Essential photo editing tricks for landscapes: 05 Control the tonal range
Pro photographer David Clapp says
One photo editing technique I like to use is to make adjustments to the tonal range, rather than via selected areas.
This gives your image a more even effect by allowing you to make uniform edits, which are then reflected throughout the image rather than solely in manually brushed sections.
The latter is probably the biggest problem I see in landscape photos. Manual brushing leaves behind traces of tampering.
Any areas you brush heavier than others will be noticeable - the viewer will think something isn't quite right.
When you lose the evenness of tonal range throughout a picture, your eye will register the photo as a computerised picture - it won't feel natural, which should be your ultimate aim in processing landscape images.
An easy way to control your tonal range is to click the Channels Panel in Photoshop. Hold down Cmd/Ctrl and click the RGB channel.
This will select your highlights. Next, hold down Cmd/Ctrl+Shift and click RGB again. This widens your selection to include the midtones.
Keep repeating this to widen your selection if you wish. Then click Curves in your Adjustments Panel, and Photoshop will load your selection into your Curves layer.
An easy way to remind yourself why you should do this is to think about some of the more complex images you might shoot, such as a forest scene. Manually selecting all of the gaps between the branches and leaves or brushing between them would be extremely tedious.
By letting the computer select everything in the picture that's dark, for instance (press Cmd/Ctrl+Shift+I to invert your selection to control the shadows), you can then add contrast and different techniques to add or remove colour from your image. All of the light has been respected, and you have total control.
The inset image was shot in winter at Bantham Beach, Devon, and I used an exposure blend of one image exposing for the highlights and another for the shadows.
In the assembly, I put them together by controlling the tonal range as described above, using luminosity masking to take control of the edging.
I wanted to blend the cliff and highlighted areas together and avoid haloing, which is another common problem in landscapes. This technique allowed me to reveal the darker tonal range into the lighter one.