Atomic Sunrise

Photoshop Workflow The anatomy of creating a final image in Photoshop. [Final image] This image is from a very vivid sunset that I shot recently on a cold and windy night in Joshua Tree National Park. The dynamic range in this scene was well over two stops difference so I had to bracket exposures with the intent of blending them together in Photoshop later. I shot four exposures but after looking at them I decided I could process the image with just two RAW files – one for the foreground and one for the sky. [bright] ISO 160, 0”6, F16 [dark] ISO 160, 1/6, F16 1. Prep files in Adobe Camera Raw. First things first, I open both RAW files in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR). In ACR I make sure to have the same white balance for both images. I set the Profiles to Adobe Landscape. All the adjustment sliders are set to zero for this particular image. [profile] I also check off Remove Chromatic Aberration and Profile Corrections (and make sure the profile matches my camera and/or lens used). [optics] Then I open both files into Photoshop. 2. Stack exposures. In order to blend these exposures, I’ll first need to stack them by copy and pasting the darker exposure onto the brighter. With the dark exposure selected I click CTRL (PC)/CMND (Mac) A (selects all) and then CTRL/CMND C (copies). Then with the brighter foreground exposure selected I paste it with CTRL/CMND V. With both layers “stacked”, it’s time to blend them together. 3. Blend layers. I will need to create a luminosity mask with Raya Pro 5 InstaMask to blend the two layers. A brights 1 seems to be the best fit but even with adjusting the mask sliders it doesn’t quite give me good enough separation of sky and foreground so it needs to be refined further. [brights1] I do that by clicking the Select button on the panel to create a selection. The marching ants now show me roughly what the mask would look like – indeed there are some areas that the mask is missing. [selection] Using the Lasso tool, I hold down Shift and draw around the areas of the sky that weren’t part of the original selection. This will add them to the selection. Inversely, if I want to remove any part from the selection, I can do so by holding down Alt and drawing around it. I still want to refine the edge of the horizon. Using any of the Photoshop selection tools, I right click on the image and choose Select and Mask. [selectandmask] Using the cursor, I will now draw on the edges (I make sure to use a small enough brush to only work in close proximity to the edge of the horizon). The red areas indicate what will be masked out. When I’m satisfied with the mask, I click OK. [Redmask] With my mask ready, I need to apply it to the top layer by clicking on the layer and then clicking on the Add Layer Mask button (rectangle with a circle in the middle) at the bottom of the Layers panel. The result is a nice balanced sky and foreground exposure in one file. [blended] One last thing I’ll do is to save this mask in case I need to make the same selection later. I hold down CTRL/CMND and click on the mask on the layer (this will select it). Then I go to the Channels panel and click on Save Selection as Channel (again, the rectangle with a circle in the middle). It creates a layer mask automatically labeled Alpha 1. [channels] I’ll need to merge the layers into one background layer by right clicking on one of the layers and selecting Flatten Image. Now it’s time to fine tune the image. 6. Remove dust. If there’s any dust or artifact that I want removed, now is the time to do it. I always do this first in my layer workflow. This is where Raya Pro’s Reveal Dust comes in handy. Now I can zoom in and scan the image for dust spots. I can use the Clone Tool, Healing Brush or Content Aware Fill to remove the dust. Sometimes I try all three to see what works best. 7. Contrast. I add some overall contrast with a Curves layer. It’s already a contrasty image so I’ll make a very subtle Curves adjustment. [curves] I do want to increase some contrast in the foreground to accentuate the texture in the boulders though. This calls for me to use the selection I saved in the Channels panel . I select it by holding down CTRL/CMND and clicking on the Alpha 1 mask. The selection I saved was for the sky but I can easily invert it (with any selection tool chosen) by right clicking on the image and clicking Select Inverse. Now with the foreground selected I add a Levels layer and increase the white slider just enough to make the boulders pop a bit more. With the exposure and contrast where I like them, it’s now time for some saturation. 8. Color saturation. I very rarely use Saturation or Vibrance layers. Instead, I like to use a LAB saturation layer for more control. 8a. First, I need to duplicate the image by going to Image>Duplicate… Then check Duplicate Merged Layers Only and click OK. 8b. Now with the duplicated image, I need to change the color space to LAB by going to Image>Mode>LAB Color. 8c. Next, I duplicate the background layer by clicking CTRL/CMND J and then change the Blending Mode to Overlay. 8d. Under Blending Options, I need to uncheck the L channel and click OK. 8e. I need to copy and paste this saturated image onto the original now. Viola! A saturation layer. I can adjust the opacity to my liking. See this previous post on how to use this method in more detail ( 9. Refining color. There’s a couple of things I don’t like about what my saturation layer did. It over saturated some areas, particularly the red tones. I drop the layer’s opacity down to about 33% and that seemed to do the trick. It looks much more natural now. There are ways to isolate and mask out just the over saturated areas (with the method below) but for now we’ll keep it simple. I also don’t like having all that cyan in the sky. This is a personal preference, but I usually prefer to add some reds into the cyan area to give it a more purple hue (just subtle enough so that the cyan isn’t distracting). I add a Color Balance layer, then I’ll need to isolate the cyan by creating a selection. Using InstaMask again, I click the Colour button. Now I will use the color picker to select the area of the sky that I want to adjust and click OK. I can adjust the sliders to tweak the mask if needed and then go to my Color Balance layer and click Apply. Now, with my cyan mask, I can add more red with the red slider and it will only affect the cyan areas. [layers] 10. Sharpening. Finally, I need to sharpen the image. But first, I will save my image as a PSD or TIFF (this keeps my layers intact) in case I need to go back and re-edit it. After it is saved, I’ll flatten the image and then duplicate the background layer. I typically use Smart Sharpen. I go to Filter>Sharpen>Smart Sharpen. I use many different algorithms depending on the image and the size output and many more factors (and often sharpening different parts of images with different settings) but for this particular image I’ll set the Amount to 150% and the Radius to 1.4 anticipating a large file output. [sharpensettings] And that’s it!

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