Post-Processing Tutorial: “Only the Lonely”

Earlier this year I created Only the Lonely.

Only the Lonely

Only the Lonely

When I posted this image on a photography forum someone asked about my post-processing.  I decided to post a complete walk-through of my post-processing workflow for this image.

It’s always good to learn from others, and many are curious about the processing that goes into images.

That being said, I figured it’d be a good idea to share my post-processing techniques so that others can learn.

Indeed, post-processing was something I learned from a combination of experimentation, picking up things from other people, Internet tutorials, etc., so the more information available, the better.

Without further ado, here’s an explanation of my processing technique for this image (which tends to more or less apply with most of my images).

Firstly, I loaded two identically-framed exposures into Adobe Camera Raw.  The properties of the two exposures were as follows:

  1. ISO 100, f/8 and 10 seconds; and
  2. ISO 100, f/8 and one second.

As you can see, quite a variation between exposures.

After opening both images in ACR, I selected them both and applied the following settings:

  • Camera Profile: Camera Landscape
  • White Balance: As Shot
  • Clarity: +60
  • Sharpening Amount: +65

I made no other changes in ACR.

When I dropped the images into Adobe Photoshop CS4, I had two images: the lighter exposure (which I wanted for the detail in the rocks) and the darker exposure (which I wanted for the sky and water).

Here is a screen capture of my two raw images:

Only the Lonely - Source Raw Images

Only the Lonely - Source Raw Images

I used Photoshop’s Lens Correction filter to straighten the horizon and remove barrel distortion.  The same settings were applied to both images.

I then selected the darker image, copied it and pasted it as a new layer onto the lighter exposure.

I now had an image with two layers:

  1. the lighter base layer; and
  2. the darker layer I’d use for the sky and water.

The next step was to start manually blending the two exposures.

I created a layer mask on the top layer (darker image) and inverted the layer mask.  When inverting the layer mask, it becomes black, meaning you can see what’s in lower layers.  This way I then paint in the effect rather than painting out what I don’t want changed.

I used the brush tool, set the opacity to 20% and painted in the darker sky and water on the layer mask, preserving the lighter details in the rocks.  I didn’t use a contrast mask on the rock in this case, as there’s strong enough contrast and it’s easy to select it in order to mask it out or otherwise avoid modifying its pixels.

Numerous times I brushed over the areas I wanted darkened to bring the richer, darker colours through in the sky and water areas.

Next, I added a curves adjustment layer to boost contrast and saturation.  I chose the Linear Contrast preset, but then tweaked the curve manually to add more contrast.

I then added a saturation adjustment layer, as the colour towards the edge of the frame on the horizon was lacking punch.  I set the saturation to +20, added a layer mask, inverted the mask, and the brushed in the saturation in places where I wanted it.

I wanted to lighten the rock, so I added a new layer and set the blend mode to Soft Light.  I took my brush tool, dialled in opacity at 10%, chose an appropriate brush size and then painted over the rock to subtly lighten it.  I probably selected the rock first to avoid lightening the water adjacent to it.

At this point I was close to a final image.

While the top-most layer (Dodge) was selected, on my Mac I hit Apple-Option-Shift-E to create a new layer by merging all lower layers.

I called this layer “Merged and Sharpened”.  It was here that I’d apply the final step before exporting to JPG for publication.

I selected the rock using the magic wand tool and applied the Unsharp Mask with Amount set to 10%, Radius set to 50 pixels, and Threshold at 0.  Lastly, I used the Smart Sharpen filter at 30% to sharpen the details in the rocks.

Throughout the process I applied a bit more brushing here and there, but otherwise, that’s the workflow I used.

It’s easier to see things than read about them, so please see this screen capture of my layer stack in Photoshop:

Only the Lonely - Photoshop Layer Stack

Only the Lonely - Photoshop Layer Stack

Hopefully this might help people with their processing.


4 thoughts on “Post-Processing Tutorial: “Only the Lonely”

  1. timwratephotography

    nice work here Johnno – it’s always nice to see someone else’s workflow.. brilliant final image too… it looks almost light painted


    1. Xenedis Post author

      Thanks Tim.

      Yes, it can sure be interesting to see how different people get to their version of the end result.

      I’m hoping to publish more post-processing tutorials in the future, and I may even look back at some of my older images.



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