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Photoshop can’t rescue bad landscape photos


With only a few days left before Photoshop World starts, we thought it would be great to give attendees an idea about what to expect from the instructors set to share their knowledge and talent in the event.

Among them is Ian Plant, a globe-trekking professional photographer known for his inspiring images of amazing places and subjects. He will be demonstrating some little known Photoshop tricks for fixing common landscape photography fails — solutions that he has learned and honed in over 17 years of experience as a landscape photographer.

However, in our chat with him, he also reminds us that these Photoshop tricks are just one part of the equation when it comes to making inspiring photographs. The other is a solid capture that serves as a strong foundation of your final image. The goal is to bring them together by optimizing or enhancing them through post-processing. “If you don’t take the time to carefully, critically, and methodically make landscape photos, all the Photoshop in the world won’t be able to rescue a bad photo,” he stressed.

But, if you’re already confident with your technique and still feel that something is still missing, his post-processing tips likely give it the final touches that it needs. “Personally, I think people should focus on becoming a better photographer, and using Photoshop with a light touch — I think the end results will be much better. ”

That said, while Ian leans more toward a “natural” approach to Photoshop, how you want to use it is all a matter of preference and creative vision. “It really depends on what type of art you want to produce,” he said. Heavily altered scenes may get you interesting results, and you have various Photoshop tools at your disposal to make it happen. But, if you don’t want to considerably change the reality of the scene, sticking to a post-processing style anchored on the traditional photographic process is your best approach.

Read our full interview with Ian Plant below for more of his post-processing approach to landscape photography, and have an idea on what to expect in his upcoming Photoshop World workshop.

What are the biggest misconception(s) when it comes to post-processing landscape photos on Photoshop?

A lot of photographers think they can just “fix it in Photoshop,” and they end up not being when making photos in the field. But, as they say, “garbage in, garbage out.” If you don’t take the time to carefully, critically, and methodically make landscape photos, all the Photoshop in the world won’t be able to rescue a bad photo.

Solid technique is important, but even more important is developing a strong artistic vision, creative composition skills, and the ability to understand, anticipate, and use light and weather. If you make great photos, then the digital darkroom is there to optimize and subtly enhance what you captured in the field. If you throw a lot of Photoshop at an image in an effort to take it from bad or average to incredible, it will usually be pretty obvious.

Personally, I think people should focus on becoming a better photographer, and using Photoshop with a light touch — I think the end results will be much better.

I can’t say for sure what is too much. It really depends on what type of art you want to produce. If you want to create landscape images that are heavily manipulated in Photoshop, go for it. If you are interested in a more traditional approach to photography, then anything that substantially alters the reality of the scene (as captured through the photographic process) is probably going too far.

One example, which has become very common these days, is for photographers to do sky replacement when they don’t get the skies that they want. For me, something like this is a step too far, as it fundamentally alters the scene as captured by the photographer. At that point, you aren’t really doing traditional photography, you’re crossing over into a mix of photography and graphic or computer art. Which is fine, as I said, if that’s what you want to do, but you end up producing art that is very different from the images captured by a more traditional photographic approach.

What are some landscape photography tricks that you swear by to help you save time and effort on post-processing?

There’s really no trick, it’s just all about working hard to make good photos to begin with. It means really learning how to be a landscape photographer. Which means learning how to anticipate favorable weather and light conditions that are conducive to making powerful landscape photos that get noticed. It means really taking the time to master landscape composition. Do that, and your work will be more meaningful than the horde of over-saturated and over-filtered Instagram concoctions.

What is/are the most common landscape photo fails that you noticed photographers do?

Probably the most common landscape fail I see is when using a wide-angle lens, photographers don’t get close enough to an interesting foreground. A good foreground adds depth and visual interest to your composition, but you often have to get close to your foreground to make it large enough to be a prominent part of the visual design.

But when it comes to things that can easily be fixed in Photoshop, I think that the most common fails involve having to clone, crop, or otherwise remove visual elements that distract from or diminish the impact of the composition. Especially when working with wide-angle lenses, it can often be challenging to exclude unwanted elements. Lens flare caused by shooting into the light is also a big problem, so learning how to control it in the field and remove it in Photoshop is a big part of my Photoshop World class.

As I have mentioned, I’m not a big Photoshopper. I use Photoshop to subtly enhance and optimize my photos. I have a much more “natural” approach than the hyper-aggressive digital manipulation techniques used by many photographers today. If you are interested in a more natural approach, one that more closely aligns with traditional photography techniques, then my class is perfect for you. You shouldn’t expect a bunch of fancy digital darkroom magic in my class, but rather some easy-to-use, pragmatic fixes to common landscape photography mistakes.

Want more landscape photography inspiration before attending his Photoshop World class? Make sure to also check out Ian Plant’s website to see more of his outstanding work.

All photos by Ian Plant. Used with permission.



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Rafael Jones

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