Two Shots – Before and After

More before and after only this time with very minimal work in Lightroom and a lot in Photoshop. Mostly because of the power and control that the TK8 Plug In gives me. The more I work with it, the more comfortable I become and it’s easier and easier to achieve the effects I want. I’m glad I took the time to climb the steep learning curve so to speak. Although I’m no means an expert, it was worth it and it’s going to stay in my toolbox.

Using a combination of the two Adobe products also helped me become more methodical in my approach to editing. When I was using only Lightroom, its non-destructive nature lends itself to a more haphazard approach. With Photoshop, it’s often necessary to do things in a specific order. Mostly this is anything involving moving or replacing pixels with tools such as Free Transform, Liquify, Clone stamping and Content-Aware Fill. It’s important to get those things done before you start on adjustment-based edits.

Before

Since I’m such a Photoshop newbie, I’d always done any lens correction or transform work in Lightroom. For the most part it does a good job, but sometimes an extreme wide angle shot can look a little strange in ways that can only be corrected with Photoshop. One of those things is to bend and reshape objects that may have become distorted. Using a combination of Free Transform and Liquify can make things look a bit more natural. In this image it was the big rock in the foreground. I wanted it and the cascade over the rocks to be a bit rounder and less stretched. Check out the trees in the background, too – I straightened them up so they don’t look so wonky. It doesn’t take much and it’s easy to go overboard, but if you convert your layer to a Smart Object, you can always change it and the tools can be reset and redrawn to show you before and after and to expand or contract things for a more realistic appearance.

It takes some practice and usually you’ll need to revert your layers back to normal by flattening them, but I like the idea of using these when necessary to make things look proportionally better. I also wanted to do a lot of sculpting in the water itself. Curves, tones, highlights, shadows and colors play together to create depth and a sense of movement. Making the most of those was key.

After

I forgot to name the layers for this one, so explanations as to what I did are on the side. The list is in the order I did things, the stack puts the first changes on the bottom like it always does. This is what was done before the bottom layer or the first item in the list –

  • Free transform to straighten leaning trees
  • Liquify to reshape the main rock and cascade since they were stretched by the wide angle – flattened and converted to a Smart Object for this
  • Flattened back to a regular layer for distraction removal
  • Converted to a S.O. again for Camera Raw Filter – darkened the entire image 
    • Lowered exposure & contrast
    • Raised shadows & blacks 
    • Added a little texture and contrast
  • Black brush on white Smart Filter mask to bring original exposure back to focus the eye through the image and emphasize shapes and geometry – very low flow brush
  • High Pass Clarity action with black mask and white brush for a strong presence in the water and a little in the farthest center trees
  • Added a Hue/Saturation layer – bumped lightness and saturation to 6, and a Levels layer set to Auto w/Enhance Monochromatic Content checked (alt + Auto to choose)
  • Put both layers in a Group with a white mask then added a Midtones Luminosity mask to target the adjustment to those tones. Lowered opacity of the layer since it was too strong
  • Created a color mask with the gold on the water selected then output to a 50% Dodge layer – sampled a slightly lighter gold to paint onto the water itself.
  • Used Lasso tool to select the big rock and created a Color Grading Tool to shape and add some dimension to the rock itself, also a little warming
  • Selective Color layer to tone down the greens somewhat and boost the neutrals. 
  • Saturation Mask for most saturated areas – greens – put that into a Group with a Black mask and painted in where I wanted it most
  • Vibrance Mask for least saturated oranges and browns – put that into a Group with a Black mask and painted into the far shoreline and also darkened the colors somewhat
  • Curves layer to raise midtones overall slightly and used a white mask to target where it got too much and needed to be darker
  • Separate dodge and burn layers to further improve distant shadows and contour some of the rocks in the water

I realize now that I didn’t need to put single adjustment layers without luminosity masks into groups just to mask the adjustment; I could have just applied a white or black mask directly to the layer. You only need to put them in a group if you have more than one adjustment layer working together to produce a single effect or if you have a luminosity mask on your adjustment layer. For multiple layers the group essentially binds the layers together and then you can apply a mask to direct your adjustments together. If you’ve already used an luminosity mask to direct your adjustment to a tone, color or luminosity value, a group allows you to mask a mask to further refine where the adjustment goes. It’s a little confusing, but think of a group as allowing you to control more than one thing at a time – whether it’s adjustment layers or a layer with a luminosity mask already directing your edit.


This is the same cascade, but a little further back. The tree on the far right has come down across the whole thing so the brook and this little bit of it are very different now. The last I saw it was in 2014 or 15 and so by now it’s probably changed even more. I doubt I’ll ever get back to this tiny slice of the world so I’m glad I got to explore it a little. I’ve never processed this next shot ever before so I’m kind of excited to show it off a little.

After

And this is how it came from Lightroom –

This time I did label my layers so you can see what I did and how I did it. Things like Clarity (High-pass filter), Spotlight, Vignette and Make-it-Glow are actions within the TK8 panel and get labeled automatically. The focal length I used wasn’t as wide so didn’t need any distortion correction and I jumped right in with distraction removal. First I do Border Patrol, looking for things that stick into or out of the scene. Then I move inward. As I remove things, other things become more prominent and noticeable. What doesn’t bug you at first can become annoying when bigger eye-magnets are gone.

The water has less presence in this shot so there wasn’t as much water sculpting needed, but I still did some. Primarily I wanted to emphasize the light coming in from almost right above. Directing that cone of light was the organizing factor to all the edits. Creating and sculpting brights and shadows on and around objects gives them more depth and presence in a 2D format. It also helps you train your eye to see light directionality even when it’s subtle or diffuse.

Phew. All that for two photos, but I think as I do this more and more, I’ll get faster. It’s also pretty fun to do. You can get into a groove and really bring out the best in your shot. Plus it’s worth it for those really special images where I got some really great light on a really great subject.

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