This article discusses working with overcast landscape images in post, and some of the simple approaches that can be used. To help illustrate some of these techniques, this posting shares six pairs of photographs. An out-of-camera jpeg, as well as an image produced from the corresponding RAW file.
Since each of us uses different software programs, this is not a step-by-step ‘how to’ article. Instead, it attempts to provide a basic framework that can be used regardless of the post processing software that each us may prefer.
Hopefully this article will be of some value, regardless of the camera gear that you may own and use. Since all of the photographs were captured with Nikon 1 gear, folks who use smaller sensor cameras (i.e. 1″ and M4/3 sensors) may have more of an affinity for this content.
When working with photographs from smaller sensor cameras I tend to use an approach I call “TAB” (thicken, adjust, brighten). I won’t repeat all of the information in the linked article here. Suffice to say that smaller sensors have less dynamic range and colour depth than larger sensors, so it is important to coax as much as possible from smaller sensor files. Folks interested in more details of my “TAB” approach can spend some time reading the linked article.
This post focuses on a few typical things that I do with overcast landscape images in terms of using the following:
- Burning (CS6),
- Polarization and/or Pro Contrast (Nik Collection, Color Efex Pro 4),
- Hue/Saturation adjustments (CS6)
- Brightness/Contrast (CS6).
- DxO Clearview Plus
There are likely similar functions in the software that you own.
I always shoot in RAW + Jpeg Fine as I like to develop my post processing game plan by initially assessing an out-of-camera jpeg. Let’s look at our first out-of-camera jpeg sample photograph.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
The image above demonstrates some typical challenges with an overcast landscape photograph. A dull, bland sky and a lack of definition with the main subject matter.
If you study the sky you will detect some hints of details. This indicates that we can add some interest in the sky to provide some framing for the main subject. There is a good amount of ‘thickness’ with the main subject which will allow us to accentuate colours and bring out shadow details.
The above image is a finished jpeg produced from the corresponding RAW file. I added some details in the sky by doing some burning with CS6. To get more details in the main subject area I was very aggressive with highlight and shadow sliders in CS6, as well as using the black and white sliders to a lesser degree. To help get more ‘pop’ from the grass I increased the yellow saturation with a Hue/Saturation adjustment in CS6.
There are more sky details in our next out-of-camera jpeg, but they are ill-defined. We have a jumble of interesting rocks, interspersed with quite a bit of colour variation. Unfortunately the colours are a bit muted, and the details (such as the blades of grass) are lacking.
We can see in the jpeg produced from the RAW file that the sky details are more clearly defined which adds more character to the sky. The rocks and the interspersed colours are much better defined, as are the blades of grass. It should be noted that I almost never apply any formal sharpening to my landscape photographs. Instead, I work with black and white sliders to create a bit more contrast and definition, and often apply Pro Contrast to give images more edge acuity.
While the photograph above would not normally be considered as a landscape image, I included it as an example of the burning that I typically use. As noted earlier, I tend to be very aggressive with highlight and shadow sliders in CS6. It is not uncommon for me to push Nikon 1 adjustments to the extreme with highlights taken to -100 and shadows to +100. After adjusting further with black and white sliders, any burning that I do is usually with mid-tones only.
In the image above we can see the effect of multiple burning passes done with mid-tones across the bottom half of the image.
The dark, ominous sky is only hinted at in the photograph above. The colours and details in the stone wall are far too subdued and overall this composition looks flat and lifeless.
Mid-tone burning across the top third of the photograph brought a stormy character to the sky and helped better define the hills in the distance. Pro Contrast was used to bring out more definition, colours and contrast with the wall. Saturation of the yellow hue was increased. Some slight burning was needed to tone down the colour of the grass in the foreground.
You can tell from the wet pavement that the photograph above was captured during a break in some inclement weather. When working on this image in post I wanted to better define the mountains in the background and bring a bit more punch to the composition.
To accomplish my objectives I used DxO Clearview Plus to better define the mountains in the background. The sky was burned and additional definition was created by using Pro Contrast. The saturation of the yellow hue was increased to give the composition a bit more life. You’ll notice that I made a slight crop on the left hand side to eliminate a distracting post.
Overcast landscape compositions can often take on a dull, monochromatic look. Especially when an expanse of water is included in the image. The strong, triangular shapes are minimized to some extent because of the photograph’s monochromatic appearance.
To bring out a more diverse colour pallet, some Polarization was used to darken the clouds and the water surface. Pro Contrast helped to better define the shapes and colours of the expansive rock surface. Saturation of the yellow hue was increased to brighten the overall look of the scene and add some much needed colour. The blue hue was also adjusted. You’ll also notice that I straightened the horizon.
As is the case with all of the images produced from RAW files in this article, my final adjustment was with the Brightness/Contrast tool in CS6. This is the final step in my TAB approach.
When working with overcast landscape photographs in post, it is important to see your finished image in your mind before you begin making adjustments. Focus on giving overcast skies more definition and character. Look for ways with your software to bring out more of the colour pallet in your compositions. And finally, don’t be tentative with your adjustments. Sometimes being aggressive can produce quite interesting results. As long as you save your original RAW file in an unaltered state, you can always redo your image later on if needed.
Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images are either out-of-camera jpegs, or were produced from RAW files using my standard process.
If you enjoyed the images in this article you may want to check out our Nikon 1 eBook: The Little Camera That Could. It is available for purchase and download. It is priced at $9.99 Canadian. Readers interested in purchasing a copy can use the link below.
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