Raul Cano (http://tinyurl.com/zpa2yvc) donated this image to me to make a screenshot post of my workflow. I normally use this workflow for these exact type of conditions. Overcast, and with little to no contrast in the image. Below are the programs that I used to get this image to what it is. I did use some luminosity masks for this image. Using luminance masks can really enhance your image, once you get a grip on how to use them properly. But for this image, I didn't use them for anything else except toning down highlights, and bringing out shadows.

  • [li]Photoshop CS6 (CC would work too)[/li]
    [li]Nik Color Efex Pro 4 (It's free now!)[/li]
    [li]Topaz DeNoise 6, or your preferred noise removal tool.[/li]
    [li]Jimmy McIntyre's Luminosity Masks action set. Jimmy has an easy panel you can install for free here: http://www.throughstrangelenses.com/...for-photoshop/. My version of PS is older, so I have an older version of his action set, but it works the same[/li]

Here is the original image from the camera, opened up into Camera RAW.

I used the sliders to do some basic adjustments of adding some contrast, toning down the highlights (sky is slightly overexposed), and bringing out the shadows.

On this screen, I just use the luminance slider to do an initial noise removal. Since the ISO was set to 100, there isn't a need to go any higher than 20 or so.

On this screen, I clicked on 'Enable Lens Profile Correction.' This will fix any barrel distortion in the image. Since it was shot with a telephoto lens, there is hardly any distortion to correct. But I always click on it. It also removes any vignetting on the wide angle lenses pretty nicely.

I will click to remove any chromatic aberration, and set the purple slider to about 4. There probably isn't any, as you usually see the purple fringing with high contrast scenes. But I usually always click to remove it.

The last step in Camera RAW is to level the image. Pressing V on your keyboard will bring up the grid. At the bottom, you can adjust how large the grid is. The image was almost spot on in the original image. I did as a bit of sideways rotation.

Now that the image is open inside of Photoshop, it is time to start the heavy editing. The first step is to always duplicate your layer. It ensures you are working non-destructively, and you can always delete the layer if you mess something up. Duplicate the layer by pressing CONTROL+J on a PC or COMMAND+J on a Mac.

Creating Luminosity Masks: Since I am using an older version of Jimmy McIntyre's masks, I do not have the Easy Panel. To generate the masks, I am going to click on the bottom layer, so that the masks are run on the base layer. I clicked on the Play button, scrolled down to the action set, and clicked on Generate Luminosity Masks. The screen will flicker a couple of times, but then return to normal.

Now it's time to use the masks to bring down the highlights. Click on your duplicated layer that you just made a few steps ago. Then click on the CHANNELS tab. You will see the RED, BLUE, GREEN, AND RGB channels. If you ran the luminosity masks, you should also see six masks for BRIGHTS, DARKS, AND MIDTONES. The masks work by selecting luminance values. If you click on brights 1, you will see a lot of white in the image. White is 100% selected, Black is not selected, and grays are partial selections. Since I want to tone down the sky, I am going to look for a brights which gives me a decent selection of the sky, but not a lot of information in the bottom of the image. I don't want to flatten the aircraft's tones down. Brights 2 is the best selection for this. The sky is much lighter than the aircraft. While very little of the plane will be affected, a good portion of the highlights in the sky will be. To select a mask, hold CONTROL on a PC or COMMAND on a Mac and click on the mask. You will see the little marching ants when your selection is made.

After you select your mask that you want, and you get the marching ants, click back on the LAYERS tab. Your image will be black and white most likely when you click back on the LAYERS tab. Just click on the layer you are working on, and it should return to the color version, with the marching ants still on the screen. So, in this screenshot, I was working on Layer 1, so I clicked on that layer and the color returned. Next, click on the CURVES ADJUSTMENT LAYER BUTTON. You will see a layer mask appear, and the mask has the selection of the luminosity mask you just selected. I pulled down the curve in the middle to bring down the highlights in the clouds, then I raised the upper portion up a notch to bring back some contrast. This is a personal preference on how much to drag the curves around.

Next, I will make a composite layer. Making a composite will take all of the changes you made, and make a brand new layer inclusive of all those changes. To do that, you will want to highlight the latest layer you have. In this example, it is the curves adjustment layer. On a PC, you will want to press CONTROL+ALT+SHIFT+E, and on a Mac, you will press COMMAND+ALT+SHIFT+E. You will see a new layer appear. This is your new base layer.

Now I will come work on bringing out some shadows in the image. The good thing about luminance masks, is that you ran them on the very first background layer. All of these composite images would change the way the masks look, but when you select a value, it is basing that selection off of the very first layer. The aircraft is still very dark. So, on my new composite layer, I will click to highlight it, then click the CHANNELS tab. From there, I will select DARKS 2 by holding CONTROL OR COMMAND (MAC), and clicking it. You will see that DARKS is a complete inverse of the Brights. Now, the shadows are being selected. So, I am looking for a shadows that isn't 100% white. If I selected DARKS 1, then it would take all shadows and select them. I would ultimately make the image flatter by doing that. So, I want DARKS 2 for this image, because the darker shadows are only selected.

Once again, I am going to click back on my LAYERS tab after selecting my luminosity mask. I will click on the layer I am working on to bring the color back to the image, and the marching ants are still there.

I clicked again on the CURVES ADJUSTMENT LAYER button, and again, the mask appears with my DARKS 2 selection already in the layer mask. I took the curve and dragged it up this time to increase the value of the selection. I also dragged the upper portion up a bit to increase the contrast in the shadows as well.

Make another composite layer as you previously did.

Now, open up Nik Color Efex Pro 4. As I stated earlier, all of Nik's software is free as of two months ago. These are really powerful plug-in's, but it is really easy to get carried away with them. I only use Color Efex Pro for two things, and this is one of them. Scroll down to PRO CONTRAST. Take the slider for DYNAMIC CONTRAST, and slide it until about 65, or whatever looks best for you. I find more than 60-65, then you start overcooking the highlights and adding a lot of noise. You will see a massive change to the image. The overall brightness increases, and there a lot of pop to the image.

Make another composite layer of all the layers beneath it. I do a lot of composites because, for me, it is a good bookmark spot in case you mess up later on. And you're not making all of these changes to just one layer, which could get overwhelming after a while. I normally use groups, and labeling for each layer, but that adds a lot of time.

With the shadows and highlights accounted for, it is time to add a LEVELS ADJUSTMENT LAYER to increase the universal brightness and contrast based on the histogram. In this image, I dragged the white arrow to the left, until it touched the end of the histogram. That brought the exposure up. I then dragged the black slider just a hair to the right to give a universal contrast.

Make another composite layer.

In this step, I clicked on the SELECTIVE COLOR ADJUSTMENT. It isn't necessary, but I personally thought the image would look nice if the trees and grass were greener. This tool is really good for changing colors of an image. For this image, I only adjusted the YELLOW and GREEN channel. Here are the values I used for both:
YELLOW: +76, -27, +38, & +20
GREEN: +45, -11, 0, & 0

Make another composite layer: See the pattern? :) - big adjustment, make a layer with all the adjustments..

So, I feel that the shadows are still a bit dark. So, I went back to the CHANNELS tab and selected DARKS 2 again.

I added another curves layer, and brought out the shadows a bit more again.