Welcome and thanks for checking out my latest tutorial! I haven’t put one together since using Apple’s now discontinued Aperture program, so obviously I’ve since switched to Adobe Lightroom.

These are arranged in writing format as opposed to video, so you can see the images at a larger size, and not need to pause the video to study the adjustments. You’ll be able to see the progress through the editing steps, and easily refer to previous adjustments for a before and after.

This image was taken on a winter trip to Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park in January 2016.

I used a Canon 6D with a Canon 17-40 ƒ/4L lens. This is a RAW image file, so minor adjustments do not affect the quality.

Settings: ISO 100 – ƒ/10 – 1/200s – 17mm

The first image is the untouched RAW file. Looking at the histogram, you can see the highlights in the sky are not clipping, and the blacks in the lower areas are not either. The full dynamic range is there to work with. I typically shoot with auto white balance, and it does a pretty good job. Most adjustments to white balance are done for a visual impact.

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I use the white balance selector tool to pick a neutral area of gray to set the white balance. When photographing thermal features, I often choose a gray area somewhere in the steam. Doing that here gives me a slightly warmer image, which helps bring out the oranges in the water. You can also pick a point anywhere throughout the clouds. Picking a point in the darker areas of the clouds will make the image dramatically warmer, while picking a point closer to the brightest areas can give a more natural result.

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Because the sky has a much brighter range of tones than the foreground, I use a graduated filter to adjust only this area first. I set the line just touching the tops of the trees, and angle it to almost match the tree line. I only use a short gradation, instead of expanding it to fade from top to bottom. I lower the exposure a half stop, as a physical graduated neutral density filter might do. I increase the contrast slightly, then lower highlights so they aren’t clipping. I add just a touch of clarity to give the clouds a bit more definition.

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Next, I add another graduated filter, this time covering the bottom half of the image. I align it below the trees, covering everything below where the snow starts. I increase whites and highlights to brighten the snow, and lower blacks so all tonal ranges are represented. I slightly clip the blacks (lower left) so I know I’ve got a true black point.

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Using the brush tool and the shadows preset, I increase the shadows in the trees. I find this is a great slider to use to brighten up dark areas of trees.

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 11.41.22 AMI‘ve already balanced out the contrast of the image areas using the two graduated filters, but I add just a little bit more global contrast to the overall image with a tone curve. I only go +10 with lights and -10 with darks, making the middle tones pop just a little more, without clipping anything on either end.

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This image already has a natural orange/red color, where the heat of the thermal features melts the snow and allows colorful bacteria to grow.  I increase the saturation of red, orange, and yellow slightly to bring this out more. I also added +5 to the luminance of these same colors in the same adjust box.

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Sharpening can be done before you export the image depending on where it’s going. I add just a little more to the amount and detail. I adjust masking so there’s not as much sharpening going on in the solid areas of snow. If there was noise here, that mask would reduce the noise in the large solid colored areas that don’t need sharpening.

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The lens correction tool corrects the vignetting and distortion caused by the lens. Upright adjustment should fix the leveling of the image. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t.

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The camera calibration tool helps match the image you see on your computer screen to the image profile you set on your camera. Lens correction and camera calibration are set to automatically apply when I import images.

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Now that I’ve made other adjustments, I went back and checked the graduated filter in the sky again. I angled it a little more to not affect the steam cloud on the left, and lowered the exposure and blacks again to darken the clouds.
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I use a brush with the dodge (lighten) preset to brighten up the steam cloud on the left, reversing the darkening from the graduated filter in this area. Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 11.49.27 AM

Finally, I make another adjustment to the white balance, getting a slightly warmer settings. Just a little bit of warm color now shows up where the sun hits the clouds, but the darkest areas remain a natural blue/gray.

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If you have any questions or suggestions, please let me know in the comments.

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