In this Photoshop tutorial we're going to improve the quality of a landscape photograph, which can be downloaded here (right click on the link and select Save target as...).
Important: the extensive use of masks in Photoshop can be overwhelming for beginners. If you've seldom used masks or still having a hard time with them, then you might consider to give this Photoshop tutorial a try to train yourself in the use of masks; I will show lots of different ways to use masks, how to create them, how to convert a selection to a mask, how to duplicate a mask, remove a mask, using multiple masks to create complicated selections, etc.
For the sake of saving bandwidth, I will often show a 400 pixels wide version of the original photograph throughout the tutorial. When I wrote this tutorial I was working with a 800 x 600 resized version of the original file, simply because it's easier for me that way to write the tutorial. It's always best however when you retouch an image, to work with the largest size that's available, but if you want to make sure that the settings I use in this tutorial give you optimum results, then I advice you to resize the image to 800x600 pixels too.
It's important before we retouch a photograph that we calibrate our monitor if we haven't done that yet. There are several ways to calibrate a monitor and the most common way is to make use of Adobe Gamma, a utility that comes with all latest versions of Photoshop. I'm not going to explain in detail how you can calibrate your monitor, but I would like to share some links with you that might be helpful:
Important is to set at least the Black- and White (B&W) Point of your monitor. I wrote an article in the past that explains how to do this (it's quite simple actually): Monitor B&W Point
It's also important to analyze our image first. The first thing people will notice in this image are the odd colors in the sky. We see some green, purple and pink that obviously shouldn't be there. Normally it's easy to correct a color cast using the regular Photoshop tools and a global approach, however in this example we're dealing with a local problem, caused by a technical failure. In those cases a global correction isn't going to do us any good, so we have to focus on each problem area individually. The other problem the photograph has is that it lacks sharpness. Also notice, especially visible on the original which is 1947 by 1296 pixels, that we're dealing with a lot of noise, mostly visible in the sky and shadows:
The image also lacks sharpness and the rock in the upper right corner seem to have some red cast.
Both problems are quite visible in this screenshot:
I don't know what the actual rocks looked like, but I assume that they were a bit reddish, which is quite possible if they contain a lot of iron. So if that's the case, then it's understandable that some of the red in the rocks is reflected in the water. However the reflection seems to be a strong saturated red and there's too much of it:
Also the image seems to be a tad too bright and the lack of pure blacks only seem to confirm this.
The image also lacks contrast and it's especially the increased level of contrast that can make an image look sharper without even sharpening it.
The image also lacks a bit of depth (no objects in the foreground) and by sharpening only the rocks we can slightly improve this.
The tutorial contains several sections:
Notice that these are links; you can jump to each section from this page.
Normally I would start with a brightness and contrast correction using a tool like Levels or Curves, but in this tutorial I will follow a different path that I feel more comfortable with (just for this particular photograph).