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!

Looking Back at Point Lobos

Surf - Point Lobos - 2008

This morning I happened across an earlier post of mine from 2009 that pointed to a New York Times Travel section article about Edward Weston and Point Lobos titled “In Point Lobos, Where Edward Weston Saw the World Anew“.

“The place has never been the same since Weston showed it to us. Just as his friend Ansel Adams has defined how generations view Yosemite and the High Sierra, so it is hard to look at the dark ocean, tide pools, kelp beds, sand, stone and bent cypresses of Point Lobos and Big Sur without filtering them through the lens of Edward Weston.”

Around the same time, a friend gave me a copy of Weston’s Daybooks – fascinating reading about his photographic – and other! – explorations.

Looking to do one of my daily photo editing projects, I explored back through my archive for photos I had taken in 2008 from a visit to Point Lobos – and came across the image above. It’s not done in the Weston black and white style – I tried but liked this color version much better!

The original image was shot using my (since sold) Canon EOS 40D DSLR with the 24-105mm f/4 IS lens. It was post-processed in Lightroom 3 and then in Photoshop with Nik’s Viveza and Color Efex 3. It’s the color of that water in the wave and the gentle golden beige in the sandstone that kept me in color, rather than black and white, for this image!

Sunday Morning Coffee: Carmel and Point Lobos

It’s Sunday morning and while sipping coffee and reading the New York Times, I came across their 36 Hours travel column which this week is about Carmel-by-the-Sea, one of my favorite spots on the planet! Reading that 36 Hours article brought back memories and stimulated me to do a little writing about them!

I first got acquainted with the Carmel area over 20 years ago when I was working at Visa International. For many years, the Visa board of directors held its February board meeting at Pebble Beach every year – at the Lodge. I loved the natural beauty of the area – even if I didn’t have a golfer’s appreciation for it that most of the directors did!

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