The editing process is where my beach sunset portraits become my art canvas, and the pictures become my masterpiece. Ok, maybe that was a little cheesy, but you get the point…
Once you get to the editing stage, it’s all about the interpretation. There is no right or wrong way to edit, just like there is no right or wrong way to paint a picture. But when I edit sunsets specifically, I try to brighten up the subject, darken the background, and enhance the color. In this post, I’m sharing exactly how I do that!
I’m pretty quick at my usual process, but sunset photos definitely take me a while to edit. It’s something I enjoy, so I really never mind it.
Make sure to check out my other posts for better beach sunset portraits:
Part 1: Capturing the photo. Composition tricks for better sunset portraits on the beach! (These tips are for both DSLR and phone users alike!)
Part 2: Manual tricks for better beach sunset portraits. (For DSLR users)
Part 3: How to edit beach sunset portraits. (Why you’re here!)
For editing, I use photoshop. I used to use photoshop elements and I had similar steps within that program, so this process can definitely be adjusted and I will note what I can remember. However, this post will be very specific toward Photoshop.
How to edit beach sunsets:
First let’s start with the before below! When I looked at this photo on my camera I thought it was perfect! We were dark as the subjects, but I could still see the details and we weren’t fuzzy. The sunset was beautiful that night, one of my favorites, and I could see the gold and blue both in the sky and reflecting off the water. Plus, we had a faint golden glow around our heads, which I loved.
The first two steps take me the longest because I have to select the subject each time. However, I couldn’t imagine skipping these two steps, because they create the most dramatic effect for the photo.
1. Create a curves layer for the subject.
You want this layer to ONLY be for the subject so that you can lighten the subject up without washing out the background. To do this use the quick selection tool (the paintbrush with the dotted circle, for the shortcut just hit the “w” on your keyboard) Make sure you get all the way to the edge of the subject, but not too far. If you get it wrong and miss a piece of the subject or don’t get all way to the edge, then you have to start over. Thus the reason it sometimes takes me a few tries…
Once you have the entire subject selected, create a curves layer.
Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves
Your properties will look something like that grid in the top right. I drag the bottom of the line to the right just a little, and then I drag the middle of the line upward to create an arch instead of a straight line. This creates a little more contrast and brightens the subject up without affecting the background, which you can see below!
PHOTOSHOP ELEMENTS USERS: I don’t think there is a curves layer in Photoshop Elements, but I used to select the subject and then create a brightness/contrast layer to lighten the subject!
2. Create a brightness/contrast layer for the background.
Select the subject the same way you did in step 1. Then select the inverse.
Select > Inverse
Next, create the brightness/contrast layer.
Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Brightness/contrast
In my sunset photos, this is a pretty drastic change. Drag the brightness (You can find this again in your layer properties) over to the right. (I went all the way to -62!) and drag the contrast to the right. (I went all the way to 31!)
PHOTOSHOP ELEMENTS USERS: You can apply this same step in Elements!
This darkens up the background without affecting the subject as you can see:
3. Create a curves layer for the whole photo.
Whew, we are done selecting! Create another curves layer, only this time it will affect the whole photo since we aren’t selecting anything.
Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves
Repeat what you did in step 1 for the whole photo. Drag the bottom of the line to the right just a little, and then I drag the middle of the line upward so that it makes a similar arc as in step 1.
Then I like to drag this layer to the bottom of the layer order, so your layer order should look like this:
These three steps pull the background and the subject into the same playing field. They are my most dramatic steps that I could never skip. From there, I have number of steps I pull from depending on the sunset. Every sunset is different and therefore, every editing job is just slightly different!
Sign up for my newsletter and gain access to your own printable guide to each of the additional layers I like to chose from to enhance the sunset even more! I have 5 more!
(Newsletters go out on Tuesday, so if you are checking this and are already signed up, this is a new feature and I’ll include the password tomorrow 🙂 )