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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Enhance Your Landscapes

How to use Photoshop Layer Masks and Layer Styles to simulate a graduated ND filter without the drawbacks of an actual filter

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Figure 1

Figure 2
Begin by adding a new adjustment layer by dragging the background layer to the Create A New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers palette. If you already have several layers or you're near the end of your workflow, you can merge the effects of the layers into a single layer by selecting the top-most layer and pressing and holding Ctrl+Alt+Shift+E. I usually rename this layer ND Gradient or something similar. With your ND Gradient layer selected, choose Select from the top menu bar and choose Color Range and then select Highlights from the drop-down menu (Figure 1). The marching ants will appear, and the highlights in your image will be selected.

Usually, just selecting highlights won't give me the tonal range I'm looking for. Sometimes, the portion of the image that needs darkening includes highlights and midtones, but Photoshop won't let you select both simultaneously. A work-around is to select Shadows from the drop-down menu and click the Invert icon. The highlights and midtones are now selected.

With the chosen color range still selected, choose Refine Edge from the Select menu. Adjust the edge of your selection using Feather and Shift Edge. I find that I usually feather my selections between 100 and 250 pixels, depending on the specific image. A broad feathering gives you a larger, gentler blend, which leads to a more natural-looking image. Once you have your selection feathered, shift the edge of the selection until the feathered edge starts just slightly at the transition between the light and dark potions of the image. An edge shift of +25% to +45% usually works well for most images (Figure 2).

Figure 3
Using Layer Styles
After feathering and shifting your selection, convert the selection into a mask by clicking the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers palette. To darken your selection using a Layer Style, double-click the ND Gradient Layer to bring up the Layer Style menu. Choose Gradient Overlay from the Blending Options. You should notice the bottom portion of your selection is darker and the top portion is lighter. Click the Reverse icon to invert the gradient (Figure 3).

I like to fine-tune my gradient transition while still in Blend Mode: Normal. Place your cursor over the image and click and drag the cursor up and down within the image. Notice that as you drag the cursor up and down, you can see the density change in the selection area. This is similar to positioning your graduated ND filter in its holder in the field. Changing the Scale percentage allows you to adjust the abruptness of the change, which is very similar to using a soft-edge or hard-edge graduated ND filter. Lowering the Scale percentage produces a hard-edge filter effect, and raising the Scale percentage is similar to a soft-edge effect.


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