Post Production in Lightroom for Landscapes

Tcole1983’s post “Dealing with Dull Skies” has generated a lot of discussion about post-processing and can be found here:

http://forum.nikonrumors.com/discussion/4957/dealing-with-dull-skies/p1

VTC2002 has been kind enough to provide a critique regarding the particular processing choices I made and offer up his own samples.

All of this has inspired me to create this thread, “Post Production in Lightroom for Landscapes”. I selected an image that I captured on a trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton with my son. At that time I barely know what Lightroom did. I knew I was going to buy a full frame camera and was debating between the D4 and D800 (I selected the D800). To wet my appetite while I debated, I bought a Coolpix A.

I have laid out in 15 steps what I might typically do in Lightroom to process an image. I invite feedback and constructive criticism on both the technical and creative choices. I would ask that everyone refrain from getting into Photoshop, as I anticipate that this thread may be useful for people that have not fully explored what Lightroom can do to help them creatively.

Comments

  • WestEndFotoWestEndFoto Posts: 3,675Member
    Mountain Pass - Step 1: Raw

    With two exceptions (see below), this is the original raw unprocessed image directly from my Coolpix A. It is not bad, but there are some compositional errors, the image looks flat and mother nature has some errors that i would like to correct. Regarding the two exceptions, they are in Lens Corrections in the Devlop module where I have selected "Enable Profile Correction" and "Remove Chromatic Abberation". Even pixel peaking, I cannot find an effect due to "Remove Chromatic Abberation". I suspect that the very very good 18mm (28mm FX equivalent) prime lens of the Coolpix A has none. With "Enable Profile Correction", some minor distortion was corrected and the edges, which were darker due to vignetting, were lightened. Note that I generally prefer the vignetting, even with landscapes on occasion and usually don't turn this on. One compositional strategy I did use in this image that I learned early and has served me well ever since is patience. This is the busy Trans Canada HIghway and I had to wait several minutes for there to be no cars on the road.

    Mountain Pass - Step 1:  Raw
  • WestEndFotoWestEndFoto Posts: 3,675Member
    Mountain Pass - Step 2: White Balance

    The first thing that I do is decide if I like the white balance. My Coolpix A was set on Auto and prodeced a temperature of 6,850 kelvin and tine of 11. The image looks a little yellow to me. The first thing I do is select the White Balance Selector in the develop module and select areas on the grey road. This may not always work becuase what looks grey might really be a different colour in real life, but it is worth a try. I selected different areas of the road and when the selector changed the images temperature to 5,350 kelvin and tint to 6, I liked that effect the most. Note that I made my selection based on what I liked, not what a grey card would have instructed me to do to recreate reality. However, when it comes to white balance, I tend to agree with mother nature with the exception of often wanting to make things a little warmer. There are other techniques that I use. A grey card is the gold standard. Without the grey road, I might find a true almost black area and a true almost white area and build a new RGB tone curve in Photoshop. Sometimes just using my eye produces a satisfactory result.

    Mountain Pass - Step 2:  White Balance
  • WestEndFotoWestEndFoto Posts: 3,675Member
    Mountain Pass - Step 3: Crop

    I always use a whole number for the aspect ratio. This is 2:1. I find the image is more balanced this way. Also, note the line created by the road interesects a corner of the image. I find that this usually improves the image. When I took this image three years ago, I was not really thinking about this, though my instincts at least helped me create something usuable now. Now when I take this kinds of shots, I think about my final aspect ratio and where the lines are and try to compose on that basis, though if you are changing the aspect ratio, that is not always possible to get exactly right in camera and I end up with something like this image before I cropped it.

    Mountain Pass - Step 3:  Crop
  • WestEndFotoWestEndFoto Posts: 3,675Member
    Mountain Pass - Step 4: Contrast

    I usually increase contrast and when using Lightroom, it is usually Strong Contrast using Tone Curve which I did with this image. While I occassionally customize the curve, I rarely find that the additional customization is worth the trouble.

    Mountain Pass - Step 4:  Contrast
  • WestEndFotoWestEndFoto Posts: 3,675Member
    Mountain Pass - Step 5: Black

    The next thing I like to do is enhance the blacks and I did this by moving the black slider to -29. I find that this makes the colours a little richer. I occassionally use the white slider, though I rarely find that i like the result. In this case detail was lost in the clouds by the time it produced a noticable effect in the rest of the image.

    Mountain Pass - Step 5:  Black
  • WestEndFotoWestEndFoto Posts: 3,675Member
    Mountain Pass - Step 6: Shadows

    Even when I started the shadows were a little dark and by increasing contrast and moving the black slider to negative, I have made this situation even worse. But no worries. I bring the shadows up using the shadow slider, moving it to 74 in this case. I often find myself marvelling at Nikon's sensor when doing this and while this Coolpix A is not as good as my D800 for this, it is still very good.

    Mountain Pass - Step 6:  Shadows
  • WestEndFotoWestEndFoto Posts: 3,675Member
    Mountain Pass - Step 7: Highlights

    I now went to reduce the exposure in the sky to bring out more detail and reduce its presence. I accomplish this by moving the hightlight slider to -79. Note that senors have much less dynamic range than the human visual system and these last two steps have made the image more realistic, not less, by more closely mimicking what the human visual system perceives.

    Mountain Pass - Step 7:  Highlights
  • WestEndFotoWestEndFoto Posts: 3,675Member
    Mountain Pass - Step 8: Green Hue

    As much as I love mother nature, I often find that her esthetic taste is wanting and needs to be improved on. In this case, I believe that she has made the vegetation a little too yellow. I have fixed mother nature's poor taste by moving the Green Hue slider to 15.

    Mountain Pass - Step 8:  Green Hue
  • WestEndFotoWestEndFoto Posts: 3,675Member
    Mountain Pass - Step 9: Saturation

    After fixing Mother Nature's poor colour selection, I then decide how much of Mother Nature I like. I find that since I love colour, I usually like a little more and I accomplished this by moving the Saturation Slider to 20. I sometimes use the Vibrancy Slider, which preserves skin tones better and seems to emphasize subtle colours more than dominant colours, or occassionally I use both.

    Mountain Pass - Step 9:  Saturation
  • WestEndFotoWestEndFoto Posts: 3,675Member
    Mountain Pass - Step 10: Luminance

    Again, I am not quite happy with Mother Nature and desire to make the sky pop a little more by modifying the blue. I accomplish this by moving the Blue Luminance slider to -15. I must confess that I do not know exactly what this does, but I like the effect. I am unable to reproduce the effect by moving the Saturation Slider. However, it has a very similar effect to increaseing altitude. My guess is that I have added 7,000 or 8,000 feet in elevation to my image. Why do I like this? I spent a lot of time in the high country as a kid. Perhaps it just looks more "natural" to me. One gotcha here (and learning opportunity) is that the sky is blue regardless of whether you are looking into space or at a distant mountain range, which will turn the green of the mountains into blue. This is a natural effect, but it can be overdone. It is really the same effect as moving the mountains further away by simulating the effect of more atmosphere between the mountains and camera.

    Mountain Pass - Step 10:  Luminance
  • WestEndFotoWestEndFoto Posts: 3,675Member
    Mountain Pass - Step 11: Dodging

    Now that I have made numerous global adjustments, it is now time for some minor local adjustments. I selected the Adjustment Brush in the Develop Module and then selected Exposure -0.1. I made two passes over the sky and most distant mountains and one pass over the foreground vegetation and road with this setting.

    Mountain Pass - Step 11:  Dodging
  • WestEndFotoWestEndFoto Posts: 3,675Member
    Mountain Pass - Step 12: Burning

    Again, I selected the Adjustment Brush in the Develop Module and then selected Exposure 0.1. I made several passes over the areas of particularly dark vegetation in the image.

    Mountain Pass - Step 12:  Burning
  • WestEndFotoWestEndFoto Posts: 3,675Member
    Mountain Pass - Step 13: Spot Removal

    Something on the road looks like roadkill, so I decided to remove it using the Spot Removal Brush in the Develop Module.

    Mountain Pass - Step 13:  Spot Removal
  • WestEndFotoWestEndFoto Posts: 3,675Member
    Mountain Pass - Step 14: More Creative License

    Removing the roadkill got me thinking that the highway engineers did not make their ashphalt dark enough. I fixed this engineering error by once again selecting the Adjustment Brush in the Develop Module and then selected Exposure -0.2. I made three passes. I was lazy, because if I was really finicky, I would have selected Exposure -0.1 and made six passes.

    Mountain Pass - Step 14:  More Creative License
  • WestEndFotoWestEndFoto Posts: 3,675Member
    Mountain Pass - Step 15: Final Exposure

    I save this step for last because so many of the steps effect exposure. I tweaked global exposure by 0.1.

    Mountain Pass - Step 15:  Final Exposure
  • PapermanPaperman Posts: 469Member
    Very nice tutorial WestEnd Photo, and a great result on a photo I would not even consider working on. I've always wondered what sequence others follow in post process so it was really good to see someone document it so clearly.

    Though I don't use lightroom, the process matches the steps I take ( minus a couple or 3 ) main difference being me starting with "clarify" . ( I keep it minimal ) . Having seen you avoid it, I started thinking maybe I am doing wrong.

    I would always end it with sharpening.
  • SamkoSamko Posts: 101Member
    Nice to see others work, thank you for that.
  • donaldejosedonaldejose Posts: 3,415Member
    Interesting. Although I normally work in Adobe element 13 I do basically the same things.
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