David-Pasillas-Muir-Woods-Before-After1-1By David Pasillas 

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Today I’m going to show you how I made this image of Muir Woods pop with the use of Topaz Clarity, Lens Effects, and Topaz Detail. As you can see, the raw image is bland, because it lacks contrast and saturation, but it’s a good exposure and provides me with a great starting point.

David-Pasillas-Channels-1In Photoshop,  I first created seven different curves layers to make targeted adjustments with luminosity masks. If you’re unfamiliar with luminosity masks, you really should get familiar because they’re extremely useful. In a nutshell, you create channels that target different tones, such as the 25% brightest/darkest tones.With a single click you can select those tones and use an adjustment layer, in this case, curves, to make changes only to those tones. Its a quick way to work on a specific range of tones.

To learn more about luminosity masks, I suggest Tony Kuiper’s tutorial as well as Sean Bagshaw’s video tutorial.

David-Pasillas-Muir-Woods-curves-1After adding contrast to the image with those curves layers by darkening specific dark tones and brightening specific light tones, I used a color balance adjustment layer because the image looked to have a green tint to it. I corrected this by changing the magenta/green slider to -2 in the mid-tones. This made the tree trunks and the needles on the ground look normal again.

David-Pasillas-Topaz-Clarity-1Next, I merged all of the layers and brought the image into Topaz Clarity. I started by applying the Color and Contrast Boost I preset in the landscape collection. It was close to what I wanted, but not quite, so I altered the sliders just a little bit until I was satisfied. The result is a brighter, more vibrant image with more detail in the shadows.

David-Pasillas-Muir-Woods-Lens-Effects1-1I then brought the photo into Lens Effects to add contrast, saturation and a bit of a glow effect to the image. Before Lens Effects I made sure to duplicate the layer so I could make blending mode and opactiy adjustments back in Photoshop. In Lens Effects, I like to use the Canon 50mm 1.8 preset. Once processed, the layer blending mode  is changed to soft light and, in this case, the opacity set to 45%.

When Lens Effects is used in this manner, I prefer the opacity to be set at 25-45% depending on the desired amount of contrast and saturation.

David-Pasillas-Muir-Woods-Lens-Effects2-2At this point, the effect looked good, but I felt like the bark on the tree was a little darker than I wanted, so a layer mask was used to remove some of the effect. I chose a soft brush at 40% opacity and quickly painted on the trees with black to bring back some detail.

Glancing at the image, I noticed a couple of things that I found distracting. I created a new layer and used the spot healing brush to remove a couple leaves from the walkway on the bottom of the image as well as some bright orange branches on the right side of the frame. These were only minor changes, but the visual perfectionist in me needed to remove all distracting elements.

David-Pasillas-Soft-Light-Before_After-1Next, I painted some light into the image. This was achieved by creating a new layer and setting the blending mode to soft light. I like to use a soft brush with the opacity set to 10% or lower so I can make subtle changes. For this image, I used white to brighten parts of the trees and clovers. I used black to darken some shadows and specific areas in the background to add more contrast. You can see the subtle changes by the arrows in the after image.

 The image looked like it was almost done, however it needed more saturation in the reds. I therefore applied a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and added +10 to the reds. Wanting to make the branches stand out more, I duplicated the layer and used the dodge tool to brighten some mid tones and highlights on branches that were in front of the dark trees, making them stand out a little bit more.

Usually, I don’t like to dodge and burn on pixels. I like to work nondestructively, when I can, but this was a faster way of accomplishing what I wanted.

David-Pasillas-Muir-Woods-Final-1Finally, I sharpened the image with Topaz Detail. The feature enhancement preset in the Creative Detail Collection looked pleasant, so I clicked on it and considered the image done. Below are all of the layers in the final image.


About the photographer:


David Pasillas is a professional photographer based on the central coast of California. He shoots a variety of subjects from events, weddings, and portraiture, to his passion, landscape photography. He is also recognized for his iPhoneography on his blog, iphonephotog.wordpress.com.

David began shooting and developing black and white film at the age of 16. He was introduced to the possibilities of digital photography at 18, and finally, got a DSLR 10 years after his love for photography began. He has never taken a class for photoshop and is completely self taught.

His editing style has been influenced by fine art photographers, HDR photographers, and matte painters.

To view more of David’s work, you can go to facebook.com/DavidPasillasPhoto

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