Recently I was contacted by Sleeklens and asked to review their Photoshop actions for landscapes using one of my aerial images. Sleeklens provide a variety of Photoshop actions for speeding up and improving workflow in both Photoshop and Lightroom.
My initial approach to these actions was, I have to admit, sceptical. Aerial images taken at high altitude are very difficult and time-consuming to process, and I was not sure if a set of actions could replicate or improve my editing. However, I am always interested in saving time in processing, so I agreed to try the actions out.
These actions are arranged in groups, from BASE through ALL IN ONE to special effects and export actions. All the actions are intuitive in name.
The image I have chosen to use is one of Shispare, in the Karakoram mountain range. I was never very happy with previous edits, so thought it would make a good candidate. It was taken with a Sony A7s and Sony FE 70-200mm F4 G OSS
My normal workflow normally involves starting in Lightroom, then Photoshop, then back to Lightroom. For this image, I decided to start in Camera Raw. First, I opened the image in camera RAW. Here is how the unprocessed image looks. Note the compressed histogram. This shot was taken at 33000 feet above sea-level, where UV is far more of a problem than it is at sea level, resulting in haze with a blue tint.
I then applied auto WB and increased the contrast slider to 58%. I also reduced the highlights to -100, as previous experience has shown me this will help avoid burnt-out highlights in the final image.
After applying lens corrections, I used the Dehaze tool, at 16%; I rarely go much higher than that as I find it introduces noise when used too much, and it seems to work mainly on the blue channel.
Now the image is ready to open in Photoshop. First, I wanted to warm the image slightly; for this I used one of the Tone actions, “This is hot”. It has warmed the image up nicely. Like all the groups made using these actions, opacity can be varied to taste, or alternatively a layer mask enables painting the effect selectively.
Next, I want more contrast. For this, I used one of the Base actions, “Dramatic contrast”. You can see that it produces 3 seperate Curves adjustments. On some images I have found that switching off the Curves 1 adjustment works better.
As you can see, the image has again gone very blue. This is always the case with images taken at high altitude; there is always more blue than any other colour, irrespective of the WB set while shooting. A similar effect happens on the ground on very hazy days. I’m going to reduce the opacity of the layer to 30% to help reduce the blue tint.
I want to reduce the blue still further, so I decided to warm the image again using the same action as before. there is still too much blue, but I will deal with this in Lightroom.
Next I import the image into Lightroom, and readjust the WB. Note that the histogram is now covering the entire range.
I then crop the image to 16;9, which is my favourite ratio for aerial images. Next, I use a brush to increase contrast on the foreground mountain. Again, this introduces a strong blue cast, so with the same brush I reduce saturation, as nearly all the colour information in this part of the image is blue.
In the HSL tab, I then reduced the blue saturation to -25 (this is common to my normal workflow, done to taste). A final minor tweak of WB and blacks and I have the finished image.
Here is a comparison with a previously edited image. Both have had a final tweak using Topaz Glow.
I much prefer the version edited with Sleeklens’s Photoshop actions. The red present in the foreground rocks stands out more, the contrast is much better, and there is less haze (and more colour) in the background. I will qualify this by stating there is more difference on this image than with some I have re-edited using these actions. The original image was processed in September 2015, since when my editing has improved.
So, to my conclusions. Can I achieve the same results using my normal processing workflow? Yes, I would say that I can in most cases. However, it would take me a lot longer. Using these actions reduces my processing time dramatically; what would normally take 20 minutes can now be done in 5. I am still experimenting with some of the actions, but I am sure that they will now be a part of my normal workflow. The time saving alone makes me unreservedly say that these actions are worth the $49 price. The added bonus is that it is also giving me better results on many images, to the point that I will be re-editing many of my aerial images. I have also tried these actions on more conventional landscapes, and they work extremely well. Overall, I would say these are well worth the asking price in terms of time saving alone. I am yet to try many of the actions and really look forward to doing so.
If you would like to buy these actions here is a link to the actions I used, the Landscape Adventure Collection. There are also a number of other interesting looking Photoshop actions available on the site.