Potete trovare questo processo in italiano qua.


First, I know my english is not perfect. I often forgot “s” in the third person, my verbs may be weird, and sometimes I uses words similar to italian ones but that, in English, have different meanings. I tried to be as much careful as I could, but if I made big errors, I hope you will correct me. Said this, I must say another thing; This is not a tutorial. I just want to show you my workflow, and I will not give the details of my sliders or parameters.
This is not because I want to hide some secrets, but simply because I believe that every photo must be worked in its unique way, and that what is right for a photo, may not be for another one.
Experiment, change, do what you think is right, but don’t be blocked by what you read on a forum or in a book!

Step 1

The photo as took by the camera. The composition is right, the exposition seems a bit too dark but I wanted it this way so I kept details in the sky. After imported the photo, I worked in Lightroom for the global adjustments.

Step 2

This is the result of the global adjustments, exposition has been modified, the rocks are been lightened, clarity was added so the photo is now more dramatic.

I will apply next adjustments in Photoshop, but right now the photo is already very close to what I saw in the reality.

Step 3

I examine the photo trying to understand how can I drive the emotions e guide the eye.

First thing to do, after I removed the noise (you can’t see it at this zoom level, but it will disturbing in big prints), it’s to divide the photo in zones of interest, giving them a weight.

For this photo I’d like the splash to be more in evidence (2), and that the image guides the eye to it.

I think I’ll proceed this way:

  1. The rocks need more sharpness, the lens is very soft to the edges, so I’ll apply a bit of Unsharp Mask. The color too isn’t really clear, and I’ll improve shadows and lights.
  2. The splash must to attract the eye. Right now I don’t know how I will proceed, but likely I’ll light it and I’ll add contrast.
  3. The buildings are dull, I will light them.
  4. Sky is flat, clouds are interesting but the gray rules. Probably I shall work with contrast, that was lost because of the sun that burned the zone.

Step 4

I removed the noise with an external plugin, and changed the rocks exposition. I gave a pass of Unsharp Mask for added sharpness. After that, I increased color contrast, recovering a bit more of sharpness. After that, with a Soft Light level I painted on the transitions between lights and shadows, redraw some of them, so I can guide the eye where I want it, to the splash of water.

Step 5

Here things are becoming interesting… After I darkened the histogram, I decided that this is the detail in the sky I want in the final image. All I have to do now is to extract it without make the photo too unrealistic. You can joke easily the eye, in a photo we understand that something is missing in the sky where it is burned, but if we extract too much detail, the brain knows that, if it was there, it never could to get al those difference in contrast.

So we start masking…

Step 6

Here we are, but the photo start becoming a little heavy in mood. That’s nothing I can’t recover later.

The sky has been applied via a “Darken” level, and I lowered opacity until my brain stop yelling “false! False! False!”

After that, I applied curves and contrast recovering detail that I lost lowering the opacity.

Now I start working on the buildings and the beach, so I will rebalance the image.

Step 7

And the buildings become alive!

I lighten them how much was enough to attract the eye, and I respected the selective contrast of the eye trying to not create a too heavy point of interest: remember that I want my focal point to be the splash and the rocks. This was easy, a level of “levels”, masked with a soft brush.

And now, the sea…

Step 8

Do you see it? The sea, I mean… this is the detail I must try to recover, before the sensor burn out for the specular highlights on the water.

I’m true, I don’t have idea how can do it, something suggests me that it has something to do with a “multiply” or “darken” level, but I feel how this shall be the worst part of the game…

Step 9

And sea it is!

It’s all a game of levels and masks, and I added a bit of color saturation and tonal correction because the sea, so dark, became of the same color of the beach. I retain a bit of the red of the low sun, because the sea must be realistic compared to the sky.

I give sharpness to the waves thanks to an Unsharp Mask with weird parameters. Try looking for “tonal contrast with unsharp mask” on Google, maybe you’ll find something!

Step 10

Time for comparison… from where we started after global adjusts and where we arrived right now.
You can see all the elaborations, but the mood of the photo didn’t change too much. This is good.
The splash is still far away from being easy noticeable. I knew that this could be the most difficult part and I’ll face it as last, because all the other modifications shall change everything I will do here. The human eye is attracted by three things: contrast, color, and details. This means that I can try to work on the saturation or on the sharpness of the splash, or on the difference in luminosity with the rest of the image, for bring the splash in the foreground. It is a splash of white water, so I can play on the color. I must try on the rest.

Now it’s the time, for me, to leave the image alone a bit, so I can rest my brain and see it with new eyes.

Step 11

And here you can finally see the splash I was talking about till now. It is surely more visible, after I applied a masked Unsharp Mask, but the eye goes away from it, to the sky, with its white point that remains the point of greater contrast of the photo.

Now I will apply a level of “Soft light” on all the photo, and I will balance the image.

Step 12

Here it is… I applied light by hand, with a “soft light” level, and a soft brush with 20% of opacity and 1200px of diameter.

Now the eye is attracted by the splash. You can look at every point of the image, but your eyes will be attracted by the splash. Note it.

Step 13

A Curve level and a Histogram level on all the image works giving mood to the image.

Step 14

Last thing, I applied a bit of vignette so the eye won’t exit from the margin of the photo, and I added my nice sign.

Step 15

And with the frame, we finally end, We spent two hours, the photo now weight 2GB, but everything’s in place!

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