Post Processing Landscape Photography Workflow

Robin Whalley, Author of Post Processing Landscape Photography

Robin Whalley, Landscape Photographer

27 August 2019

Bamford Edge Heather Post Processing Example

In this tutorial, we’re looking at post-processing landscape photography with a simple four-part workflow. But the workflow we’ll use can form the basis of any post-processing to improve a photograph. It doesn’t need to be a landscape photo.

The steps in the workflow that we’ll look at are:

  1. Photo Assessment to determine required adjustments.
  2. RAW Conversion to produce a great starting image.
  3. Image Enhancement to improve and highlight aspects of the photo.
  4. Special Effects to finish the image, giving it an appeal and professional finish.

Following a brief description of the stage, there’s a video demonstration of the photo editing workflow. Do take a little time to watch these as they contain lots of tips and information. If you don’t have the time to view all the videos now, bookmark the page and come back later.

If you’re wondering what tools you need to achieve these results, I should stress the tools are not essential. If you don’t have all these tools used in the videos, don’t worry. What’s more important is to understand the editing and what it’s trying to achieve. You can then apply this knowledge to your own post-processing tools.

Photo Assessment Workflow Step

What many photographers fail to realise is that good photo editing starts before you take the photo. It’s important to spend time thinking about why you want to take this photo. What’s the scene about and what’s attracting you? Also think about how you want the finished image to appear.

“When you understand how you want the finished image to appear, it helps you decide how best to photograph it.”

Once you’ve captured and downloaded your photo to the computer, spend time assessing it. Avoid immediately diving into post-processing. You’ll only make mistakes that waste time and prevent you from getting the most from the image.

Assessing Your Photo

When assessing your photo think about the following:

  • What are the problems in the photo that mean it doesn’t look good? Is the colour balance appealing? What about the level of contrast? Can you see detail in the shadows or are they too dark? Are the brightest areas of the image distracting and making the photo appear unbalanced? Do you need to crop the image or level the horizon? Typically, these are the points you would address in the RAW Conversion workflow step.
  • What aspects of the image do you need to enhance in post-processing? Think back to when you captured this photo. How did you want the finished image to appear and how is this different from your starting image? This gives you good clues about what you need to do in the Image Enhancement workflow step and the Special Effects step.

Be sure to jot down notes as you think. It’s very easy to forget or overlook important points later during post-processing.

Photo Assessment Video

In the following video, I complete the assessment of the starting image. Before you watch the video it’s worth taking a moment to make your own assessment of the starting image and compare this to mine.

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RAW Conversion Workflow Step

In the second step of our post-processing workflow, we need to convert our photo from a RAW file into an image. This is because you can’t apply edits directly to a RAW file. The RAW file is the original of your image and photo editing software’s designed to preserve this original.

We’ll be using a RAW converter for this stage and there’s lots of choice in the market. Lightroom is possibly the best known and widely used of these. Despite this, many photographers have been switching to others after Adobe adopted a software monthly rental model. If you’re looking for a RAW converter or want to switch away from Adobe, check my photo editor review page.

RAW Converters for Fuji XTrans

If you’re a Fuji camera user and have one of the XTrans series of cameras, I’d recommend not using Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Camera RAW for processing. Instead, look at the Capture One RAW converter from Phase One. If you’re on a budget the Capture One Fuji Express version is free but if you can afford it the full Fuji version has some excellent additional tools. You can find out why I switched to Capture One in this article.

“The RAW converter is a critical step in producing a high-quality image.”

It’s important to make key adjustments to the photo in this stage of the workflow. This typically involves correcting the exposure and contrast as well as the colours. What you’re trying to achieve is a well-corrected image which you can take into the next stage of the workflow. That’s where you’ll work to apply enhancements that move the photo towards the finished image. Don’t try to complete the image in the RAW converter. Whilst you can achieve a lot in a RAW converter, the tools aren’t good enough to produce a professional quality finished image.

“A common mistake when photo editing is to try to achieve too much in the RAW converter. Instead, aim for a quality image which you can process further.”

What you’re aiming for when converting the RAW file is a well exposed and corrected image. Don’t try to complete all your processing in the RAW converter. There are better tools for editing and refining images which you will use in the Image Enhancement workflow step.

RAW Conversion Video

In the following video, I demonstrate this approach to processing a RAW file, converting it to an image ready for enhancement. Although I use Capture One to edit my RAW file, you can apply similar adjustments using other tools.

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You can also watch this video on my YouTube channel. I publish a new video every week, often based on subscribers’ requests and feedback. Subscribe to my YouTube channel now and be sure not to miss future videos.

More Lightroom Tutorials

You’ll find more high quality, free tutorials on my Adobe Lightroom Tutorials page.

Image Enhancement Workflow Step

In the image enhancement stage of the post-processing workflow, we try to enhance and improve the image. That’s why it’s important to understand how you want your finished image to look. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself lost in options and trying different editing to see what might work. It’s much better to work towards an end goal.

Photo Enhancement Editing Tools

What you need to do is select a tool or tools that allow you to apply the required editing to the photo easily. I personally like to work with the Nik Collection (affiliate link) for this stage of post-processing as it has a wide range of tools. The Control Points in the Nik Collection help to target changes in specific areas of the photo. There’s also a lot of Nik Collection tutorials to help you, here on Lenscraft.

The Nik Collection is a great set of photo editing tools, but it’s not the only option. You could, of course, work entirely in a photo editor like Photoshop or Affinity Photo. The advantage of using tools like the Nik Collection is that they make it easier to perform complex editing, allowing you to concentrate on the result rather than how to do something.

Other good options for this stage of the post-processing workflow include Luminar, On One Photo RAW (affiliate), Alien Skin Exposure (affiliate), Topaz Labs (affiliate), and Photo Wiz. There are of course others and you should work with what you have available.

Photo Enhancement Video

In this video, I explain how to enhance the image further and demonstrate the changes using the Nik Collection. To ensure I can modify the post-processing later, I apply the Nik Collection inside Photoshop using the Smart Objects feature.

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You can also watch this video on my YouTube channel. I publish a new video every week, often based on subscribers’ requests and feedback. Subscribe to my YouTube channel now and be sure not to miss future videos.

Special Effects Workflow Step

In this final step of the post-processing workflow, we apply any special effects to the image. When I completed my initial assessment of the example photo, I commented that the lens I was using made the image appear too sharp. This created a harsh look when I really wanted to achieve a soft effect.

To correct this problem and give the image more appeal I want to apply the Orton Effect. This is a good example of a special effect you might apply in this stage of the workflow. Whilst there are many ways to apply the Orton Effect, it’s important not to overuse it. When you use a special effect too much it can make your image appear repetitive and boring.

The Orton Effect

Another consideration with special effects is where you apply them. In the case of the Orton Effect, I may want to hide the effect in the shadows and only apply it to some elements of the image. You can achieve this with masks or if you’re using the Nik Collection, with Control Points.

Typically, the Special Effects step of the workflow is where you add appeal and finishing touches to the image. You can only do this once you’ve completed your other adjustments to enhance the image. That’s because special effects can easily create unwanted colour and tone shifts. It’s, therefore, best to apply these effects as a final step in the workflow.

Special Effects Video

In this video, we look at one method to create the Orton Effect in Photoshop using a Frequency Separation. The effects applied selectively the foreground heather using a Luminosity Mask.

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You can also watch this video on my YouTube channel. I publish a new video every week, often based on subscribers’ requests and feedback. Subscribe to my YouTube channel now and be sure not to miss future videos.

More Nik Tutorials

You’ll find more high quality, free tutorials on my Nik Collection Tutorials page.

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This tutorial has presented a simple four-step approach to post-processing landscape photos. By following this four-step workflow you can improve most landscape photos, sometimes quite substantially. It’s also possible to apply the same post-processing workflow to other types of photography as well as landscapes.

Keep in mind these four stages of the post-processing workflow:

  1. Photo Assessment
  2. RAW Conversion
  3. Image Enhancement
  4. Special Effects

At the end of this workflow, you can confidently save your image as a finished master file. Then when you need to share or print the image you can always return to and use this master file as the starting point.

If you liked this tutorial, I’m sure you’ll also like my Landscape Photo Editing Workflow tutorial.

More Photoshop Tutorials

You’ll find more high quality, free tutorials on my Adobe Photoshop Tutorials page.

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