Patience, working just a little bit longer... Invaluable skills in life and in photography!
This post was meant to go up yesterday. Alas, life chooses more than we do sometimes what does and doesn't happen.
So, today, given the feedback from my Day 16 post requesting additional post-processing details whenever I can add them, let's talk about working with shadows and highlights in Photoshop CC.
This is one of my FAVORITE types of sunsets to capture. Ocean/surf setting, high tide receding, lovely cloud texture to diffuse highlights that would otherwise be overblown without a lens filter.
There weren't a lot of people around to muck up the view. Why? Because the sun had already gone down (and it was cold and windy and uncomfortable near the surf). Plus, other photographers on the beach that early evening were just out of my camera range taking pictures of the actual sun going down. Leaving me all to myself with these amazing reflections and naturally "soft focused" lines.
Truth in advertising before we start talking post--you're going to get wet and tired if you want to capture an image like this. I'm standing IN the surf as it rolls, crouching when needed, my butt nearly on the soggy sand as the water ebbs and flows. All necessary for a low-angled shot of the long view and the setting sun's reflection in the still-wet sand. You'll also want to take several shots. Leveling water abstracts can be tricky, let alone that the surf and sky are painting something different every time the surf rushes in and out. And I mean RUSHES. You'll be working fast, not caring how wet you get or how much your things are burning each time you crouch. But I assure you, the finish line is worth the journey ;o)
Okay, back to our regularly scheduled topic--adjusting shadows and highlights to get the most texture and subtle contrast from your shot.
This is the image straight out of the camera, with minor adjustments made in Photoshop's Camera RAW as I imported.
The potential's there, but all that light-filled, colorful glory is muted and flat, as most RAW images will be.
After importing, here's how my early processing typically goes:
- I create a duplicate of the background layer (CTRL+J).
- In this duplicate layer, I work with any cloning or spot healing that needs to be done.
- Once I've cleaned up any "uglies," I CTRL+J to create another layer copy (of the background and now any cleanup work I've done) and begin working with shadows and highlights.
- To access shadow and highlight settings in Photoshop CC, with your new layer active select Image > Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights.
I work with these settings in "sections."
Adjusting the Shadows settings of this image, I teased out the light and color in the darker patterns of the image.
You're not only opening shadows with these settings. You're addressing the tonality and impact of the darker aspects of your image.
Notice in particular the blues/cyans we're now picking up in the stretch of shoreline, while at the same time we're maintaining contrast between the shoreline and the wet sands reflections.
Adjusting the Highlights settings of this image, I worked with how all that indirect, diffused, and reflected light would interplay with the better revealed shadows.
My goal here is to enhance the visual impact of the highlights without sacrificing contrast. What needs to be brighter, and how can those lighter tones be relayed effectively?
I wanted brighter visual impact, while at the same time still accentuating the abstract lines and curves of nature's surf dance.
The color and midtone settings in the Adjustments section are next.
This is where your shadow and highlight adjustments start to shine in a more layered way.
Through Adjustments, you start to see more dimension and even better tonal "punch" and contrast.
Of course, it's great to also go back to your Shadows and Highlights settings to tweak here and there. You're taking a more "big picture" view now of the overall impact of your adjustments.
Once you're done, click OK to close Shadows/Highlights and apply your changes.
Above are the 4 steps, side-by-side, for a better look at the progression of work.
- Raw image
- Shadow work
- Highlight work
- Color/midtone adjustments.
Don't worry that the combined effect isn't what you want from the final image.
You're focusing in this Photoshop layer on pulling out everything you'll need from your shadows and highlights, BEFORE you go to work with the rest of your processing.
Here's the final image, after I added a touch of NIK Color Efex, tweaked Levels, Brightness, and the luminosity and saturation of the blues, cyans, yellows and reds.
I also used a 50% grey layer to burn in a bit more contrast here and there, where I wanted the shadows deepened. This is always my final step in abstract images like ocean sunsets. I',m doing my best to draw the eye visually to the lines and curves I've worked so hard to enhance through other settings.
NONE of this is a "professional" description of how to use these features, mind you.
'Tis only my method/process, as enhance dimension and depth and shine/shadow in an already eye-catching image.
Your goal as you splunk around in Photoshop and other programs will be to find your own process, your own visual voice, as you more intentionally process the images you're capture.
I hope you do.
I hope you've found something in the above to inspire you to stay a little bit longer with an image to tease out even a smidge more beauty.
And if you do, I hope you share your latest creations with a world desperate for your artistic voice.
Before I go, I wanted to offer another image from the same sunset.
I always look at it and smile, thinking back to a magical night, surrounding by wind and the rush of the surf and a small band of photography "brothers" who'd walked and walked until we found the perfect spot to create...