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  • Austin James Jackson

3 Photoshop Tricks to Create Better Photos

New and experienced photographers alike are always looking for new ways to achieve amazing effects on their photography in Photoshop. While Photoshop is an incredibly powerful program that comes with hundreds of tools we often times become confused by the clutter. Even though the tools are practically endless in Photoshop, there is really only a few we need for landscape photography. Even once you know the tools, many photographers don't know tips and tricks to achieve certain effects using these tools.

In this blog post, I want to outline a few of my favorite tools that help achieve certain effects. I'll also be giving you a rundown on how and when to use these tools.

1. Orton Effect via Gaussain Blur

The Orton effect is something that many landscape photographers apply to their photographs, especially when they're trying to enhance beautiful light. This effect works well on most photos with some form of light or fog in your scene.

How It's Done:

You can find tons of different methods of the Orton effect online, but I'll be giving you the simple, yet effective way that I prefer to do it. First, create a new stamped layer of all visible layers (CMD+Alt/Opt+Shift+E on Mac, CTRL+Alt/Opt+Shift+E on a PC). Then, change the blend mode to screen. Finally, go to Filter>Blur>Gaussain Blur, and set the radius between 20-60 pixels. Generally speaking, 40 pixels is just right, but it's always worth experimenting with other values.

Now, you'll see that the image is brightened and softened overall. At this point, I usually lower the opacity to taste, and then use a layer mask to refine the Orton effect to just spots where the light is hitting in your frame.

Colorado sunset photography
I applied the Orton effect to this photo, and selectively painted the effect in to the sky where the golden light was hitting.

2. Custom Vignette via Blend Modes

Adding a vignette is one of the last steps I take on nearly every photo I shoot. A vignette is the process of darkening or lightening the corners of your photo. This is done to help draw the viewers eye to the center of the photo. Most of the time in landscape photography, this is done by darkening the edges.

While you could just use the vignette slider, I believe that it is much better to create a custom vignette for your scene. For example, if you have sunlight coming in from the right side of your frame, you want to be sure that this part of the photo is not being darkened. To learn how to make the completely custom vignette that I use on my photos, check out this blog post.

redwoods landscape photography
I used a custom vignette on this photo to darken the left side of the frame only. I didn't want to use the vignette slider because then the right side of the frame would also darken, which wouldn't make sense because that is where the light is coming from.

3. Selective Color/Contrast Adjustments via Color Range

The most powerful feature of Photoshop is the ability to create highly refined masks in order to apply effects to only certain parts of your photo. This allows you to add contrast or change colors on very specific parts of the image. Some examples of this include increase the brightness and saturation of a lake (and not effecting anything else), or even increasing the color of sunset clouds. While Lightroom contains powerful sliders to effect the image as a whole, Photoshop is nice to create fine tuned adjustments that only effect very specific parts of the image.

While there are many ways to create layer masks, one of the easiest and most effective ways is by using a color range selection. The color range tool is a tool in Photoshop that allows you to simply click on your image, and Photoshop will automatically select things that are similar in color. You must refine this selection of course, but photoshop allows you to easily make refinements using a couple of slider bars. You can also use this tool to select (and refine) highlights, shadows, or midtones.

How It’s Done:

First of all, decide what effect you want to achieve. Are you trying to brighten and saturate fall foliage? Do you want to make the colors of the lake pop out? What are you trying to do?

Once you’ve decided this, you’ll want to go to Select>Color Range. You must have the background layer selected when you do this. When the Color Range box pops up, you'll want to click on your photo on the spot that you want to select. I prefer to set my Color Range Selection Preview to Grayscale. By default, the Color Range is set to select Sampled Colors, meaning that it will select whichever color you click. However, you can change it to Highlights, Shadows, or Midtones if you want to target a particular lightness value in the image.

In the photo below, you can see that I changed my selection to "Highlights", and I've adjusted the fuzziness and range to make the selection that I want to make of the waterfall and light rays. Range changes how much of the highlights can be selected, while fuzziness changes how much of the highlights will be selected. Play with both of these settings until you get the desired outcome. Remember that what you see on the grayscale image will be your selection.

photoshop interface landscape photography
I've adjusted the fuzziness and range to make a selection of just the waterfall and light rays in the image.

Once you have your selection made, click OK. What was in grayscale is now a selection. To apply it to another layer, simply create a new adjustment layer and it will be automatically applied. In the example below, I've created a curves layer with the adjustment, which allowed me to reduce the brightness of the highlights. This method works for any of the adjustment layers, but I prefer using it with curves if I want to effect the lightness values of my image, or the Hue/Saturation if I aim to effect the colors in my image.

using a color range selection in Photoshop
You can see that the color range selection is now applied as a layer mask to a curves layer. This allows me to reduce the bright highlights of the waterfall.


I use these three tools on nearly all of my photos, and if you're struggling to find ways to improve your photography in Photoshop, I recommend using them as well. Next time you edit a photo in Photoshop, follow the instructions for some of these settings and see if you like the results. Feel free to tweak the settings and play with different numbers and strengths to see what you like best. In the end, creating beautiful photos can be done a number of different ways, and these tools are just a few of the routes you can take to get there.