Basic Adjustments, Big ImprovementHere’s a screen grab of all my Photoshop adjustment dialog boxes. You see them here all together, but when you’re working on an image, you’ll only see one at a time. I made this screen grab just so you could see my adjustments.
All these adjustment layers are accessible by going to Layer > New Adjustment Layer, except for one: Shadows/Highlights. The Shadows/ Highlights adjustment isn’t readily available as an Adjustment Layer. You need to know this trick to make that happen: right-click (or Control + click) on the background layer of an image and choose Convert to Smart Object from the options.
When working on my image, I opened up the shadows and toned down the highlights using Shadows/Highlights, increased the saturation and color using Hue/Saturation, brightened the image using Curves and added some more color with the Photo Filter. As a final step, I sharpened the image using Unsharp Mask. Note that you can use Unsharp Mask like an Adjustment Layer if you first go to Filter > Convert for Smart Filters. The advantage is that you can apply sharpening to select parts of the image—which for this image were the tufas (rock formations), and not the sky and water.
Summing up: HDR programs and plug-ins can’t be beat. However, when the contrast range isn’t very wide, try expanding the dynamic range of an image in Photoshop, Lightroom and Aperture. You may be surprised at the power of these programs.
Rick Sammon's latest book, HDR Secrets For Digital Photographers, covers all aspects of HDR photography. Visit www.ricksammon.com.