How to Take Landscape Photography in Winter Light

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The rest of the sliders are Brightness, Contrast, Structure, Amplify Blacks, Amplify Whites, Fine Structureand Selective Colouring. Push the brightness and contrast up – we’re going for dramatic in this example so really push it as far as you can go without distortion. If you keep an eye on the Loupe & Histogram section of your work space (defaults to bottom-right), you’ll be able to see how your changes are affecting the integrity of the image.

duplicate control points for similar tonal areas

Duplicate control points for similar tonal areas

Avoid blowing out your whites. While introducing some noise is fine, try not to kill detail in your picture. Once you’re happy with that control point, rather than adding another you can hit duplicate control point.It’ll appear next to your previous one and you can move it to your next editing point and then adjust to suit.

30 highlight control points

I’ve added 30 control points to places I want brightening

I’ve added 30 brightening control points and you can see I’ve focused on exaggerating the light where natural highlights were, like in the sky and water, but I’ve also brightened up what I consider to be my main points of focus: the line down the mountain to the patch of trees and small house. Keep an eye on your histogram to make sure that you’re not blowing out your highlights entirely. Next, create a new control point and do a similar thing for your shadows, darkening the ones next to highlights for contrast, and any others to push the eye away from them and towards the lighter patches.

shadow control points

Do the same for shadows, this time decreasing the brightness on your slider

You’ll see that as well as lowering shadows for dramatic contrast in the sky and on the mountain, I’ve also used them around some of the brighter edges of the picture to create a sort of faux vignette. There are some further options on your work space if you want to add some film toning or even some colour. I’ve added a very slight warm tone (9%) just to take the edge off.

Back to Photoshop for Finishing Touches

When you click okay and go back into Photoshop, your image changes will be processed and appear as a new layer on top of your original. If you want to increase the contrast further, you can make some local adjustments on a new layer(s) using dodge and burn. Keep your brush at about 3-4% exposure and gradually work in changes.

dodge and burn

Use dodge and burn to make local adjustments on a new, duplicate layer

Increasing the contrast like this can highlight things like lens spots, of which there are a few on my image. So I used the spot healing tool to clean those up. I sometimes like to add a subtle matte effect to my black and white images. If you’d like to do this, create a curves layer and bring up the very darkest shadows while keeping the rest of the range untouched. If your image is noisy, a matte layer can help to make it less intrusive.

curves for matte effect

Using a tone curve like this will give your image a matte effect

Finally, you can crop your image slightly if you think there’s a better composition to be had. I usually leave cropping until last because I sometimes see new things in the image as I’m editing it that will have a bearing on that decision.

rule of thirds crop

Having the rule of thirds grid up in the crop tool can help with composition

I like having the rule of thirds grid on the cropping feature as it can just help guide you a little more as to what might work best, but it’s really up to you. Here you can see I’ve lost some of the sky so that hopefully your eye is now drawn to the lighter line of the mountain, down to the tree patch and then across the line of trees to the house.

The Finished Image

The Lake District Black and White Marie Gardiner

It’s easier to demonstrate this effect on black and white, but it works for colour too.

The Lake District Colour Marie Gardiner

This colour version was edited using Colour Efex Pro and Viveza, also part of the Nik Collection. While it doesn’t have quite the same drama as black and white, you can see it’s still easy to pick out and manipulate certain tones in order to create more drama and stop the image from being flat and drab. While it’s always best to try and capture landscapes when they’re lit at the most pleasing times of the day, it’s often just not possible and it’s great to have flexible editing suites and resources like Photoshop and the Nik Collection to help enhance what you are able to capture. If you get any great images this winter, we’d love to see them in the comments below!

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