetic look and feel of the photograph. There is a good number of techniques, we can use, and I teach how to control the look of the image at this stage. Many are straight, digital versions inspired by the techniques of the old master painters like Rembrandt and Rubens. At this final stage, there are no rules, it’s all about personality and expression, though the techniques used, can be taught.

Question. Does this syllabus just make me a clone of you?

NO. This methodical workflow gives you a framework to follow, that encompasses everything to create a good photograph from concept to print. An analogy explains: The courses teach you the skills to be an architect. As an architect, you have the technical freedom to design buildings of any type provided you learn the fundamental principles of architecture. It is important to understand that I teach you the underlying principles that make good photography. This gives you freedom to be yourself, not restricted to creating just my style of image.

Conforming to a set of underlying principles or structure, does not make your work the same as mine. The combination of all your personal choices throughout the whole workflow, results in a photo with your own personal identity and style, even though you followed the structured workflow to get there. Without a structure, you have chaos and disorder, a very inefficient way of working that never creates quality. True knowledge gives true creative freedom. Use that freedom, your personal way.

A clearly defined and logical syllabus, making learning easy and painless.

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Photoshop Retouching Landscape Photography – Preparation

Photoshop Retouching Landscapes 01. Edit

The process begins with editing our assets. Aim to use the minimum number possible. Every frame must be essential and have a specific purpose. Ideally, no more than 5 to 6 frames or the process gets over complicated. Editing begins with nominating the best base image; the exposure that is our best attempt to get the perfect final photograph in one single frame. The file we add everything to and becomes the finished image. Second, we chose our sky. This can be from the shoot or taken from our library of skies. Third, the artistic assets. Exposures that contain better lighting or elements for specific areas of the photo. Last, the technical assets that provide tonal improvements to any area of the photograph.

Photoshop Retouching Landscapes 02. Convert

We need to convert the raw files into tiff files using a raw converter. This can be the Photoshop Adobe Camera Raw plug-in, or the camera manufacturers raw converter like Nikon Capture NX-D processing software, Canon Digital Photo Professional (DPP), Capture One – Phase One or the Hasselblad Phocus being the main ones. If we can make any global changes that improve the overall quality of the image, we make use of the raw converter to do this, but primarily the raw converter is solely used to convert the raw file. We do not want to use the raw converter as Photoshop for working on details of the image. Finally, in Photoshop we clean the photographs of dust and unwanted details.

Photoshop Retouching Landscapes 03. Sketch

We need to get a feel for how the final image will look and the technical problems we may encounter. In Photoshop we create a quick sketch; completing the Photoshop process to create a quick version of our final photo without attention to detail or careful Photoshop editing technique. The aim is to get a feel for the final composition, lighting, mood and drama. This has three benefits. First, it confirms that we have all the assets needed. Second, we don’t want waste time in Photoshop to find it would never make a good photo. Three, if we work on the final image first, we lose spontaneity, causing a lifeless feel in the image. The sketch is all about life, giving us a reference image as a game plan to refer to.

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Tutorial Learn Photoshop Editing 04. Valencia After. David Osborn
Tutorial Learn Photoshop Editing 03. Valencia Before. David Osborn
Before and After Photoshop: Valencia, Spain. Click Buttons or Swipe Image

Photoshop Retouching Landscape Photography – Strategy

Photoshop Retouching Landscapes 04. Composite and Join First

Having created our sketch and proven the image works and that we have all the best assets edited to create the final image, we now begin the process of combining all our assets together into one single large document format file, then join all the assets together. The aim is to create one single flattened layer, that represents the most perfect single photograph as if was shot in-camera. The key to quality at every stage, is to work like a surgeon; slow, careful and perfect. There must be no Photoshop technique showing at the end of each process or the errors will be magnified and become even more obvious, then harder to solve, as we work through the remaining Photoshop processes.

Photoshop Retouching Landscapes 05. Technical Perfection Second

Before we can make the final artistic photo, we must create a really good solid foundation for it to sit on first; technical Photoshop. Technical Photoshop is not about expression, it is only about creating an optical illusion of a real scene you can walk into and around, that has light, form, texture and spatial depth. Putting back in, what the camera lost. First, we need to create a strong feeling of overall spatial depth from the camera to the horizon, then tonally place each major object correctly within that spatial depth. Followed by tonally placing each sub-object within the main object. Lastly, making every object feel very three-dimensional and give the overall photograph super readability for the artistic layer next.

Photoshop Retouching Landscapes 06. Artistic Expression Third

The photo should now look like ‘a good photograph’, but clinical, lacking overall cohesion, feeling, soul, mood and atmosphere. The last step has two jobs. First, we need to reinforce who our hero actor is, and make them be center stage in full light and glory. Allocate what is supporting cast by bringing them up in tone and what is backdrop stage by pushing them down in tone. Making the image cohesive and assigning the importance of each element by how bright it is. Everything in the image, adjusted to make the main actor look great. Second, we need to clarify the story of the light, making it clear and logical then finally, doing whatever we feel adds to the mood and drama of the picture.

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Tutorial Learn Photoshop Editing 05. Horse After. David Osborn
Tutorial Learn Photoshop Editing 06. Horse Before. David Osborn
Before and After Photoshop: San Gian Church near St.Moritz, Switzerland. Click Buttons or Swipe Image

Photoshop retouching Landscape Photography – Notes

Photoshop Retouching Landscapes 07. Perfect Single File

The reason to create a perfect single layered file first (as if it were the perfect image taken in-camera), is that we need a clean starting point for creating the final image. By creating a flattened image first, we have locked in all of the tonal relationships, like our new sky to the mountains and any additional objects that have been added. Having cleaned the whole picture of all the dust and distracting details, we now have that perfect starting point. More importantly, by joining all our assets together, then flattening the file, the subsequent processes of creating the final photo, all help to further bond all the composite elements together and make the final picture more cohesive and natural looking, real.

Photoshop Retouching Landscapes 08. Super Readability

In very dark old master paintings like Rembrandt, areas we see as large, very dark areas are in fact tonally very rich, just very subtle. There is always some tonal variation even in the darkest of shadowed areas. They are never just big blocks of flat paint because that would break the optical illusion of the light, form and space they are creating; no longer perceived as shadows but as physical paint. There must be some tonal variation over every part of the image. Super readability is where we make the image contain super rich information first. This allows us to darken down large areas, but still retain really good detail in the shadows, because it began with so much tonal separation in the first place.

Photoshop Retouching Landscapes 09. Work Like a Painter

Technical Photoshop is more about precision and being analytical. Artistic Photoshop is freer, working like a painter. The first part of making the photo creates a technically good photograph but sterile, lacking emotion. The artistic phase is about what you felt about the scene and communicating those feelings. If five photographers all stood together and took the same composition, then finished at the technical stage, all five pictures would look similar. The artistic Photoshop is the stage that would make them five very different pictures, personal statements unique to each photographer. This is the phase that has the greatest influence on making that essential emotional response in the viewer.

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Tutorial Learn Photoshop Editing 07. Castle After. David Osborn
Tutorial Learn Photoshop Editing 08. Castle Before. David Osborn
Before and After Photoshop: Zernez Castle, Switzerland. Click Buttons or Swipe Image

Landscape Photography ~ Obey Those Laws of Nature

Photoshop Retouching Landscapes 10. What is This?

The laws of nature are how we perceive the world. Signals that tell our brain, we are standing in a three-dimensional scene that stretches far into the distance, containing objects, all with form and texture. Perceiving the world with our eyes, these signals can only come from how we see tone and color. Tonal values and tonal relationships change in the real scene due to the physics of light. If we understand those tonal relationships and changes, then incorporate them into our picture, the picture gives our brain the correct signals to suggest that we are looking at a real scene. We have created a very successful optical illusion of a three-dimensional world in our pictures.

Photoshop Retouching Landscapes 11. Lost Signals

Given we are taking a photo, the camera should have recorded the ‘laws of nature’ automatically in our photo to convey form, texture and distance. Theoretically, it did, but with one problem. The camera does not have the ability to record the dynamic range of tones we see. The tones it did record, it then changed. The signal has got weakened and modified, explained by the camera response curve in the learn photography tutorial. We perceive distance based on shape and tone, the relationships of one object to another. The camera did not alter the shape of the objects anywhere near much as it did the tone, so the emphasis on how we perceive distance is transferred to reading tonal values.

Photoshop Retouching Landscapes 12. Forgotten Subject

In Adobe Photoshop we need to repair those lost signals by adjusting the tonal relationships in objects, neutralizing the damaging effect of the camera. Photoshop is the perfect tool to make such repairs. The result is a photograph with a fantastic feeling of spatial depth, form and texture. One of the most important qualities to captivate the viewer. This subject is never mentioned, one of the most over-looked issues. Possibly, because the subject is never thought about, yet a subject that will make the most dramatic difference to the quality of your own photos. I teach the Photoshop techniques on this subject.

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Tutorial Learn Photoshop Editing 09. Mountains After. David Osborn
Tutorial Learn Photoshop Editing 10. Mountains Before. David Osborn
Before and After Photoshop: Tarasp Castle near St.Moritz, Switzerland. Click Buttons or Swipe Image

Photoshop Retouching Landscape Photography – Logic #1

Photoshop Retouching Landscapes 13. Global Changes First

Over the many years and hundreds of images, a pattern evolved that I seemed to repeat time and time again, from which I saw a common logic evolve. This logic, along with a mass of very specific Photoshop techniques not covered here, I teach as private tuition in the UK, USA, France, Germany Italy, Dubai, worldwide. When faced with a new picture, it is easy to feel lost; not knowing where to start. The best Photoshop philosophy, is to always look at the picture in terms of surface area. Make changes to the largest areas of the image first and changes to the smallest areas of the image, last. The overall look of the picture must be set first through big, global changes first.

Photoshop Retouching Landscapes 14. Major Objects Second

By using a philosophy of working from large to small, you achieve two things. First, the overall look and feel of the photograph is set on the right road from the start and is always being refined. Second, how the larger objects look, give the context for how the smaller objects they contain must look. We need the larger objects to be set first, so we can make the correct decisions when working on the smaller objects. Using these principles, the most common starting point is getting the sky to ground relationship correct first, then sub-dividing the ground into its major components. Working our way down by object size, the larger object dictating how the smaller objects look.

Photoshop Retouching Landscapes 15. Small Details Last

Think of the Photoshop workflow being the same as a sculptor. The Italian sculptor Michelangelo would start with a solid block of marble. Sculpting the main forms of the statue first. It would be impossible for him to work on the hand details first, before the major body forms were created. Principles that are also valid in all the works of old master painters; we can use the same methods in our Photoshop workflow. When the photo is near completion we can polish all the details, so they all sparkle full of life, yet remain looking correct within the context of the whole cohesive picture; polished for maximum quality and definition relative to their distance and location in the image.

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Tutorial Learn Photoshop Editing 11. Cows After. David Osborn
Tutorial Learn Photoshop Editing 12. Cows Before. David Osborn
Before and After Photoshop: Silvaplana Castle near St.Moritz, Switzerland. Click Buttons or Swipe Image

Photoshop Retouching Landscape Photography – Logic #2

Photoshop Retouching Landscapes 16. Identify the Problem

The key to working with Photoshop is breaking down the overall problem, into many small sub-problems; each one is a very specific and individual problem. Solve one problem at a time, the big problem gets solved. The hardest part to learn, is the ability to identify the core issues because this takes practice and experience. For example, a statement like ‘the sky looks wrong’ is not specific enough for us to indicate a solution. Is it the contrast or the color? Once you have identified the problem; the problem will indicate its own solution. A contrast problem is to do with tone, so a tonal tool is required to create the solution, whereas a color problem requires a color tool to solve the problem.

Photoshop Retouching Landscapes 17. Create the Solution

We use one adjustment layer per problem. One curve adjustment layer to solve the lack of contrast. One Hue and saturation adjustment layer to solve the color issue. We can use as many individual adjustment layers as required to solve the big overall problem. However, each adjustment layer will affect the whole image. We do not worry about that now. We separate creating the solution, from joining the solution and treat each as separate actions. A group is created to hold all the individual adjustment layers. We can toggle the group on and off, to get a before and after feeling to see if we have solved the problem. Once satisfied, we move onto the last part, joining our solution to the picture.

Photoshop Retouching Landscapes 18. Join the Solution

Joining the solution back into our picture needs to be done perfectly and will involve a mask on the group. We can use the mask on each individual adjustment layer, but this would mean having to make an identical mask for every layer. By adding a mask on the group, we mask all of the groups content at one time with the use of only one mask; a much more efficient and controllable solution. The complete solution to the original problem is now fully concentrated on to what we do with the mask. There is no standard rule about how to create the content of the mask as there are many solutions, the choice of which depends on each unique situation. I use this 3-step logic for almost everything I do in Photoshop.

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