Beginning To End Photo Edit, Step By Step

snowy watchman-.jpg

This is a shot I did today. I also spent a bit of time just playing around with the shot because I could and it turned out well. So here is a step by step of the photo edit. I do not have video recording software so you will see it step by step in pictures.

In order to pull off this shot I used two different exposures. One for the sky, one for the ground.

The sky exposure is going to make the ground really dark, but I wanted to have the full range of light in the sky. The ground exposure I cared very little about the sky. My only concern with doing this shot is to make sure I did not screw up the horizon line. If you over expose to much in the sky, it bleeds over into the ground and makes the edit really difficult.

I then edited each photo separately in lightroom.

The sky edit


Here you can see how I edited the core sliders. I avoid using saturation most of the time as it often gives a false appearance to what I actually saw and often leads to terrible pictures. Here I did make a mistake and I did not apply any dehaze as it would have made additional edits down the line easier. Just a absent minded moment. I did not focus on sharpness due to the fact I was working with the sky and all that does is add noise to the sky. Smoother the better up there in my opinion.

The ground edit


Here I focused my edit on the ground so I could pull out additional detail in the trees and to clear up the horizon so that it would look more natural for the photo combination. I did apply dehaze and I used the sharpen tool to bring out more detail. I didn’t focus on the sky because I was not going to use it for anything anyways.

The combination.

I always do the following for photo editing from lightroom to photoshop. I do Photo>Edit In>Photoshop. This will open photoshop and bring the photo in there as a TIFF. Since TIFF’s are lossless data files I had all the information from lightroom and I can edit this at will. So I brought both photos into lightroom. They open in separate pages as different photos. So I simple do ctrl+a one photo and paste it on the other. It will automatically open up as a new layer. I like to have my layers in order so my brightest  most used layer be the bottom, so in this case the ground, and the subsequent layers ascending  from there.


If you are wondering what is going on with the masking layer with an X over it, I just disabled the layer so I could show you what it looks like without the masking going on.

In order to combine them. I then select the sky using the selection brush as it does a good job most of the time when it comes to selecting and then push the layer mask button on the bottom and create a new mask. The ground from the top layer will disappear, only showing the sky and tada! you have a sky replacement/ combining two photos. I then go through afterwards and add to the masking to take care of any weird spots. I do this by selecting the mask, not the image.

layer-mask-selected After I select the mask I use the paint brush tool and change the colors to black and white. This acts as an add and subtract from the layer mask and you can go through and paint in the layer mask how you will. You can also use the opacity slider on the top left to paint in the mask at different strengths to allow for greater control of how it will look in the end. I do this a lot.

Now we have the combination, lets make it look good.

The sky looked too flat for my liking so I then created a new contrast adjustment layer and added contrast to the sky. I just copied the mask I used for the sky replacement to do this.

brightness adjustment mask.jpg

The next layer is more complicated. I learned this from a famous professional photographer to add a a dodge and burn layer without having it destroy all your work. Its kind of cool and totally worth it. To do this you first go to Layer> New> Layer, select that and then change the layer color to gray and then set the mode to either soft light or overlay. Overlay has more effect so that is what I used for this layer. I then used the paintbrush tool and switched the color to black and painted on the clouds in the dark spots to create more contrast there. Remember contrast is equivalent to more interesting.

This is what the layer did to the image


If you didn’t notice it, pay attention to the sky and look closely.

The next layer is hard to see what I did, but it was a subtle shift in the brightness of the certain spot of the sky. I did this using luminosity masks and then applied that with a curves layer. I would show you, here but it would be too small of a shift for most people to notice. What it did was add contrast to a certain area of the sky.

Then I used a brightness layer to the sky to give it a bit more pop. Here is what the next two layers did to the image. I can barely tell what I did here on the blog but there is a difference.


For the next two layers I do a few things to bring more interest into the sky and the mountain (the watchman).

Layer three in the image added brightness to the mountain. It did kill some of the detail, but it also drew more attention to it and reduced the chaos of it. I used the gray layer technique to do this. I then switched the color to white and painted on the mountain. This makes the mountain pop a little and it created a point for the eye to look at. I like the end result.

Layer 4 added more detail into the clouds and darkened the river. I once again used the gray layer here and then painted with black to add more contrast to certain spots of the sky. I also did this at different opacity’s according to what I liked in different spots. I also did this on the river because I did not like the overall look of it. I spend the next two layers playing with the brightness to get the result I wanted.

Current conditions of the photo.


The contrast layer on the river is super subtle at adds a bit of flare to a few spots, not enough to really notice in a step by step. I then used a new curves layer because there was not enough detail in the river. I selected only the river by simply creating a new layer mask and inverting it so nothing would show. I then used the paintbrush and painted on the mask to only have the river show up in the adjustment. I Then adjusted the curves until I got my desired results.


Thats’ it! That’s how I edited this photo from beginning to end. I hoped you stayed with me on the edits. Not all photos are this difficult bey every once in a while, doing all this work creates a fun magical look that simply can’t be done by camera alone.



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