Photography Photoshop

Learning Curves Adjustment Layers from David Nightingale

A few weeks back, I tuned into one of CreativeLive’s classes titled “Dramatic Post-Production” hosted by David Nightingale. I learned a lot from David about how to use Curve adjustment layers in Photoshop to really enhance a photograph.

David’s a master at this technique – and I struggled to follow along. I recently used his technique to enhance one of my Point Lobos images. Here’s the original image I had processed earlier and posted to my online portfolio:

Surf - Point Lobos - 2008

After watching Nightingale’s session, I decided to try to take this very flat looking image and make it better. While this version was very photo-realistic – it certainly wasn’t dramatic in the sense that David brought to his images. So, back into Photoshop I went to try another adjustment session – this time based upon Nightingale’s techniques.

Screen Shot 2011 11 07 at 6 28 44 PMI re-opened the image in Photoshop and began to apply Curves adjustment layers. As it turned out, I divided this image into three ranges for adjustments – the sandstone in the lower right of the image, the darker rocks in the upper right and lower left, and the water.

I applied three separate Curves adjustment layers to make these adjustments along with the layer masks to isolate the changes to just those areas within the image You can get a sense of my process by looking at this snippet of the Photoshop layers off to the right.

The final layer (on top) is a gentle vignette that I applied using Nightingale’s technique of selecting a border, inverting it, feathering it, and creating a new Curves adjustment layer to darken the edges. This kind of vignette is easy to apply in Lightroom – but knowing this technique in Photoshop is helpful as well!

Below is the resulting image. There’s more definition and “pop” in this image that I enjoy. Hope you do too! Click on the image to see it large. I welcome your comments!

Surf - Point Lobos - 2008

Note: I recommend David’s subscription-based tutorials that teach his techniques (affiliate link). In terms of my levels of Photoshop skill, his teaching and tutorials have opened my eyes to new techniques that I hadn’t known before. David’s a really great teacher!

Note to self: I was reminded while re-reading The Creative Digital Darkroom this afternoon that it’s possible to use Gaussian Blur on the layer masks to smooth out the transitions between the areas. I need to remember to use that technique next time!

Black and White Golden Gate Photography Photography - Canon PowerShot S95 San Francisco/California

Sail Away – San Francisco – 2011

Socked In - San Francisco - 2011

Yesterday, I headed north to Sausalito to join the Marin Photo Club’s charter boat heading out onto San Francisco Bay for the Blue Angels air show performance.

Coming north across the Golden Gate Bridge, the fog was still blowing through and under the bridge and created this lovely view toward the skyline of San Francisco. I shot this using my tiny Canon PowerShot S95 – handheld – from the View Point on the north side of the bridge.

When I noticed the sailboat in the image, I decided to post-process it a bit – using curves and masks in Photoshop CS5 to isolate adjustments in the sky/skyline, the fog, and the water/sailboat at the bottom of the image. A final curves layer added the toning – tweaking the blue and green colors just a bit.