Nik for Landscapes

I thought I’d write a quick post on how I created the image from yesterday’s post.  I used a combination of Lightroom, Photoshop, and the Nik plugins Color Efex Pro, Viveza, and Silver Efex Pro.  Those are my go-to tools for the majority of my landscapes (I use occasionally use Photomatix for HDR where needed).

Here is the RAW image straight out of Lightroom, with only my default sharpening (+75) applied.

My general approach is to bring attention to my subject, and diminish everything else as needed.  Attention usually means lighter, more colorful, and sharper.  Diminishing is pretty much the opposite (though I may simply clone out something if it’s really distracting, such as trash on the ground).  For this image, I was looking to bring attention to the mountain and road, and away from everything else (particularly the sky, which was too bright/white).  My first step is to get the best possible image I can out of Lightroom, as I’m working on my 14 bit RAW file with maximum detail.  From this point on, I’ll have a converted TIF and I’ll start to lose a little information.  However, I’m just looking for a great starting point, I won’t try too much to finesse things that might be more easily done in Photoshop in later steps.

Here is the RAW image edited in Lightroom.  I added +clarity to bring out detail, +vibrance to slightly enhance the color, and applied -exposure with a gradient mask to diminish the road in the lower left.

Next, I used Nik’s Silver Efex Pro 2.  If you’re familiar with that tool, that probably sounds odd because it’s used to create black and white images.  That wasn’t my goal, but Silver Efex Pro is the best tool I have to manipulate the tones in an image and offers a level of control that Viveza unfortunately does not.  So I applied +midtone structure to bring out texture in the road.  I then change the blending mode of my Silver Efex Pro layer to “luminosity”, which results in this more crisp looking image.  I like it, but I still wanted to bring out more detail in the mountain.  I probably could have achieved this in Silver Efex Pro, but chose to use Viveza.

In Viveza, I applied +structure, +contrast, and +brightness to the mountain.  I did this to my original color image, so I needed to blend this edit with the Silver Efex Pro layer.  So I added a gradient layer mask to reveal the top left of this layer and smoothly reveal the Silver Efex Pro below.

Color Efex Pro is typically the last tool I use, I use it to add a little to the overall final image.  Here I applied three different effects.  I used darken center (with control points to keep the bushes and mountain peak from getting too dark) to further darken the edges.  I appled a graduated neutral density filter (with control points to keep the effect off the mountain) to make the sky a nice shade of blue.  And finally used Monday morning (set at a very low opacity) to draw a little more attention to the road.  Finally, I retouched a couple of dust spots out of the final layer using the spot healing brush, and ended up with my final image.

For reference, here was my starting point:


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