Landscape

Previously, I wrote a tutorial about a quick and easy landscape enhancement workflow in Nikon Capture NX using a snowy landscape photo as an example. The tutorial demonstrated the use of Black and White Control Points, Color Control Points (CCP), and Selection Brushes. With the release of Nikon Capture NX2, there has been a very important addition to control point tools: the Selection Control Point (SCP). In this tutorial, I will show you a very simple but effective landscape workflow that can save a dull image within minutes. Instead of CCP, I will use SCP to selectively enhance the sky without affecting the rest of the image so there is no more need to use Selection Brush to remove the effect from unwanted area.

The tutorial

Before we get started, here is the original photo taken by a Nikon D200. It was taken in an early afternoon of a dull February day. EXIF data showed ISO 100, F/8, 1/80s, and 20mm.

1_originalphoto

I started the workflow by going through the Develop section of Edit List. The first thing I want to fix is the White Balance in Develop->Camera Settings. The camera white balance was set to Auto WB. The result is a little too cool, similar to what Daylight->Direct Sunlight WB would have done. so I changed it to Daylight->Cloudy. The default 6000K color temperature made it a little too warm so I played with the fine adjustment slider and finally settled down at 5600K.

Next, I moved on to the Develop->Quick Fix. One of the major problem with the scene is lack of contract. To fix that, we can use the Contrast slider but I like the Curve adjustment better. A S-shaped curve adds contrasts to a photo by darkening the shadow and brightening up the highlight. If you have other issues such as over/under exposure, blown highlights, and dark shadows, you want to fix them here to obtain the best result since Capture NX 2 only works directly on the RAW data in the Develop section.

3_quickfixThe result of the Quick Fix adjustment is shown in the following screen capture. You can see that the foreground looks contrasty and rich in color but the sky is quite washed out.

4_afterquickfix

For my photo, that was all I need to do before moving on to the Adjust section. You may also want to work though Develop-> Camera & Lens Corrections section if you have moire, color aberrations, and vignette (light fall off at corners) issues.

I then clicked on “New Step” button in Edit List and selected Levels & Curves as adjustment. I then dragged the Black Point Slider to the right until the sky looks good to my taste.

5_levelscurves

The adjustment inevitably darkened the foreground significantly but wait…

6_afterlevelscurves

I clicked on the Selection Control Point toolbar icon, made sure the plus mode was activated.

7_plusscpI dropped the Positive Selection Control Point (PSCP) on the image in the sky area. Instantly, the dark foreground was restored to the original state prior to the Levels & Curves adjustment. The PSCP limited the Levels & Curves adjustments to only the sky portion of the image.

I adjusted the radius of the slider so the effect can cover the entire sky area. We are not limited to one SCP either, we can have multiple of them to cover the entire sky area. Using Multiply blending mode in the Opacity settings of the Levels & Curves edit step can make the darkening effects slightly stronger in case you want deeper and richer sky tones.

The following is what I got with a single Selection Control Point and the blending mode set to Multiply.

8_afterpsc
That’s about it. For the title photo I posted on top of the tutorial, I also used two Color Control Points to brighten up some grasses and trees near the bottom of the image but those are not critical elements of the tutorial.

Finally, here is another trick you can try if you want to add more “pop” to your photo. Click on “New Step” button to add a new adjustment step. Without actually selecting an adjustment, go straight to Opacity setting and change the Blending mode to “Overlay”, it will instantly add contrast to the photo like the example shown here.

10_overlaymagicIf the result looks over edited, you can simply drag the Opacity slider to reduce the effect. If you need to add new adjustment steps, you will have to have an adjustment selected for the current step, or Capture NX 2 won’t let you add more. In that case, simply add an adjustment that does nothing with its default setting, such as Levels & Curves.

Generalized method

It is very common to have a landscape photos that contain sky as part of the image so this workflow can work for quite a few landscape photos you have taken. You may not always need such drastic adjustments but the principle works well in typical situations. When you need to rescue a dull photo such as one like mine, you will be delighted to find out how easy it is to do it in Nikon Capture NX 2. Simply take the following steps:

  • Adjust White Balance if needed
  • Quick Fix your photos and concentrate on the non-sky elements
  • Fix the sky using Selection Control Point

Why I took this approach not the other way around (fix the sky first)?

Firstly, you want to do as much as you can in the Develop section. Only the Develop section works directly on RAW data therefore it is possible to pull the most image details out. The limitation of the Develop section is the absence of any local adjustment capabilities. All of that are only available in Adjust section. Secondly, sky is typically much simpler to fix than other elements in a landscape photo due to limited color variations and often distinct differences with other part of the photo. Control Points work best in this kind of situations.

Difference between Color Control Points and Selection Control Points

Color control point can also be used to selectively adjust part of an image but it only works as expected if you use the normal blending mode. If you change the blending mode, you will see other part of the images also affected. With Selection Control Points, the effects of the adjustment are confined to the areas that are selected by Section Control Points. If you change blending mode, only those selected areas will be affected, not the entire image. That’s why we were able to selectively adjust the sky without affecting the foreground elements. In the previous tutorial, the Color Control Point modified the foreground. We had to remove the undesired effect using Selection Brush in negative mode.

The final words

I hope you enjoy reading this tutorial and can appreciate the nice features of Capture NX 2. To read more Capture NX tutorials and tips on this site, click here. If you have any comments or suggestions, please feel free to use the comment box below.


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