Landscape Photography Essential Photoshop Layers - Free Photoshop Action

Landscape Photography Essential Photoshop Layers Action by Stephen Dickey

Click here to download the action

Developing a consistent Photoshop workflow is an important part of improving your landscape photography.  I normally use Lightroom to convert from RAW, and then use several layers in Photoshop to create my final landscape photograph.

Download this free Photoshop action by clicking the link above.  Run it in Photoshop and you will see that the following layers have been created:

1) Shadow/Highlight layer: Run the shadow/highlight tool on this layer to balance your exposure.  

2) Curves: Drag the curve on this layer into a shallow S-curve to add a little contrast to your image.

3) Levels: Use this tool to adjust the brightness, white point and black point in your image.  I recommend adjusting this layer last.

4) Hue/Saturation: Adjust the saturation of individual colour channels to taste.

5) Selective Colour: The most useful colour tool in Photoshop and the least well known.  Experiment!

I use this action when processing most of my Northern Ireland landscape photographs.  I hope you find it useful!

Manipulating Landscape Photographs in Post-Processing aka 'Photoshopping'

Alex Nail, a very talented landscape photographer from England, recently posted an interesting article about landscape photography manipulation. His article was prompted by an article he had read on 500px.com. Essentially, Alex feels that image manipulation including brightness, saturation and contrast adjustments are acceptable, but when one physically alters the landscape by, for example, adding a different sky to an image, one has gone too far.  Ignacio Palacios, the landscape photographer to whom Alex refers, is much more accepting of physical alterations to the landscape, including creating composites, changing the shapes of mountains in Photoshop and so on.  

Alex's article:  

http://www.alexnail.com/blog/news-updates/the-photographer-who-cried-truth/

Ignacio's article:  

https://iso.500px.com/the-very-old-debate-of-image-manipulation/

My own take on this debate is that changes to brightness, contrast and saturation are wholly acceptable. In fact, a camera can't capture an image as the human eye sees it. Some photographers proudly declare "I don't edit my images." However, taking this approach is somewhat of a false economy as, even when you shoot in digital RAW format, some other entity such as Adobe or Canon chooses how to display the pixels your camera sensor captured on screen. By taking control of brightness, saturation and contrast, you as the landscape photographer are choosing how that sensor data is displayed. 

When one starts adding other skies to a landscape photograph, adding trees, stretching mountains to make them taller, I feel that the transition from landscape photographer to digital artist has taken place. Several images of average quality could be combined by a skilled digital artist into an interesting landscape image. However, in my opinion this requires far less skill than the pure landscape photographer who takes the time to compose the image carefully, wait for the amazing light and so on.   I class myself as a landscape photographer, not a digital artist and I am against compositing and making physical changes. My own limit would be removing a bird that had flown into frame or removing a piece of rubbish that had been left in the landscape (assuming I couldn't remove it in the field).  If you look at the example below you will see a before and after of my typical landscape photography post-processing. I'm sure you will agree that I did all the hard work with the camera, not the computer. 

Before (top) and after (bottom), the typical extent of my 'Photoshopping' - Northern Ireland Landscape Photography by Stephen Dickey

Before (top) and after (bottom), the typical extent of my 'Photoshopping' - Northern Ireland Landscape Photography by Stephen Dickey