Saturday, June 16, 2012

Alder Springs - photo from Russian Ridge Open Space, California

 "Alder Springs"

Here is a photo from up in the Santa Cruz Mountains this afternoon. This is taken on Alder Springs Trail, which is just lovely this time of year. The grass is drying but some trees are still blooming and the whole landscape just had a nice warm, but complete, palette of colors. I've tried to capture that here. I think my favorite part of this photo is the lone tree on the hillside in the middle-ground. It seems to be calling for attention but being forgotten at the same time. I get questions about my Photoshop workflow sometimes, so I've decided to start attaching it in these posts from time to time, in case some might find it useful. We'll see how I like doing that. 

Four image blend. Each photo adjusted in Raw with the following parameters: ProPhoto RGB, 16 bit White balance: cloudy; Blacks: 3; Vibrance: +15; Contrast: linear (all else default)

Photomerge, cylindrical (cylindrical, spherical, auto, and perspective were each tried, to see which got the best results). Crop. Some corners are blank due to the bending of the images.

Fill in blank corners with clone stamp. The top right corner (empty sky) is hardest to fill in, due to the gradient in color in the sky. Fill this in by first clone stamp (rudimentary), then healing brush, then select area, add noise (gaussian, 1%), then gaussian blur. This gives good, smooth result.

Duplicate layer. One will be for sky, one for foreground.

Sky Layer:
curves adjustment layer: darken and pop with s-curve
shadow/highlights to bring down highlight: shadows: 0%, highlights: 4% (this is a destructive tool but I find sometimes using the same raw exposure is worth it, even if one must use this tool)
match color: luminance: 110, intensity: 105
levels adjustment layer: squeeze blacks and whites inwards slightly
photo filter adjustment layer: warming (81), 10%, do not preserve luminosity
lasso tool: select bottom right portion of sky, which has gotten too bright
curves: bring this portion back to correct brightness
brightness adjustment layer: -4 (whole sky looks too bright... this simple tool often works well for bringing brightness down uniformly)
layer -> layer mask: paint mask to only reveal the sky portion of this image

Foreground Layer:
levels adjustment layer: brighten up the highlights in the grass
curves adjustment layer: add some general, low-level contrast with a nice s-curve
match color: luminance: 110, intensity: 120

Flatten layers.
Burn: get rid of a halo that has developed around the trees in the sky (range: highlights, exposure: 14%)

At this point, the image is almost finished, but I feel like it has gotten too warm on me (this happens to me often). I sometimes rectify this in the following way:
on new layer: auto color, auto tone (it is now cooler)
Opacity: 22% (a compromise, as the warmth I love is often too much)

That's it! The rest is just shrinking and sharpening for web.

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