It is important for me to point out before we get started that Photoshop is no substitute for making proper adjustments and using all the tools you have available while shooting in the field. Although we can replicate many filters you may put on your lens post-capture, this particular technique is second best to using an actual Gradated Neutral Density (ND) filter at the time of capture. Often times using the Grad ND filter in the field prevents blown out highlights that are simply not recoverable after the fact because they were never captured to begin with.
Now let me put my soap box away so we can get to the tutorial.
Here is a shot Mrs. HERO took while driving through Swan Valley, Idaho last year. I’ve made no prior adjustments to this image so as not to detract from the effect. Traditionally (because this was shot as a RAW file) I would make most of my adjustments using the Photoshop Camera RAW interface prior to bringing the photo into Photoshop, but for the sake of instruction, here is the unadjusted image.
Lets add a new layer by clicking the Create New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers palette. (*note: If you’re Layers palette isn’t visible, open it by choosing Window>Layers from the main menu.)
Although this file will only be 2 layers, it’s a good practice to name each layer correctly. Double click on the new layer (which is by default called Layer 1) and change it’s name to something more appropriate like Graduated ND Filter.
Reset the foreground and background colors to their default black and white setting by pressing the D key. (If your Tools palette isn’t visible, open it by choosing Window>Tools from the main menu.)
Switch to the Gradient tool by pressing the G key and make sure that the gradient is set to Foreground to Transparent in the Gradient Options bar which has now appeared at the top of Photoshop. Also check to make sure that the Linear Gradient icon is selected. (If you have no idea what I just said, see the diagram below)
With the Gradient tool now selected click and drag in a straight line from the top of the photo to the bottom. (*note: Holding down the Shift key while dragging will keep the gradient in a perfectly straight line.)
Lets redirect our attention back to the Layers palette and change the layer Blend Mode from Normal to Soft Light.
The Soft Light blend mode darkens or lightens the colors depending on the blend color. The effect is similar to shining a diffused spotlight on the image. If the blend color (light source) is lighter than 50% gray, the image is lightened, as if it were dodged. If the blend color is darker than 50% gray, the image is darkened, as if it were burned in. Painting with pure black or white produces a distinctly darker or lighter area but does not result in pure black or white.
At times this effect is a bit too heavy. If that’s the case, simply lower the layer’s Opacity (found right next to where we just changed the Blend Mode in the layers palette). For my image a setting of 80% Opacity seemed right.
Here is the split screen before and after. Notice how much more dramatic the sky is from the original and how much more vivid the blue has become.
And the final result.
(*note: because this exercise used only one simple layer, there is no file download needed for this tutorial.)
Lesson Files + Additional Resources
There are no file downloads or additional resources for this Photoshop tutorial