Enhancing Landscape Photos? Local Edits Can Help

Enhancing Landscape Photos? Local Edits Can Help

With landscape photos, you’ll often find that they’re missing something at first sight. The sky is too bright, the forest in the background is too dark, the river in the middle looks bland. This is where landscape photographers turn to a simple trick—local edits. Take a look at how to do them.

When you’re editing landscape photos, basic adjustments to their contrast, exposure, and saturation often aren’t enough. The solution is local edits, which enhance only the part of the picture that you need to enhance. So you can for example darken the sky or emphasize the subject separately.

In Zoner Photo Studio you have two main ways to do this.

  1. You can use the tools directly included in the program.
  2. Or you can use plugins.

Zoner Photo Studio supports the integration of various plugins that give the Editor extra capabilities. For example Google Nik Collection 32bit, which is ideal for local edits to landscape photographs. For instructions on how to install it, read our article  Unlimited Editing Possibilities with the Nik Collection.

Highlighting Skies using Curves-based Layers

Local Edits of Landscape Photos: adding a new layer in Zoner Photo Studio X.
To add a new layer, click the Add Layer button, which you’ll find in the Layers panel on the right.

First open your landscape photo in the Develop module, where you can adjust things like its overall exposure or contrast or the saturation of its colors. Then switch to the Editor module. It’s the part of the program with support for layers, and so it’s where you should go for local edits.

One typical example of something to edit this way is a sky that’s bland and that lacks contrast. To fix a sky like that, first add a Curves layer to the picture. Just click the arrow next to the Add Layer button and then click Curves.

Then use the nodes to create an S curve; this will add contrast and colors to the sky.

Then add a layer mask with the Hide All option. This hides all of your edits. Then add them back to the sky only. To do that, first click on Drawing Tools and choose the Paintbrush. Then:

  1. Give the paintbrush a radius that’s big enough so that you can easily select the sky but small enough so that you can avoid the other parts of the picture.
  2. Set the Blur to roughly 50–90% for a smoother transition between the edited and unedited areas.
  3. Click the layer mask and set the brush color to white.
  4. Draw on the photo to mark the area where the edit will be applied.

To get a better idea of where you’re working, display the layer mask. To do that, click the mask icon in the histogram row at the top right. If your changes are not displayed, double-check that you definitely have the brush color set to white.

Local Edits of Landscape Photos: mask with the Curves edit.
We drew using the white brush on the black mask to set which parts of the picture would be affected by the Curves edit.

Lighten a Foreground with Exposure Edits

Local exposure edits work similarly. Use them to brighten foregrounds that are too dark and improve their detail and contrast.

Start by adding an Exposure layer. Then give it a Hide All mask and use a white paintbrush to select the foreground this time around. Don’t forget to set a Blur level that’s high enough to keep the transition from being too sharp.

Local Edits of Landscape Photos: editing exposure of a photography's foreground.
We marked just the photograph’s foreground using a white brush, to change its exposure and separate it from the sky.

Adjust colors’ saturation, etc. in the same way. You just need to choose the corresponding layer.

You can make other enhancements this way too, even ones that aren’t among the Adjustment Layers. For example sharpening or blurring. Just click Duplicate Layer to copy the layer with the original image, and then make the edits you need. Then give the layer a Hide All mask, and once again draw with a white brush to mark the places where the edit should be visible.

Local Edits Using Plugins

You can also get help for your local edits from plugins that you download and install into Zoner Photo Studio. Now let’s take a look at how to make some finalizing local edits using the Viveza 2 plugin from the Nik Collection 32bit.

The Google Nik Collection plugins have been bought up by DxO Mark, which offers enhanced versions of them free for 30 days and for a fee after that. Older versions can still be downloaded and used for free.

Local Edits of Landscape Photos: a path to the Viveza 2 plugin.
The Viveza 2 plugin enables comprehensive local edits using nodes, which you can display in black and white to keep your edits as precise as possible.

First you’ll need to merge all of the photo’s layers into one. Then open the photo in Viveza 2 and add a node to the picture in the place that you want to locally edit. In the plugin’s basic edits, you can edit these things at one node:

  • brightness,
  • contrast,
  • saturation,
  • and clarity.

These edits are usually enough for your overall fine-tuning of the picture.

Local Edits of Landscape Photos: adding a node for easily editing.
Add a node to easily edit selected places in a photo.

For more precise positioning, add a node anywhere in the photo and then switch to the mask display. In this mode, the white areas show where the photo will be edited. Meanwhile the black areas show what won’t be edited. Use this display to fine-tune the node’s location. Place it for example on clouds whose contrast and detail need improvement.

Local Edits of Landscape Photos: better precision by using the mask.
You can get even better precision using the mask.

If one node isn’t enough for your needs, add more nodes. Keep adding more until the sky (or the foreground) has the contrast, detail, and exposure you need.

Once you’re done editing, click OK. The photo is then automatically loaded back into Zoner Photo Studio, where you can then save the picture. Then publish it on the web to show off your work!

Local Edits of Landscape Photos: adding multiple nodes.
If one node isn’t enough, add more.

The picture without local edits and with edits. The difference is especially visible in the sky, where the contrast is better and the clouds are brighter.

As we’ve seen, you can use local edits to fine-tune individual parts of a photo without affecting the rest. That makes it easy to get landscape photos and more looking exactly how you want.  Just Download Zoner Photo Studio X, try it free for 30 days, and get started!

Warning: We cannot guarantee smooth operation of third party plug-ins.  We are unable to ensure continuous compatibility. We prefer to focus on the continued improvement of our program.

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AuthorJosef Gabrhel

My idea of a great evening is spent under the stars or in a tent, taking pictures of the night sky before going to sleep. Then, photographing a majestic sunrise in the countryside the next morning. I am happiest when my photography takes me to Velká Javořina in the White Carpathian Mountains. I am also a passionate photographer of the fascinating, yet almost invisible world beneath our feet. When I’m not shooting landscapes, I’m busy exploring the forest, or my favorite wetland areas, taking photos of insects. Simply stated, I am a nature photographer, not just in my images, but also in my soul.

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