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Welcome to my second landscape editing tutorial. In today’s tutorial I will how you how to effectively use gradients and adjustment layers together to selectively edit parts of your landscape photos. In photography you can use polarizing filters, colored filters and other kind of filters to achieve different effects. While some of those filters can be expensive (specially when you have to buy multiple ones for multiple effects) in Photoshop you can do it for free and you have more options.
As I said in my first landscape editing tutorial, it’s important to start with a good photo. Great composition and exposure are very important. If you’re taking your own photos, when your out shooting, don’t rely on post production. Always try to get the best photo ever, otherwise, what’s the point of being a photographer, right? If you’re not editing your own photos but simply practicing editing techniques, make sure you take a correctly exposed photo with good composition. For this tutorial I will give you the exact image I used here so you can download it and follow my steps.
I will only show you the technique and a couple of adjustment layers but you can apply it to all adjustment layers and non adjustment layers as well.
Download the image and let’s get started: http://www.sxc.hu/browse.phtml?f=view&id=1086684
First things first. You have look at your photo and decide what kind of effect or feel you want to achieve. The better you took the photo the less work you have to do. After looking at my photo, since the water is in the foreground, I wanted it to look cleaner, more saturated and brighter. The water and that rock in the middle of it are our focus points so we must make them look the best we can.
Once I identified the “problem” and my interest area, it’s time to take action. Remember that we want to see more details in the water and make it a bit brighter (a polarizing filter would eliminate reflections and add more saturation and it was probably used that’s why you can see through the water already).
Since we only want to affect the water and we have a linear transition from the water to the mountain in the background we can easily use a gradient. We will use the linear gradient to create a gradient mask, just like a linear polarizing filter. In order to make the water brighter and colorize it a bit more, I used a Gradient Map Adjustment Layer (I love this adjustment). The quickest way of creating the mask is by using the Quick Mask.
Press Q to activate the quick mask and then get the Gradient Tool (G) and select the Linear Foreground/Background preset and draw a gradient like shown in the image below. Hold down the Shift key for a perfectly straight gradient.
The red gradient that you see in the image above is the area that will not be affected by the adjustment layer we will add next. Once you have the gradient, press Q again and a selection will appear, once you see the selection go ahead and add a Gradient Map from Layer>New Adjustment layer>Gradient Map or from the icon on the bottom of the layers palette. The layer mask should be created automatically as long as you have the selection loaded.
Now you have to choose two colors which will be applied to the highlights and the shadows. The colors you should choose, should be similar to the ones the water originally has. Just make sure you select a darker tone for the shadows.
This Gradient Map makes quite a big difference. Hover the mouse over the image below to see the before and after.
I wanted the water to be a little more saturated so I used a Hue/Saturation adjustment. So go ahead and add a Hue/Saturation (or Vibrance) adjustment layer and increase the saturation to +30 or +35. Since I only wanted to saturate the water, I took advantage of the Layer Mask I created and duplicated it. You can copy a layer mask to another layer by holding ALT/Option while you click and drag the layer mask on top of another layer.
At this point I was happy with how the water looked so I moved to the top part of the photo and work on the sky and the mountains. There was not much to do here. I used the Exposure Adjustment layer (could have used the Levels or Curves) to increase the contrast. I created a new layer mask for the sky using the same method I used when I worked with the water.
You can give the final touch with a Photo Filter adjustment layer on top of all the other layers. I was going for a colder effect so I used a blue color at 20%.
As you can see, you can be creative and develop new techniques of editing your photos. I hope you learned the technique and that at least it gave you some ideas to improve your editing skills. Down below you can download the PSD source file with all the adjustments.