Getting detail in the sky as well as in the ground in a landscape shot can often prove difficult. The problem is compounded when the light is contrasty. It is possible to double process your RAW file and then blend the two images to get details in the sky as well as the ground.
Many users of Photoshop find it difficult to obtain a good, natural-looking join where the sky and the ground overlap. This article will not only show you how to double process your RAW file, it will also show you how to create a smooth blend between the sky and the ground.
1. Using Photoshop, open the RAW file that you want to double process. It will open in ACR (Adobe Camera RAW).
2. Edit Sky
Edit the image to get the required details in the sky area. (the basic editing in RAW is not explained as we have gone through the process before). When doing this, pay no attention to the ground, which may get horribly dark. After the edit, don’t click the Open Image button (which we generally do). Instead, press and hold the Shift key. The Open Image button will change to Open Object button. Click the Open Object button and the image will open in Photoshop as a Smart Object (the thumbnail in the Layers palette will show a tiny page icon in the bottom right corner). Don’t worry if you do not know what a Smart Object is or how it can help us (we shall talk about it in another issue).
3. We now have to process the RAW file again to edit the ground area. So, right-click on the layer (not on the thumbnail) and choose Smart Object via Copy (merely duplicating the layer will not work!). The layers palette will show two layers when this copy layer opens.
4. Double click the thumbnail (not the layer) in the duplicate layer and the image will open a second time in ACR.
5. Edit Ground
This time, adjust the sliders till you are satisfied with the ground area. Don’t worry about the sky area; it may look horrible. When satisfied, click OK.
Now we have, side by side, two versions of the same photo – one correct for the sky, and the other, correct for the ground. The next step is to blend them together.
7. Click on Add layer mask at the bottom of the Layers palette.
8. Select the Gradient (G) tool from the Tool Box. From the Options Bar, choose Linear Gradient and opt for Foreground to Background from the Gradient picker.
9. Keeping Shift pressed, draw the mouse vertically from the top of the sky (depending on the intended effect, you may have to drag a little away from the top of the sky) to the beginning of the ground, or wherever appropriate. In case you are not satisfied with the gradient, undo the gradient (Ctrl+Z) and try again, this time taking the Gradient a bit further into the ground area. The Layers palette will show the effect of the Gradient on the white Mask.
10. It is possible that the sky from the lower layer has not been properly brought out. If that is the case, use a medium-soft Brush (B) and paint into the sky wherever needed (the Foreground Color must be Black).
11. At this stage, carefully observe the picture again. In this example, I felt that the picture was too light (the ground area especially was much too light for my liking; this was due to making the ground too light in step number 5 above. Hence a Curves adjustment layer was created (by clicking the half black-half white circle at the bottom of the Layers palette and choosing Curves) and the image darkened as shown.
Now, you may flatten the image if you like, and further fine-tune the picture using Photoshop.
12. The picture is still in 16-bit (remember this was a RAW file to start with). Hence go to Image>Mode>8-bits/channel. Save the image and enjoy your creation.