Learning Photoshop editing is learning artistic and creative craftsmanship. Photoshop post-processing is the creative step, turning your generic camera raw file into a photograph that is a unique personal, artistic statement. Photoshop is the painters palette.

Adobe Photoshop is not hard to learn, just not as intuitive as Adobe Lightroom. The labelled sliders offer ease of use at first glance but come with severe restrictions. Very important techniques possible in Photoshop are not possible to achieve in Adobe Lightroom.

Learning Adobe Photoshop is learning a few basic tools and concepts, then combining them to create a limited number of standard techniques. The art of Photoshop is using those few techniques very well and in the correct order.

Photography tutorial, Learn Photoshop editing. Black and White photograph of Valencia, Spain. David Osborn Photography.
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Photoshop Preparation


The process begins with editing our assets. Aim to use the minimum number possible. Every frame must be essential and have a specific purpose. Ideally, no more than 5 to 6 frames or the process gets over complicated. Editing begins with nominating the best base image; the exposure that is our best attempt to get the perfect final photograph in one single frame. The file we add everything to and becomes the finished photograph. Second, we chose our sky. This can be from the shoot or taken from our library of skies. Third, the artistic assets. Exposures that contain better lighting or elements for specific areas of the photograph. Last, the technical assets that provide tonal improvements to any area of the photograph.


We need to convert the raw files into tiff files using a raw converter. This can be the Photoshop Adobe Camera Raw plug-in, or the camera manufacturers raw converter like Nikon Capture NX-D processing software, Canon Digital Photo Professional (DPP), Capture One – Phase One or the Hasselblad Phocus being the main ones. If we can make any global changes that improve the overall quality of the image, we make use of the raw converter to do this, but primarily the raw converter is solely used to convert the raw file. We do not want to use the raw converter as Photoshop for working on details of the image. Finally, in Photoshop we clean the photographs of dust and unwanted details.


We need to get a feel for how the final image will look and the technical problems we may encounter. In Photoshop we create a quick sketch; completing the Photoshop process to create a quick version of our final photograph without attention to detail or careful Photoshop editing technique. The aim is to get a feel for the final composition, lighting, mood and drama. This has three benefits. First, it confirms that we have all the assets needed. Second, we don’t want waste time in Photoshop to find it would never make a good photograph. Three, if we work on the final image first, we lose spontaneity, causing a lifeless feel in the image. The sketch is all about life, giving us a reference image as a game plan to refer to.

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Tutorial Photoshop Valencia After Photoshop. Photo of Valencia, Spain. David Osborn Photography
Tutorial Photoshop Valencia Before Photoshop. Photo of Valencia, Spain. David Osborn Photography
Before and After Photoshop: Valencia, Spain. Click Buttons or Swipe Image

Photoshop Strategy

Composite and Join First

Having created our sketch and proven the image works and that we have all the best assets edited to create the final image, we now begin the process of combining all our assets together into one single large document format file, then join all the assets together. The aim is to create one single flattened layer, that represents the most perfect single photograph as if was shot in-camera. The key to quality at every stage, is to work like a surgeon; slow, careful and perfect. There must be no Photoshop technique showing at the end of each process or the errors will be magnified and become even more obvious, then harder to solve, as we work through the remaining Photoshop processes.

Technical Perfection Second

Before we can make the final artistic photograph, we must create a really good solid foundation for it to sit on first; technical Photoshop. Technical Photoshop is not about expression, it is only about creating an optical illusion of a real landscape you can walk into and around, that has light, form, texture and spatial depth. Putting back in, what the camera lost. First, we need to create a strong feeling of overall spatial depth from the camera to the horizon, then tonally place each major object correctly within that spatial depth. Followed by tonally placing each sub-object within the main object. Lastly, making every object feel very three-dimensional and give the overall photograph super readability for the artistic layer next.

Artistic Expression Third

The photograph should now look like ‘a good photograph’, but clinical, lacking overall cohesion, feeling, soul, mood and atmosphere. The last step has two jobs. First, we need to reinforce who our hero actor is, and make them be center stage in full light and glory. Allocate what is supporting cast by bringing them up in tone and what is backdrop stage by pushing them down in tone. Making the image cohesive and assigning the importance of each element by how bright it is. Everything in the image, adjusted to make the main actor look great. Second, we need to clarify the story of the light, making it clear and logical then finally, doing whatever we feel adds to the mood and drama of the photograph.

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Tutorial Photoshop. Landscape After Photoshop. Photo of Castle, Switzerland. David Osborn Photography
Tutorial Photoshop. Landscape Before Photoshop. Photo of Swiss Landscape. David Osborn Photography
Before and After Photoshop: San Gian Church near St.Moritz, Switzerland. Click Buttons or Swipe Image

Strategy Notes

Perfect Single File

The reason to create a perfect single layered file first (as if it were the perfect image taken in-camera), is that we need a clean starting point for creating the final image. By creating a flattened image first, we have locked in all of the tonal relationships, like our new sky to the mountains and any additional objects that have been added. Having cleaned the whole photograph of all the dust and distracting details, we now have that perfect starting point. More importantly, by joining all our assets together, then flattening the file, the subsequent processes of creating the final photo, all help to further bond all the composite elements together and make the final photograph more cohesive and natural looking, real.

Super Readability

In very dark old master paintings like Rembrandt, areas we see as large, very dark areas are in fact tonally very rich, just very subtle. There is always some tonal variation even in the darkest of shadowed areas. They are never just big blocks of flat paint because that would break the optical illusion of the light, form and space they are creating; no longer perceived as shadows but as physical paint. There must be some tonal variation over every part of the image. Super readability is where we make the image contain super rich information first. This allows us to darken down large areas, but still retain really good detail in the shadows, because it began with so much tonal separation in the first place.

Work Like a Painter

Technical Photoshop is more about precision and being analytical. Artistic Photoshop is freer, working like a painter. The first part of making the photograph creates a technically good photograph but sterile, lacking emotion. The artistic phase is about what you felt about the scene and communicating those feelings. If five photographers all stood together and took the same composition, then finished at the technical stage, all five photographs would look similar. The artistic Photoshop is the stage that would make them five very different photographs, personal statements unique to each photographer. This is the phase that has the greatest influence on making that essential emotional response in the viewer.

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Tutorial Photoshop Lady After Photoshop. Photo of Zernez, Switzerland. David Osborn Photography
Tutorial Photoshop Lady Before Photoshop. Photo of Zernez, Switzerland. David Osborn Photography
Before and After Photoshop: Zernez Castle, Switzerland. Click Buttons or Swipe Image

Obey Those Laws of Nature

What is This?

The laws of nature are how we perceive the world. Signals that tell our brain, we are standing in a three-dimensional landscape that stretches far into the distance, containing objects, all with form and texture. Perceiving the world with our eyes, these signals can only come from how we see tone and color. Tonal values and tonal relationships change in the real landscape due to the physics of light. If we understand those tonal relationships and changes, then incorporate them into our photographs, the photograph gives our brain the correct signals to suggest that we are looking at a real landscape. We have created a very successful optical illusion of a three-dimensional world in our landscape photography.

Lost Signals

Given we are taking a photograph, the camera should have recorded the ‘laws of nature’ automatically in our photograph to convey form, texture and distance. Theoretically, it did, but with one problem. The camera does not have the ability to record the dynamic range of tones we see. The tones it did record, it then changed. The signal has got weakened and modified, explained by the camera response curve in the learn photography tutorial. We perceive distance based on shape and tone, the relationships of one object to another. The camera did not alter the shape of the objects anywhere near much as it did the tone, so the emphasis on how we perceive distance is transferred to reading tonal values.

Forgotten Subject

In Adobe Photoshop we need to repair those lost signals by adjusting the tonal relationships in objects, neutralizing the damaging effect of the camera. Photoshop is the perfect tool to make such repairs. The result is a landscape photograph with a fantastic feeling of spatial depth, form and texture. One of the most important qualities to captivate the viewer. This subject is never mentioned, one of the most over-looked issues in landscape photography. Possibly, because the subject is never thought about, yet a subject that will make the most dramatic difference to the quality of your own landscape photography images. The Photoshop techniques on this subject, I teach on the landscape photography workshops.

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Tutorial Photoshop Castle After Photoshop. Photo of Swiss Castle. David Osborn Photography
Tutorial Photoshop Castle Before Photoshop. Landscape Photo of Switzerland. David Osborn Photography
Before and After Photoshop: Tarasp Castle near St.Moritz, Switzerland. Click Buttons or Swipe Image

Photoshop Working Logic #1

Global Changes First

Over the many years and hundreds of images, a pattern evolved that I seemed to repeat time and time again, from which I saw a common logic evolve. This logic, along with a mass of very specific Photoshop techniques not covered here, I teach on the landscape photography workshops in the UK, USA, France, Germany Italy, Dubai, worldwide. When faced with a new photograph, it is easy to feel lost; not knowing where to start. The best Photoshop philosophy, is to always look at the picture in terms of surface area. Make changes to the largest areas of the image first and changes to the smallest areas of the image, last. The overall look of the photograph must be set first through big, global changes first.

Major Objects Second

By using a philosophy of working from large to small, you achieve two things. First, the overall look and feel of the photograph is set on the right road from the start and is always being refined. Second, how the larger objects look, give the context for how the smaller objects they contain must look. We need the larger objects to be set first, so we can make the correct decisions when working on the smaller objects. Using these principles, the most common starting point is getting the sky to ground relationship correct first, then sub-dividing the ground into its major components. Working our way down by object size, the larger object dictating how the smaller objects look.

Small Details Last

Think of the Photoshop workflow being the same as a sculptor. The Italian sculptor Michelangelo would start with a solid block of marble. Sculpting the main forms of the statue first. It would be impossible for him to work on the hand details first, before the major body forms were created. Principles that are also valid in all the works of old master painters; we can use the same methods in our Photoshop workflow. When the photograph is near completion we can polish all the details, so they all sparkle full of life, yet remain looking correct within the context of the whole cohesive photograph; polished for maximum quality and definition relative to their distance and location in the landscape photograph.

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Tutorial Photoshop Cows After Photoshop. Landscape Photo of Switzerland. David Osborn Photography
Tutorial Photoshop Cows Before Photoshop. Landscape Photo of Switzerland. David Osborn Photography
Before and After Photoshop: Silvaplana Castle near St.Moritz, Switzerland. Click Buttons or Swipe Image

Photoshop Working Logic #2

Identify the Problem

The key to working with Photoshop is breaking down the overall problem, into many small sub-problems; each one is a very specific and individual problem. Solve one problem at a time, the big problem gets solved. The hardest part to learn, is the ability to identify the core issues because this takes practice and experience. For example, a statement like ‘the sky looks wrong’ is not specific enough for us to indicate a solution. Is it the contrast or the color? Once you have identified the problem; the problem will indicate its own solution. A contrast problem is to do with tone, so a tonal tool is required to create the solution, whereas a color problem requires a color tool to solve the problem.

Create the Solution

We use one adjustment layer per problem. One curve adjustment layer to solve the lack of contrast. One Hue and saturation adjustment layer to solve the color issue. We can use as many individual adjustment layers as required to solve the big overall problem. However, each adjustment layer will affect the whole image. We do not worry about that now. We separate creating the solution, from joining the solution and treat each as separate actions. A group is created to hold all the individual adjustment layers. We can toggle the group on and off, to get a before and after feeling to see if we have solved the problem. Once satisfied, we move onto the last part, joining our solution to the picture.

Join the Solution

Joining the solution back into our picture needs to be done perfectly and will involve a mask on the group. We can use the mask on each individual adjustment layer, but this would mean having to make an identical mask for every layer. By adding a mask on the group, we mask all of the groups content at one time with the use of only one mask; a much more efficient and controllable solution. The complete solution to the original problem is now fully concentrated on to what we do with the mask. There is no standard rule about how to create the content of the mask as there are many solutions, the choice of which depends on each unique situation. I use this 3-step logic for almost everything I do in Photoshop.

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Feel free to email David Osborn in person.

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Revitalize your photography. Improve your Photoshop. Remove digital workflow confusion …

One digital photography workshop covers Previsualization, Photography and Photoshop; taking you step-by-step through the complete process of creating fine art landscape photography. Improve your existing skills and learn new skills to create a well practiced, documented workflow for you to follow after the workshop. One to one tuition, booked on demand, no preset dates. Workshops in Great Britain, brought to your home overseas or travel with you to a third destination worldwide.

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