Displaying color tones in landscape photography

Landscape photography may be challenging since you have little influence over the subject and often find yourself making up for it in the digital darkroom.

You may need to broaden your tonal range if your landscape photographs sometimes lack that “wow” factor—that quality that stands out in terms of tones and color. This will aid in enhancing the sharpness and detail of your images to a professional level.

The three methods listed below are often used by photographers to clean up muddy tones and produce sharp, dramatic photographs.

Burning and Dodging
Dodging and burning, a darkroom technique that has been adapted for Photoshop, is a great way to expand your tone range and pick and choose which areas of your photographs need correction.

Dodge and Burn to Correct Exposure is a concise tutorial that we’ve previously published, complete with descriptions of the tools and how to apply them.

However, you should use this tool with extreme caution since it may quickly result in blown highlights or blocked shadows. Watch your histogram and reduce your editing if you see significant data loss.

Levels The levels tool is a fantastic technique to broaden your tone range and remove cloudiness from a picture, enabling you to truly make your black-and-white or color shot stand out.

Three triangles are visible when you glance at the levels slider: black stands for your dark tones, white for your whites, and gray for your mid tones.
By ensuring that your shot employs the whole tonal range, from dark to bright, you may change these sliders to remove any cloudiness from your image. In essence, what you’re doing is making your brightest tones seem brighter and your darkest tones darker.

When the extreme ends of your tonal range are devoid of tones, as indicated by gaps on each end of your levels histogram, this strategy will work well. The darkest tone in your picture likely begins rather far from the darkest tone that is feasible. This is seen in the example image by the enormous gap in the front of the histogram, or the dark tones.
The related picture to this histogram shows that the tones are quite muddy and do not use the whole tonal range. I used a black and white picture to demonstrate the tonal changes, but the technique works with color photographs as well.

However, you can see a significant shift in the tonal range of the picture when I move my dark point slider over to where the histogram truly begins. Take note of how the picture was influenced by the change in the dark tone slider’s value from 0 to 39.

I would also make the same adjustment to that slider if my histogram over here had a significant highlight gap. The objective is to have your sliders closely encircle your histogram; after that, you may change the mid-tone slider as needed to get the desired effect, being careful not to ruin your photo with blown highlights or blocked shadows.

Note: Don’t change the levels directly on the picture; instead, do it on a separate adjustment layer. You may use this to hide the places where you need to cut back and to always return and change your level settings.

When there is a significant difference between your whitest, brightest, and darkest tones, HDR (high dynamic range) works well. It’s also a great method to capture dramatic lighting in situations when it’s difficult to catch all the details of your picture, as during sunsets.

Read this excellent post by Joseph Rossbach on how to create HDR landscapes that seem natural if you want to learn more about how HDR may enhance your photography.

There are restrictions and challenges with HDR, despite the fact that it is a fantastic approach to capture the whole tone range of a landscape photograph. Ghosting, which occurs when a moving subject appears differently in each of your repeated exposures, is the major issue. This can interfere with the mixing process.

However, if you’re manually mixing exposures or if your software can’t handle it, you’ll need to spend some time with your clone brush and patch tool. Most HDR software enables you to repair ghosting inside the application. The ultimate outcome is still worthwhile despite the additional labor.

Also keep in mind that if you’re dealing with a RAW picture, you may produce a similar HDR effect. While it won’t be as dramatic as using the HDR method described above, utilizing one image alone rather than mixing numerous ones will let you somewhat widen the tone range. Since there is no change between exposures, this approach has the advantage of eliminating ghosting in comparison to several exposures.

By utilizing layer masks to combine your original picture with two other images—one with a lowered exposure and one with an enhanced exposure—you may expand your tone range. You can also edit directly in RAW. Just be careful not to raise or reduce by more than two full stops since that is the maximum change for RAW exposure.

The three techniques mentioned above are not mutually exclusive; you may also employ a special mix of the techniques to broaden your landscape tone range.

One piece of advice I can provide is to always strive to shoot in RAW format. A RAW editor is a strong tool that enables you to carry out many of the common modifications found in Photoshop, but in a much more precise and protective manner.