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Help with Cold/Dark landscapes

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  • Help with Cold/Dark landscapes

    First post here, looking forward to your thoughts and step analysis for those that can help out with these images:

    Title: Passing Squall Sound Of Taransay Isle Of Harris | Category: Landscapes | Country: United Kingdom

  • #2
    Re: Help with Cold/Dark landscapes

    This is one of those overly broad questions. The problem seems to come down to people who do not understand their own questions. I see more consistency in the projected tastes of the photographer than I do in the way these were shot. Landscapes are a difficult subject in general, and there are always these sort of trends in them among photographers. To minimize the agony in shooting them, you want to approach your target at the right time of day in the right lighting for that subject.

    The photographer seems to like general themes to the colors of light present. They may be decoupled from what was really captured to a degree, but I see distinct color casts in what I would regard as direct light compared to homogenized reflections.

    When I look at the first, I see a bit of pink/yellow from the brighter portions of the sky, with a distinctive green creeping into the darker values that see less of that brighter source. It continues as it goes into shadow. If you were trying to shoot such a thing, you would start out with lighting. It's either very early or very late in the day, resulting in a long exposure. That's why you have the feeling of motion in the water. Things generally don't come out as dramatic as this when looking at a raw. I suspect the outer regions of the photo were darkened down to a degree. It looks like they did everything possible to contribute some detail to those rocks. That's the thing with this kind of shot. It's not a portrait. You don't have to ensure the subject's features are accurately portrayed (difficult if a photo is flat and you've never seen them before). You can accent whatever you want.

    I do think it helps to have as much resolution as possible for landscapes. With film they were often captured via 4x5 and less frequently panoramic medium format. Without that it was difficult to get some of the textures, and you want as much texture to work with as possible. It's the subtle changes and barely visible details that keep your eye moving through the image. I get the impression that this guy thinks of himself like an illustrator. There are many very subtle accents and things that weren't likely so pronounced in the original capture.

    Number 2 was shot with a much higher shutter speed. It's a boring way to begin the description, but I've never been a fan of the frozen water seran wrapped look. When it's frozen in time, it just shows you how highly parallel light rays can look in a photo. It goes back to what I said. The brightness holds you there rather than allowing you to mentally drift through the image. He does have these beautiful highlights on the tooled bevels of the railing and concrete edge. On some of the lower beams, the shadowed sides fall off to complete darkness. There's no noise or minor detail. I don't think I could get these things so polished without masking all of it to really bring out these relationships. It tends to be the kind of thing you see mostly in still images, because it would be difficult to maintain that while in motion without making it look like an obvious matte painting.

    When I looked at the third, I thought holy unsharp masking batman. This kind of goes into my thing regarding large format. It was able to delineate finer debris. I don't really care for the visual impact of it here. It gives the impression of a very small very bright light source, almost like these things were lit with an array of tiny laser pointers. I haven't seen one of those in a long time, but most light sources don't maintain the level of parallelism necessary to really produce distinct highlights with little to no falloff, thus my example. I think it's an afternoon shot. I think he had to have added a lot of contrast to those darker areas to give so much differentiation. If I stood inside that mass of trees, I wouldn't be able to see the sun directly from there, so all of the incidental lighting at that point is coming from millions of reflections from surrounding objects. It wouldn't provide such a level of differentiation. You might have to expose in favor of it.

    In terms of the artist on that one, he seems to have brought out the brightest portions of moss in post. When you look at trees further in, he let them fade to black and become detailless. This is similar to the prior shot with the shaded side of the pillars, and it's a very conscious choice. I don't think he really brightened the brightest lit patches, but he either added yellow and green to that center path or subtracted it from everything else. I believe the trees in the foreground were lightened a bit, and the moss was further accentuated. Those in the background relied on the deeper exposure used to bring out the blue of the sky in that shot. The sky also has a bit of yellow, so it could have been that the shadows were adjusted more than the brighter portions here. It matches the yellow-green of the foreground grass.

    Does any of that help? The retouching is really just mask, paint, adjust following have the right exposure or exposures, lighting, and level of detail in what was captured. I wasn't sure you understood some of the decisions over what was likely captured, thus the essay.


    • #3
      Re: Help with Cold/Dark landscapes

      Kav first off thanks for taking the time.
      I should have said a few things prior to asking for help.

      I have no questions with regards field notes, that part for me at least it is easily readable.

      My questions marks revolve around the processing only. I see the dodging and the strong vignettes and the green/blue tones. Those in particular interest me to know about in more detail. I see he achieves quite a muted color feel while maintaining a strong color presence. Can’t quite put my finger on what goes on with the colors other than the fact they are quite cold (cyans, greens, blues and even yellows in highlights).

      Are we talking just curves and masking to get the color so? Could blending modes be part of the color process and dodging and burning? This sort of thing would be interested to know.

      Maybe this one is easy to decode?


      • #4
        Re: Help with Cold/Dark landscapes

        I like writing field notes, and you asked an overly broad question. These are more photoshop and raw processing notes.

        I use a lot of channel mixer. I use curves more to adjust density. I would probably begin with a cool white balance (not really cold, just cool). Polishing up those highlights and things like I mentioned is very relevant. Real lighting doesn't tend to produce such distinctive differences from one angle to another on the same structure. I noticed the vignettes too, but I didn't think they were that important as there's more to the images than a single vignette. I can see the vignette but I can also see a lot of secondary work. I mentioned highlights as there is a lot of painting. There are a couple rough spots on masking too on some of those images, so I know he is doing it.

        Like I said I would go for a cool white balance. I would test what kind of processing exposure works best. You can figure that out over time. A lot of it for me beyond that point would be painting highlight and shadow detail, and using things like channel mixer. The reason I like channel mixer is that it tends to maintain better differentiation. The way it works just makes it easier for me to preserve color differentiation in color rather than turn things into something that looks like a single color overlay. Sometimes I'll use different blending modes and fill layers. They're usually coupled with layer masks made from image data to target various tonal ranges, sometimes grouped with other painted masks to apply it to the right region eg sky, ground, water, etc.

        Curves to me break too easily in too many situations, which is why I don't like them for everything. I especially abhor their behavior in cmyk as you have to be careful not to mess up your black channel. If I want to use curves to paint in a specific color, I tend to set it channel by channel. Either way you need some idea what you want to end up with or it won't work very well.

        Is that more the kind of response you wanted? I've used this stuff a long time, so generally I can find the values I'm looking for faster. It's not just one thing though. What I find cool about the work of the guy you linked is that he used a lot of painting principles in it.


        • #5
          Re: Help with Cold/Dark landscapes

          It always depends on your starting image and ending image. What works for one pair wont work for another. But here's a quick try using a neutral starting image and going for a rough match to your first reference image.

          Gradient map in color mode roughly blocks color in by tone
          curve adds contrast
          vibrance to compensate for errors in saturation in my gradient map
          Attached Files


          • #6
            Re: Help with Cold/Dark landscapes

            Thank you again Kav, all of what you have said seems in the right direction.

            I see he uses several ideas and ways in shaping lighter and darker portions of the image. On the bridge image, the spotlights he added have created quite a pronounced distinctive feel/look. No halos, or washed out parts, quite dense in tonality, anything less would betray if you will the processing touch on those areas. On the grass photograph I detect a little washing out on some brighter parts in the foreground, but still within quality boundaries. There are so many ways of going about dodging and burning I was wondering if someone had a specific thought on the method/s used. Curves+masking? Luminosity masks and brightening accordingly a specific area? Any type of layer blending in different modes?

            For the colors I also agree about starting with a just slightly cool toned file. But having done that I find his color range and mix of colors elusive, although my interest lays in decoding his method to open new tools for my work, not copy what he does to the T. However I don’t use channel mixer, I would be interested in looking into that as you mentioned. Any recommended reading online on advanced use of channel mixer?

            @Flashtones, thank you for your input. You visual proposition is interesting and a good starting point. I will look as well into the gradient map for color blocking as you put it. I might post some examples myself and get your feedback if time permits.


            • #7
              Re: Help with Cold/Dark landscapes

              I think the quickest way to get where you're trying to go is to post a specific image of yours that you are trying to match to a specific image of his.

              Hopefully they have a similar character of light to begin with.


              • #8
                Re: Help with Cold/Dark landscapes

                Here is my attempt.

                I used selective color (quite extreme values), curves and masking. What do you think ?

                I would need to understand better channel mixer to try it that way.

                Attached Files


                • #9
                  Re: Help with Cold/Dark landscapes

                  Nice image. Mind if I try my hand with it?


                  • #10
                    Re: Help with Cold/Dark landscapes

                    You are welcome to play around with !


                    • #11
                      Re: Help with Cold/Dark landscapes

                      This time I focused on creating similar spotlights around the image. I went colder than the original but not as much, keeping the grass in warmer brown tones.

                      I apologize for the highly compressed jpg.

                      Again I used curves, selective color, hue/saturation and masked each layer according to needs. The whole process was done quickly 10-15 minutes.

                      Attached Files


                      • #12
                        Re: Help with Cold/Dark landscapes

                        I think you're headed in a nice direction. You could stop there and they'd be perfectly wonderful as is -- however, if you wan them more like Julian Claverley's, you need to use a heavier hand.

                        I used this as a target for inspiration, just as a loose guide without trying to be slavish to color or tone.

                        I just pushed yours deeper, bringing out more texture, clarity, depth and color.

                        Perhaps I went to far, perhaps not far enough, but I just wanted to get it in the ballpark of Calverley's.

                        (Please forgive my very crude masking, I used my finger on my laptop's trackpad.)
                        Attached Files


                        • #13
                          Re: Help with Cold/Dark landscapes

                          Good point on the heavier hand. Yours is more in the direction of Julian’s work.


                          • #14
                            Re: Help with Cold/Dark landscapes

                            Originally posted by Panther View Post
                            This time I focused on creating similar spotlights around the image. I went colder than the original but not as much, keeping the grass in warmer brown tones.

                            I apologize for the highly compressed jpg.

                            Again I used curves, selective color, hue/saturation and masked each layer according to needs. The whole process was done quickly 10-15 minutes.

                            I don't think it's perfect, but I like where you're going. I think if you keep at that, it will come a bit more naturally. I just mentioned channel mixer because it handles somewhat extreme color changes well. I've used it for many things like changing colors of dresses and K only cmyk drop shadows. I just like that it has the ability to make significant changes while preserving detail as long as you know how to balance the values out correctly. It does require very careful masking compared to something like selective color. Selective color is targeting a specific color range, so it offers some secondary protection against fringing issues.

                            The initial photographer whose style you wished to emulate has a lot of highlighting work done in post to help balance out the darker areas, but I think over time you'll go in your own direction with these. I like the way you're blocking it out rather than trying to tackle everything simultaneously.


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