Taking control of contrast in post production

Taking control of contrast in post production is a surefire way to boost the visual impact of your images. Pro shooters Paul Zeefra and David Lee share their best contrast tips for landscape photography.

There are many aspects to post processing an image, but a very basic adjustment in contrast can give an image so much more life than it has with its original `in-camera’ appearance. When considering contrast, the most immediate consideration is to vary areas of dark and light in the image.

We like to consider contrast in what we call “the three Ts” — tonality, temperature and texture. When all three are considered and handled well, this gives an image added depth and dimension. It also gives the photographer a rough template from which to frame their post-processing routine.
The following techniques require a basic understanding of luminosity masks and their use, which you can find out more about here. Luminosity masks help you select areas of varying brightness from the channels tab with a simple click and can be applied to any layer introduced into your workflow.

Temperature contrast Temperature contrast relates to having areas of the image vary in terms of warm (yellow/gold) versus cool (blue) colours.
Some images work well with a uniform temperature such as a pre-dawn blue hour image or an image shot into direct warm light. For the most part though, achieving a balance of warm bright tones and cool dark tones adds to the depth of an image.

There are many ways to do this, but we find that adjusting colour temperature is best done at the RAW level in Adobe Lightroom (LR) or Adobe Camera Raw (ACR). Since we’re editing at RAW level, this is often the first step of contrast adjustment.

Step 1: While in Lightroom or ACR, edit one version of your original image, mentally picturing the colours of the bright parts of the image. Adjust the temperature and tint to the desired value and open that in Photoshop. Create your luminosity masks based on this image.

Step 2: Adjust the same image in LR or ACR picturing the cooler colours of the dark parts of the image and export this as a layer in Photoshop above the original warm image.

Step 3: Select a dark luminosity mask (Ctrl-click) and create a layer mask over the cool layer.

Step 4: You can then refine the mask further by painting on the layer mask with a white brush to include more of the cooler parts of the image, or painting over the layer mask with black to allow more of the warmer parts of the original layer to show through. Once you’re satisfied with the blend of warm bright areas and contrasting cool dark areas, you can flatten your image and commence the remainder of your workflow.