Quick and Beautiful!
Digital cameras always make middle of the day images too bright. I believe these images need more color and depth, requiring a personal touch.
This is a very quick method to darken your digital image and add contrast if need be, in fact once you have done this exercise more than a few times, it should only take a minute. For those who have spent years in Photoshop I still recommend the use of curves layers with layer masks, which is what I will typically use. However, saying that I find this method handy and “Quick” and especially quick to learn.
First, take a picture properly exposed in the middle of the day. Properly exposed means the histogram is not extended way past either the left of right of the graph.
Open your file after being processed through a RAW processor such as Adobe Camera Raw or take a jpeg file directly from the camera.
Open the layers palette and click (command + J) Mac or, (Control + J) PC, to create a copy of the background. You will notice a layer above your background layer called “layer 1”.
Some images only require this extra contrast. You can also change the opacity of this layer, thus the effect of the extra contrast by sliding the opacity from 100% to a smaller value. This will lesson the effect to the entire image.
For this particular image the sky needed to be darker, so I added another layer. But this time I changed the blending mode to “multiply”. Simply put, this blending mode darkens the image.
Click the background and create one more copy of the background which will be positioned between the “layer 1” and the actual background.
This is where you need to finesse your image. I create layer/vector masks and paint away the areas of the blended layers I don’t like.
With the “background copy” selected, click the “add vector mask” button at the bottom of the layers palette as shown here.
For this particular image I used the gradient tool to remove the section of the background copy of the land only. Make sure you have highlighted the layer mask before using the gradient tool. Also make sure you are subtracting the layer mask when applying the gradient tool. * you can alter between subtract and add, by clicking the X key, and this works with all tools.
For different images I might use the brush tool to remove the effect of the background copy when there is not such a straight horizon.
The power of working in the layer masks with either the gradient tool or the brush tool is that it can be reversed or altered at any time so long as you keep your layers with your image. Painting the effect of each background layer on and off is simple and entertaining.
Here are a few details that make it easier. I usually change the opacity of the brush to between 30% and 50%. I also change the hardness of the brush to 0%. To reverse the effect of the brush just click the "X" key, also to change the diameter of the brush use the bracket keys [ ].
For my final touch on this image I painted away some of the contrast in the sky with the brush tool in the layer mask of the “layer 1”.
Select the “layer 1” and create a layer mask. Then select the brush tool with a 0% hardness and large enough to cover a good section of the sky. Now lower the opacity to about 30% and paint away the effect of the “overlay”. This darkened the sky a bit which I preferred. Note, the painted area in the image below will not appear, as I used it to illustrate about where I painted away the “layer 1” mask.