Landscape Artistry: An Extremely Tough Road to Success

Let me start by saying that this article was written only to encourage you. Anyone, and i mean anyone can do it. We live in a digital age where photography gear is purchased very easily. Most people can afford the latest camera gear and start photographing the world. Millions of images are posted online weekly but how many of those stand out really? You can count the best photographers out there with your fingers. Let's be honest, images that have the required depth to be considered "true" landscape art pieces are very rarely produced, just like music and everything else... even today! So what makes a photograph stand out from the rest? I'm gonna be brutally honest with you here, but it all comes down to HARD WORK... extremely hard work that is. Just because you have the latest camera technology in your bag and you have some basic knowledge of Lightroom and Photoshop, it doesn't mean that you're gonna come out with good images. There are thousands of hours of tutorials and lessons available online yet nobody is talking about the reality of a landscape artist's life. This is what this article is all about. If you carefully read every paragraph, I guarantee you that you will be successful. That's if you are willing to put in the hard work. Each and every topic is important so pay close attention and remember that there are no shortcuts here. Nothing that's mentioned can be skipped. This is not high school.

PREPARE YOUR BODY AND YOUR SOUL

Well surely this is an obvious one but why? Firstly, let's talk about the spirituality of landcape photography. What's a landscape photograph? It's a representation of your own artistic vision and feelings. In order to complete a piece of art like that, you first need to connect with nature. One must love and connect with nature deeply or else it is not going to work. I know this for a fact, that best adventure landscape photographers out there love what they do which is not the camera, but being out there. If the landscape doesn't speak to you or touch your soul, you're simply not going to come out with anything good. Now, I don't necessarily believe in "talent". I mean sure, some people are born with "talent" with certain things but If you really want it bad enough, you'll learn it. I consider myself an adventure landscape photographer knowing that meaning of the word "adventure" has changed a lot to most people over time. When I looked at my images at the time I first started taking photos, I wanted to throw up! How in the world was I to stand a chance against my favorite and likes of Marc Adamus or Ted Gore? I'm still not there yet but well on my way and the answer was simple: consistency in HARD WORK... "MY IMAGES SUCK" repeat, "MY IMAGES SUCK"! That's what I told myself when I started and I still do... but guess what? there's nothing wrong with that! That's how I was able to get to where I am only within 3 years of shooting. If you don't get cocky and REALLY want it, you'll be successful. I'm not kidding folks, 2 years ago, my images were absolutely horrific compared to now. I didn't even know what a DSLR was 4 years ago! Don't get me wrong, I still have a long way to go but the key point is that I'm on the right track and it took me a few years to notice it. Just remember to recognize and be aware of your progress. Before you even think about buying a camera, you need to understand that landscape photography requires you to be fit both mentally and physically. There's gonna be countless hours of effort that will leave you with terrible results. You're going to think that it's a "fail" but every "fail" means more experience and more experience is a step closer to your goal. It's all part of the learning curve and believe me, you'll get there if you stay focused. You need to be prepared to face the elements of nature, to spend hours on location finding the right composition and light, to then spend more hours behind the computer to better your post processing skills. Literally, hundreds of hours are spent in order to get ONE photograph. That is the mindset that has got me to where I am and I found it the only way to go about. There's just no other way... freezing, sweating, sleepless nights, I've had it all. Why? Because I love it I enjoy being in the nature. I HATE WAKING UP EARLY... I really do, yet for some reason I find the courage to do it when I know I'm shooting a sunrise and I do it gladly. If you don't enjoy it, I'm gonna have to tell you right now to stop reading this article because you're not gonna make it. Pure and simple. If you don't enjoy being one with nature, it's going to show in your images. The only way you're gonna be successful is if you have the love and passion for it. Your landscape art is gonna be your story and your story will include every emotion and feeling that you have inside you while working on it. Alright, I think you get the point now :)

tombstone territorial park, yukon

tombstone territorial park, yukon


PLANNING

Let's talk about planning. Your biggest challenge in landscape photography is going to be finding the right location that speaks to you. Lots of photographers will look at an image and go "WOW, I WANNA SHOOT THAT"... so they'll buy a plane ticket to the location and somehow they'll get there and come back home with disappointing results. It happens every day. It happened to me. It's normal, but the reason for that is because we didn't plan! Planning is one of the most important fundamentals of landscape photography. What does it include? researching the hell out of a location, being there at the right time of year depending on what you're looking to get, finding out how to get there, looking for the right composition, the sun, the moon, tides, clouds, snow, wind, you name it! mother nature is after you! There will be days where everything falls into place but that's just luck. I just can't stress enough how important planning is to success. Sometimes you will spend thousands of dollars on a trip and you plan everything right but mother nature decides to give you the middle finger. It happens and it WILL happen, trust me! :))

Banff National Park, alberta (yes i was standing in the river for this shot)

Banff National Park, alberta (yes i was standing in the river for this shot)


COMPOSITION

Now we're starting to actually get into what separates a good image from the rest. Usually, a successful landscape scene will not be complete without foreground, mid-ground and background. All 3 are very important. Why? cause the 3 complete a story. I've touched on this subject in another article "Landscape Photography: Reality VS Photographs" but basically the key point to remember is that you're recording a 2 dimensional image onto a card. Your eyes look at the world differently as you're constantly moving and looking at the objects, therefore it's all 3 dimensional for you. Everything you see with your eyes is moving and you can see the relationship between the objects in real time. On a photograph, all that depth is gone and you must understand what creates the illusion of depth. Composition becomes about leading lines, diagonals, shapes, transitions and patterns rather than the subject itself. It's not literal! To better understand composition, a good practice would be to study the works of painters. They have usually a very good understanding of composition because that's what they create but they also have more freedom because they start from scratch when us landscape photographers have only what's in front of us to work with. A master of landscape painting that keeps popping up in my head is Albert Bierstadt. Once you look as his work, you'll simply be blown away. I always say that composition is everything because without a good composition, good lighting and post processing and all the hard work means nothing. There's nothing you can do with a bad comp., But if you have captured a good composition with decent lighting, you can always go back to it as you improve and work on it the way you like in post. It's easier for some of us to understand composition but some may need to pay more attention or even attend some classes and that's fine! Just don't give up on understanding it because I tell you, IT'S "EVERYTHING"... You probably have noticed that there won't be any information about camera settings because they don't matter!

To the Bone.jpg

I took this photo on a very frigid morning in the Canadian Rockies on my previous photo tour up there. Let's talk about the compositional elements that make it more interesting despite the flat lighting. We see the drifting snow that was captured by roughly 1/2 second exposure to create those lines. They're now being used as leading diagonal lines coming in from the bottom of the frame... there are also diagonals from the mountains. All these lines are leading the eyes to the brightest part of my image and my focal point which is the mountain in the distance... and it's is being lit by the sun. There are only two colors in the entire scene; blue and orange.... Those colors sit across from each other on the color wheel and they create a complimentary harmony. Most of my foreground is a cold blue which slowly transitions into the very subtle and bright orange of the sky. There are also shapes in the foreground. The methane bubbles create a pleasing pattern of circles. One more thing to notice is that the clouds are mimicking a reflection of the snow pile just below the main mountain in mid-ground. All these little details help to create a strong composition. There's absolutely nothing in this image that I did not intend to include in the comp. You're responsible for everything so keep it simple. Simple is always best. I find that most beginner photographers suffer with composition because they try to include way too much in the scene. There's no need for distracting elements. Everything in your photograph must be put there purposely. Reading the next section of this article will help you understand all of this better.

 

POST PROCESSING

Now let's say that you've done your homework, you've planned everything "right", you've gone out and captured some really nice shots from a beautiful location and now you're home and ready to start post processing. Guess what? this alone can take take thousands of hours to master. :)) You see, post processing is another fundamental job of a landscape photographer. No great photograph will ever be posted anywhere straight out the camera. Not when you have to compete with the best anyway. Back in the film days, it was done in the dark room and now it's "Lightroom". However, if you really wanna push your files and get the best out of them to tell your unique story and create real pieces of art, then your basic RAW developers are just not gonna cut it. You need to learn Photoshop. Why Photoshop? because there is simply nothing out there that's as powerful. The tools and possibilities which are available to you in Photoshop are endless. Cameras are not able to capture the full dynamic range of a scene. They're not great at capturing every element that's found in the atmosphere either. Some people are against it, but the fact of the matter is that editing your files IS part of landscape photography. Lenses distort reality & colors are not captured as seen and that lovely mist above the water during a sunrise is rarely captured properly in camera with enough contrast. It's our job as landscape photographers to understand this and bring the final photograph to life. Your goal is to create something that the viewer is gonna be able to "walk into". I'm gonna share my workflow here in simple terms and tell you what I usually do to my images to give you a better understanding of what goes on in my digital dark room. Now this is MY method and by no means it's the only method, but it should give you an idea of what it takes.

I first do my initial RAW adjustments in Lightroom which may include adjusting highlights and shadows and basic camera calibration and lens correction in order to make the colors pop and prepare the file for further editing. Then I take the files into Photoshop and do my exposure, focus and focal length blending, if any. Once that's done, I fix distortion. I may even leave or increase some distortion as wide angle lenses often create beautiful leading lines from the corners as they stretch them. I now have my first blended shot to work with. From now on, the sky is the limit. I do my dodging and burning which is super important on top of color adjustments. Color harmony is also very important and it can ruin a good composition but you have complete control over color in post. The subject of color harmony alone is a deep one and it's not for this article but basically, you must ensure that all the colors in your scene play well together. If not, shifting them may be necessary. Another thing that creates depth is transition... Transitions from light to dark, cool to warm, sharp to soft, big to small, high contrast to hazy/less contrast, you get the picture. For example, a cooler foreground transitioning into a warmer sky and mountains creates depth and gives you the illusion that the background is far away from your foreground... Remember, it's actually a 2D file and you're only creating the illusion of depth! Important fact! By making certain areas of the image darker, you're putting more emphasis on the lighter parts. Your background or your subject almost always has to be the brightest part of your image. The viewer's eyes are gonna go directly to the brightest section first and then it's up to the composition and the depth of your image to keep the eyes busy on it We naturally get bored of looking very quickly and the only reason you keep looking at Adamus' photos over and over without getting bored is because he has mastered his composition and post processing. His photographs draw you into the scene. PRACTICE, PRACTICE AND MORE PRACTICE. This is not something that you'll do in one sitting. It will take years! Look at your favorite artists' images and see what your images are missing. It's what I've done. That doesn't mean you're copying their style, you're just simply understanding the techniques and then you'll naturally develop your own style as you go. We're all different human beings with different visions and stories. There's no way you can copy someone's style when you truly try to create something. that's a promise! 

One very effective investment would be photo tours and workshops. As someone who leads tours on some of the world's most pristine wilderness areas and having worked with some of the world's best landscape photographers, I can assure you that spending money on one single trip with the right teacher can save you lots of agony and time. Just be careful to choose the right tour with the right photographer because not all tours come with great guides and post processing lessons. A good teacher will take you to the right location, show you how to prepare, how to compose and stay safe while out there and then finish up with a detailed post processing lesson. As a conclusion, this is the harsh reality of a landscape photographer's life. By no means it was written to discourage you. If you've come this far in the article, I'm pretty sure that you have the passion in you so don't give up! As hard as it might sound like, your passion will make it easy for you. You'll have ups and downs and learn along the way. It's a fantastic but long journey and I personally wouldn't wanna be doing anything else. Best of luck.

Juan De Fuca, british columbia

Juan De Fuca, british columbia

GEAR REVIEW: Haida Filters

I don't often use filters. Most of my final shots are blended from different frames. However, I never leave for a trip without my solid neutral density filters. Specially my 10 stop. This quick review is going to be about my experience with Haida filters. Imagine that you hike into a location for hours and you only have a certain amount of time before you have to hike back down but the lighting isn't ideal. If you have a solid ND, you can easily create something that's interesting with moving elements like clouds or water, even if it's mostly overcast. Photographs shouldn't always pop with colors, it's all about the composition and those streaking lines you create with a wide angle and a solid ND using a long exposure can create some interesting compositions even in the middle of the day. Another type of filter that I usually carry is a polarizer and that's either to add or take away the reflection on water. But let's move onto the review.

river of life.jpg


Ease of Use

As a landscape photographer, I can't be wasting time out in the field with the light changing ever so quickly, therefore, I need something that I can slip on and off fast when needed. Haida as been great for that. Going from different brands starting from Lee filters, I found Haida's holding system the quickest one yet. There are two parts to the filter holder; The rear and front adapters join each other to unify as one piece that will host the second part (main universal holder). You can either keep the adapter on at all times (which is what I do), or keep the whole assembly on for the entire shoot and only take out the glass when needed. Works great! If you decide to keep it all on, it comes with a nice elastic band for the original lens cover as well to keep things tidy. Your lens never comes off the camera. I personally use the 150mm system for my Tamron 15-30mm which is my go to lens. I tested filters from other manufacturers on the holder as well and they all fit except that the thickness of the glass may vary so just be careful.

201604070934264.jpg



Quality

Quality of both glass and the holder hardware feels great. No plastic parts what-so-ever. It's all made of metal parts and I have used them in the harsh conditions of Yukon's backcountry and the Canadian west coast with salt and water on them at all times. The glass itself is great and easy to clean thanks to the coating. The NanoPro series cost way less than let's say Lee filters, yet they perform even better in my opinion. Not that it can't be fixed in post, but I used to get a blue cast on my images with Lee filters when I don't get that with Haida glass. I also experienced very minimum to 0 vignetting.I don't think there's anything to complain about at their prices. Best surprise about the Haida filters was that they came with HARD CASES! YES! You don't have to spend more money like with other companies for cases. I broke way too many filters so having a hard case for glass is a must.


Final Thoughts and Tips

I like to purchase the best quality of gear possible and I don't like compromises but at the same time I always try to find the best price out there. Why pay so much when you can get the job done with the same quality for less? I found these systems to be more than capable for what I need them to do. Overall, I'd absolutely recommend these filters to any photographer who is looking for a filter system that does not break the bank. They also have a good selection. In my opinion, the filters that you must always carry with you are solid NDs and a polarizer. Though purists will disagree. I rely heavily on post processing for blending my images so I sometime use a filter for my sky and only blend in the sky by hand in Photoshop onto my main image. The final result is gonna look just like the single long exposure, except that I'm using no filter in front of my lens for the foreground. However, I would not hesitate to use the whole image that's been shot behind Haida glass and I have examples here to prove it.

The before image is the un-edited version of the photograph which i took just before putting the filter on.... you can see what the clouds looked like without the filter. I wasn't able to create those streaks with the clouds which were created with a 1 minute exposure. If you're wondering why the waves aren't as smooth, that was my personal artistic decision to use the waves from my regular shot with a faster shutter speed to add some interest in mid-ground. About the streaks, not only they add to the composition, but they also make the whole image smoother. All the lines create a pleasing scene together. I'll let you slide back and forth and see for yourself :)

Landscape Photography: Reality VS Photographs

Whether you are a working professional, an amateur who's trying to better your skills, or you just love looking at landscape photographs, it's important to understand the differences between a 3 dimensional world and a 2D frame. It's a very simple subject but often forgotten about. I'm going to break it up into different categories for better explanation; Composition, Distortion and Color. We'll also talk about a few tricks in the field and post processing to hopefully overcome the issue.


Composition and Basics
Let's talk about the basics. What's composition when it comes to landscape photography? It's a visual structure. It's the arrangement of visual elements within a defined space that tells your story as an artist. There's a big difference between how you see the world and the way your camera's sensor captures it. This is something that people always forget before saying things like "Wow, what a great shot, but how much editing did you do?" or "That's cheating"... You see, your eyes are constantly stitching a panorama as you look at a scene and you see the world in a 3 dimensional form. Your camera is simply capturing it onto the sensor and the viewer looks at it on a cropped frame and now it has transformed into 2D. It's simple: A photograph will never, and I mean NEVER look the same as what you see with your eyes in person. All we can do as photographers is add as much depth as possible to make it look and feel closer to reality. DEPTH! that's really what you need to create in post in order for your images to pop. And this depth is created by dodging, burning, composition and color shifting which is going to create transitions between light to dark, cold to warm, sharp to soft, big to small, etc. Choosing the right composition is everything. Moving the camera ever so slightly to get a different angle of view can make or break a shot. You must learn how lenses see the world and open your mind! But don't forget, if your composition is not pleasing to the viewer, no amount of post processing can fix that. There's no way you can transform a terrible composition or lighting into a good one. That's why I always spend more than 90% of my time preparing in the field scouting for a location and finding my composition. The actual shoot takes very little time. A good way of learning composition is to study painters. Great painters are the ones who know how important composition is. It's obviously easier for them because they are in total control of the frame, when us as landscape photographers can only use what's in front of us. We can only move the camera until we're happy with what we have. That's why travelling to locations that are photogenic is essential. I can spend a full day hiking and exploring a location looking for a pleasing composition with leading lines, shapes, patterns and colors that work together before even thinking about pressing the shutter button.


Lens Distortion
Every lens and I mean even that expensive Zeiss in your bag have some amount of distortion. While lens manufacturers can control barrel distortion to a degree, it's impossible to control perspective distortion. It's pure physics. I personally use my ultra wide angle lens almost all the time. While a longer telephoto lens can give you very unique compositions, I will never go anywhere in the world without my ultra-wide lens. It's what I use to give my foreground elements a wow factor. Although it has its challenges: Everything near the edges of the frame gets stretched and anything closer to the lens seems massive. Meanwhile, anything in the distance looks small and objects at the center of the frame get the "pincushion" effect. While making your foreground subjects bigger is an advantage, crushing your mountains is a massive problem because unless that mountain is right up close to my lens, it will look tiny in the photo. Most people zoom in a little to fix this, but once you go tighter, you lose foreground! So the way I deal with it is I shoot two different exposures with different focal lengths, and blend the two together in Photoshop and I will write a more in-depth article about this in the future. "BUT WAIT A MINUTE, THAT'S CHEATING"... Nope... Don't let anyone ever tell you that this is cheating. This is your work, your art, and you have the creative freedom to showcase it beautifully. You're simply using your skills to fix distortion. The mountain is naturally tall and it needs to be portrayed that way! If that is considered cheating, then simply taking a photograph and recording a RAW file is cheating as well!
Where do you draw the line in Landscape Photography? I have a simple rule: As long as it showcases the landscape and no aliens are photobombing it, I'd say go for it! Just don't put the Milky Way over a City and call it a Landscape photo! But, People should know that composites have existed even in the film days. Taking different shots at different moments and blending them together is not a genius new technique that only digital photographers are using these days. Some might claim they came up with it, but that's not the case. It has been there since photography started. Don't believe everyone and everything very easily, is the best advice I can give you. Today, there's immense amount of knowledge available at our fingertips which means a lot of it is unfortunately crap. Even a 5 year old has access to a computer and internet these days and they're writing. It takes patience and experience to tell the difference between good and bad material.

 

Color Harmony
This one alone is an extremely deep subject. I'm only going to scratch the surface of it. When you witness a sunset with wonderful colors and scenery in person, everything looks great because you're experiencing it with all your senses. In a photograph, it's a different story. When you look at a rectangular frame with a photograph in it, your eyes and brain without knowing are looking for interesting elements to keep your mind busy at it. A good composition makes a huge difference right off the bat, but what about color harmony? Well it's part of it. color harmony and separation makes a whole lot of difference! While some notes on a piano sound good and harmonious together, other random notes could sound irritating. Color is the same way. Color harmony rarely exists in nature and when the scene is transformed into a photograph, there has to be some color shift for it all to come together. The competing colors in your scene have to work together, and not against the composition. Bad color harmony alone can destroy a wonderful shot. One thing to remember is that a single color on its own is going to vary in two different ways; Saturation and Brightness.

Let's talk about a few different color "rules" and harmonies. The following colors in each of these rules are in perfect harmony with each other. The goal is to find your base color, and then match the other colors in your scene according to one of these rules. You also have to determine how many colors there are. So 1. Find the different colors in your landscape, 2. Figure out what harmony you're working with and 3. Change the hue of the competing colors to match according to the corresponding harmony. Here's how I do it: I open "Adobe Color Themes" by going to "Window/Extensions/Adobe Color Theme" in Photoshop. Then I choose the color picker tool and change my "sample size" from point sample to "31 by 31 Average". That allows me to pick a color that's averaged compared to a single pixel which makes a more accurate selection of the area I'm targeting. Once I have chosen the base color of my theme, I click on the "Set selected color from active color" button on ACT. Now, I go through the different harmonies from the drop down menu in Adobe Color Themes and pick the appropriate one according to my image, analyze and see what are my other competing colors in the scene and match the hue to what ACT tells me. Now I'm not going to go through all different ways of changing your hue, that is for a more in-depth article. Don't forget to visit Paletton.com that's another wonderful tool beside Adobe's Kuler. These browser based tools allow you to create your color harmony. Kuler even lets you upload your pictures to it.

Analogous Harmony Analogous scenes use colors that are adjacent on the color wheel.

Analogous Harmony
Analogous scenes use colors that are adjacent on the color wheel.

Example shot: This Aurora shot I've taken in the Yukon is the perfect example of the analogous harmony. The Blue and the Green are adjacent on the wheel. Blue is used in the light and also in the shadows.

Example shot: This Aurora shot I've taken in the Yukon is the perfect example of the analogous harmony. The Blue and the Green are adjacent on the wheel. Blue is used in the light and also in the shadows.

 
Complimentary colors that are opposite of each other on the color wheel

Complimentary
colors that are opposite of each other on the color wheel

Example shot: As you can see the Greenish Blue is complimenting the Yellowish Orange and it's comforting to look at. These colors are opposite of each other on the wheel.

Example shot:
As you can see the Greenish Blue is complimenting the Yellowish Orange and it's comforting to look at. These colors are opposite of each other on the wheel.

 

Triadic
Triadic themes use colors that are evenly spaced around at 3 equidistant points on the color wheel. (Similar to Split-Complimentary)

Triadic harmony shown above in one of my images from the Yukon

Triadic harmony shown above in one of my images from the Yukon

 

Other common relationships to note:

Monochromatic colors are variations in saturation and brightness of a single color.

Quadratic is when you combine four colors that are separated by two hues on the wheel.

Diad is when you combine two colors that are separated by two hues on the wheel.


Keep in mind that these are just a few that I have listed. There are more color rules out there that have been proven to work well together. They are not all included in Adobe Color Theme but you could create your own and save them as custom presets. There are lots of articles to read on this subject. Just like composition, understanding color takes lots of time and practice. You'll eventually not even think about it anymore and your eyes will be trained enough to tell what's working and what's hurting your photograph. Now the question becomes, where do you draw "the line" when shifting colors? That really is a personal choice but when it comes to landscape photography, purists will tell you to stay within the realm of reality. For example; don't shift the blue of a mid-day sky to a pink or a bright purple. Personally, I give myself a little bit of extra room but I still won't go absolutely nuts! It is landscape photography after all. It has to stay believable. For example, in the image below which I took in Tombstone Territorial Park of the Canadian Arctic in Yukon, you'll see a strong reddish tone in the clouds. I did see a light red in the sky which was closer to orange, but I darkened it down to get more saturation in this picture. I also changed the hue a little towards red, though it's a very rare color to see in the sky. Some would tell you that it's not possible, but it's close to what I remember or close enough! I had envisioned this photograph like this before hand. I really wanted that extreme red color in the sky. I wanted to give the landscape that feel of an Alien planet but didn't want to overdo it at the same time. That was the feeling I had when I first got there. The landscape of Tombstone Territorial Park is just out of this world. Getting there though, is another story... let's just say that it takes two hard days (one way) of hiking and pretty much climbing at some point! The reddish color was my artistic choice. I have personally experienced after-storm sunsets with colors very close to this. Note that every color is different and each color has different strength to the human eye.



Remember: SUBTLE changes make a huge impact. Sometimes it's even better to reduce the saturation rather than boost it. For example, if I have a really nice subtle red color in my sky and I want to make it pop, I will reduce the punch around it. Maybe make the blue in the sky less saturated and shift that blue to a point in the color wheel where it is complimenting the red. Also, I make local targeted adjustments. Never boost the saturation slider for the entire image. It just looks unnatural and makes the colors fight with each other even more. Your brain is naturally looking for simplicity. It understands a simple scene way better than a complicated composition. You're really not fixing anything by boosting all colors. One last note on color harmony is that each of these rules have their own way of incorporating into an image, some are difficult to master, some are closer to the natural world depending on your landscape.


Additional processing tips:

Color and Mood

One great way for boosting saturation is to darken the scene; add a "Curves" adjustment layer and take the mid point down. This will not only give you saturation, but deepens the mood. Pay attention to your histogram to make sure that you're not clipping any shadows but don't let that histogram hold you back either...clipping a little bit of shadows is totally fine in my opinion. I don't like bright photos myself. The more I grow in my photography career, the less I care about having everything exposed "properly". Darkening a color will add saturation to it if you don't change the Curves layer's blending mode. If you see that it's adding too much saturation, you can always change its blending mode to Luminosity.

The image on the right is after the Cuvers adjustment. As you can see, all i did was pull the midpoint down. It added saturation and contrast.

The image on the right is after the Cuvers adjustment. As you can see, all i did was pull the midpoint down. It added saturation and contrast.

Composition and Lighting

Dodge and Burn... repeat after me, DODGE AND BURN! For the ones who don't use Photoshop or know the terms, it simply means darkening or lightening specific areas of the image. This is a technique that is often underestimated but every photograph needs it. Embrace the shadows, they are what give your image a sense of depth. Don't confuse this with a contrast adjustment. Graduated shadows are great for adding depth to your objects. Back in the film days, this was a technique that every great name used but it's a very deep subject. You have to understand what gives your image the depth it's missing. Often you can look at Nature itself to understand what you have to dodge or burn. When Mother Nature gives you a great light show, she's teaching you what you need to do; just look at those late golden hour shots casting beautiful light on your foreground objects creating shadows that mimic the shapes and observe them. Once you understand the difference between good light and bad light, you'll know what to boost and what to darken. I always shoot at least 8 different exposures of the same compositions. This gives me the ability to pick and choose the best that represents the shadows, then I'll use that as a guideline to my dodging and burning. RAW files are flat, it's how they're designed to be. It's your job to bring them to life and apply the proper contrast to them. Remember that naturally, your eyes are first attracted to the lighter areas of an image so whatever the most important part of your image may be, try and make it the brightest.

Above, you can see an example of before and after dodging and burning. Just by selectively brushing areas, there's now more depth to the image. Move the slider and pay attention to the snow in the foreground, the water, Mount Cephren and the overall look of the image. This is dodging and burning ONLY.

 

Conclusion

When it comes to Landscape Photography, You must become one with Mother Nature. You have to get out there and understand and chase the light. Albert Bierstadt didn't get to where he was as a landscape painter by reading articles. He did it by practicing it in real life and mastering this form of art can take hard years. It really does take lots of patience and countless hours of practice. You have to face the elements of Nature which can be really harsh at times. That's the only way you're going to transform your feelings onto a piece of paper. Post processing in the digital room is simply a part of being a good outdoor artist. No great photograph was ever exported without being retouched straight out of the camera, especially when shot in RAW format. What else would you shoot in anyways? JPEG? If you do, you should stop right now, go to your settings and shoot RAW and watch the possibilities unfold. Having said that, no amount of post processing can fix bad lighting or a bad composition. Half the battle is getting your image composed properly. There are tools in Photoshop for fixing distortion and fixing minor issues, but if you do not understand composition, that's what you need to work on first. Composition is everything followed by good lighting. Remember that cameras and settings are only tools. What makes a photograph is yourself, the artist, not the camera so don't get too caught up on gear. 

Once you bought that fresh tomato, basil and cheese, once you have mastered how to make a great pizza dough from scratch, once you understand the process and have your pizza oven hot and ready, then and only then you can start making your pizza. That will be the only pizza you'll ever want to have because it's done right, and it tastes right!