Last night Melissa and I went for a drive after dinner in that last hour before sunset – you know, the perfect time to go and take photos. It is late spring in the Carolinas and the wheat fields in our county are getting close to harvest. After living in Kansas for a number of years I came to appreciate the beauty of a wheat field, even the small ones here in North Carolina. I almost always have a camera with us when we are out for a drive like this and I did capture some images that I liked. Earlier I had written a post reviewing a new book about editing landscape photos in Lightroom – Loving Landscapes. I thought I would show a before and after set of images and walk through the editing process.
Editing Landscape Photos in Lightroom
The before image is how Lightroom imported the image from the camera memory card. I used a Nikon D700 (RAW) with a 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 lens at f/ 9.0, ISO 200. It is an OK shot but it doesn’t have much drama, and the colors were more vivid. The difficulty in this type of shot is the bright sun is messing with the metering – classic sunset shot problem. The best solutions would have been to put the camera on a tripod, bracket the shot with two images and combine them for a final image. I didn’t have a tripod, so this is the image we are going to work with.
First step was Profile Correction on the Lens Corrections tab and check the White Balance. If I had started into the adjusting Exposure, Contrast and the other setting next, I would be fighting against the very brightly exposed sky. Next I added in a Graduated Filter from the top.
The In Process image shows what it will look like as you first start to add in the Graduated Filter (GF). I used a short transition area between the three lines and placed the transition over the trees, then adjust the angle of the GF to match the slope of the hillside. I then was able to use the Shadows slider to brighten up the tree line. The other adjustments made to the GF settings included adjusting the Color Temperature a bit cooler (blue) and then adjusting the Exposure, Highlights and Contrast to bring out the clouds. Close the GF pane and then you can move on to the final global adjustments.
The final adjustments to the photo were a few Spot Removals to smooth out the wheat in a few places – I used “Heal” to better match the surrounding areas, I adjusted the Highlights and Shadows to bring the wheat field into view and give a little more contrast. The final set was to push the Vibrance up just a little, only +25. That was it.
Total time spent on the edit was about 3 or 4 minutes. Could I have spent more time adjusting every little corner? Absolutely, but you have to think about your final utilization of the picture. The image wasn’t edited for a 36″ wide canvas for a living room – if that was the goal I would go back and work on all the little details. Now the final image.
One of the benefits of using Lightroom is that all of these edits are non-destructive. I can go back to the unedited image with the click of the mouse. When I started editing, I was afraid to alter a picture too much. Now, I am more aggressive, but the goal is still a recreation of how I remember the scene. Could I add in a T-Rex foraging in the trees? Sure, and that is art, but not my style. All of these techniques are better explained in the book Loving Landscapes by Todd and Sarah Sisson. If you are new to landscape photo editing in Lightroom, it is well worth the price. I learned a few tricks when I read it, and plan to keep it handy for future reads. Also by the Sisson’s is Living Landscapes, a book about how to take great landscape photos.