Four Simple Ways to Improve Your Landscape Photos in Photoshop

All true landscape photographers take pride in their work, and that pride usually comes from hours of Photoshop editing. While there are numerous guides, tricks, and hints you can follow to edit your landscape photos beautifully, most take some time and dedication to perfect. Before you delve into the unforeseen, and sometimes complicated, world of Photoshop editing, consider the following simple techniques that are the foundation of impressive landscape photographs.

Improve Your Landscape Photos in Photoshop

1. Straighten Your Horizon

Presenting the most stunning photo of a sunset on the Venice canal won’t mean much if your horizon is crooked; it’s quite off-putting. To easily correct this in Photoshop, open your image and click View > Show > Grid to bring up some grid lines that you can use to guide your horizon line. With your transform tool (CTRL + T), rotate the image until your horizon is lined up correctly (Figure 1). To finish, crop out the uneven edges and press CTRL + H to put the grid away.

Improve Your Landscape Photos in Photoshop

2. Make Your Horizon Off-Center

To be ascetically pleasing, a horizon that is not centered is much more intriguing to the eye and should be utilized whenever possible. In the example image, the horizon – although now straight – is too close to the center of the image. To rectify this, I am going to use my crop tool (keyboard shortcut: C) and eliminate at least half of the sky so that the balance of the photo is on the bottom, not the top (Figure 2).

Improve Your Landscape Photos in Photoshop

3. Rule of Thirds

When looking at a photo, there are certain guidelines to follow composition-wise. One guide is called the “rule of thirds”, where you should visualize your photo as having two vertical and horizontal lines dividing the photo into thirds (imagine a tic-tac-toe board). The horizon (or other important line in your photo) should be along one of the horizontal lines, while other focal points should either lie along any of the lines or the point where they intersect (Figure 3). This creates an image that is more visually stimulating to the eye and allows it to wander across the whole image. If your photo has a focal point planted in the center of the frame, then the eyes will be drawn directly to the center and may not see a need to explore the other elements in your composition.

Improve Your Landscape Photos in Photoshop

While ideally you should apply this rule out in the field rather than in post process, us photographers do not always have the time – or patience – to consider this, and rely on programs like Photoshop to line our images up correctly.

Looking at Figure 3, you can see that in the example image a major focal point (the tree in the top-right circle) is lined up perfectly with one of the intersection points. However, the horizon seems to be a bit low under the top horizontal line. To correct this, I’m going to crop out a bit more sky, and also crop out that distracting shadow in the bottom right-hand corner of the image.

4. Photo Filters

Film photographers – and some digital ones as well – use photo filters when out in the field to cast special coloring effects over their images. Warming filters will cast a slight orange/yellow hue to your image, while cooling filters will give your photo a blue hue. These are just a small sample of countless other filters you can use to add special effects to your photos. In Photoshop, however, you can easily add these effects with little effort.

To add a Photo Filter adjustment layer to your image, click on the “new adjustment layer” icon on your layers palette toolbar, or simply click on the appropriate icon on your adjustment palette (Figure 4).

Improve Your Landscape Photos in Photoshop

5. While the example image is coming together nicely, the blue sky could use a nice warming filter. I chose “Warming Filter (85)” as my filter choice and set the Density to 25 (Figure 5). I deselected the “preserve luminosity” box since the warming filter was starting to create some blown highlights.

Improve Your Landscape Photos in Photoshop

When compared to our original image, the improvement is quite apparent.

Improve Your Landscape Photos in Photoshop

Improve Your Landscape Photos in Photoshop

While this image isn’t even close to being at the end of my editing process, it has benefited greatly from a few simple visual enhancements that only took a total of ten minutes to complete. If you incorporate this tutorial into your workflow, it will provide your landscape images with a very solid foundation to begin applying your editing techniques to.

Christopher O'Donnell Christopher O’Donnell is a professional landscape/portrait photographer who lives on the coast of Maine. When not scouting for new locations or spending time with
his “sons” (his two yellow labs), he is a freelance writer who authors photography course work.


Christopher O’Donnell

Read more great articles by Christopher O’Donnell on his website or follow him on Facebook and Twitter. You can also add him on Google+ and 500px.

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What Our Readers have to say

  1. Gareth says:

    I don’t think the rule of thirds is working here. I much prefer the height of the original. Your “enhanced” version just looks cut off, and you have lost the nice colour contrast between the sky and the plants.

  2. JB says:

    There is a better way to straighten a crooked horizon: Draw a line on the horizon using the rule tool (I) and then Image -> rotate canvas -> arbitrary.

    The right value is put as default, ok and that’s it.

  3. @todayinart says:

    Another way to straighten your photo in Photoshop is: Filter > Distort > Lens Correction. Now choose the “Straighten Tool” (A) and draw a vertical or horizontal line along the part of the image that you want straightened. Click OK and your done!

  4. Bill Jones says:

    Thanks for all the excellent tips guys.

  5. @ Gareth:

    I actually didn’t like the height of the image; I thought it to be an empty space and didn’t add any interest to the photo, and also unbalanced it greatly. I think you see it as “cut off” because you had the original to compare it to. If there was some interesting cloud formations, I may have kept it…bu that is not the case.

    As far as the color contrast, I like images that lean towards the monochromatic side of things….high contrast between the sky and ground puts me off usually. However, to each their own!

    @ JB and todayinart:

    Thanks for the added tips, I’ll try them out!

  6. Saylor says:

    If we were voting, I’d vote for the original, although I would want to crop the building out. I think the sky adds a lot to the photo. It balances out the darkness at the bottom of the shot. Oh wait, on second look, that’s a cast shadow on the bush. Don’t like shadows that look like they could be the photographer. hrm. Maybe I do like the cropped one more now. Anywho. It’s a wonderful shot either way. And I do see your point on having a more monochrome shot in the end.

  7. @ Saylor

    Thank you for the comment. I do see how the original is appealing and in hindsight, I probably should’ve used a stronger photo to serve as an example. I was focused on the path and how appealing that was instead of the sky, but it seems a lot of people would rather see the sky retained in this image.

    However, the tutorial was aimed more towards showing how to execute the most commonly used techniques when editing landscape photos – as long as people can still get that out of it, I’m happy!


  8. Amit says:

    lots of suggestion for horizon line..gr8 tips thanx

  9. Rincewind21 says:

    I like the original one more too. The worst change (in my opinion) ist the Photofilter. Its changinge the soft lightning from the original one to an oversaturated picture.

  10. oleg says:

    I think the original photo was beautiful. Just needed to be straightened :)

    I think the new image has very little ‘room to breathe’, imo

  11. Pete says:

    Actually I think you chose a great example. The original is one of those images we’ve all made because there seemed to be something there at the location, but it didn’t at first “come through” when we loaded into LR. Your editing made the subject more intimate. Something I do that might work here is to knock down the saturation and/or color temperature of the background. That makes the foreground subject pop a bit and draws your eye there. Just a thought.

  12. Peter says:

    I think the original looks better. It’s more natural and not photoshoped, oversaturaed and overexposed. The crop is awkward and the rule of thirds actually applies better in the original as well.

  13. David says:

    I’m glad the photo has some way to go in processing, as i prefer the original colour

  14. Larry says:

    I’m happy just looking at the outcome of the photo. Now I have a better idea how artists do it.

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