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Perfecting the tones in your landscapes, or step #1 in finishing landscapes

You’ve got your foreground element, you’ve got your rule of thirds, and you’ve got striking light on your subject. Everything is looking good for you to have a terrific landscape photograph that you’ll be proud of. But, as has always been the case in photography, your work has just begun: You still need to finish your picture.

The first place I take my landscape photo is Perfectly Clear Complete. PCC lets you get the tones looking just right and it does it without adding noise.

Here’s my original photo.

Exposure

There is a Landscape preset, and if you’re a new user then it’s a good place to start. Personally, I use this app daily, so I’m very familiar with how the controls affect the picture. I like to start with all the sliders set to zero and build the effects from scratch.

Pro tip: Set all the sliders to zero and save that as a custom preset for future use.

In the Tone palette, activate the Exposure slider and choose Low. This is an intelligent slider which means PCC analyzes your photo and sets a good value for the amount of adjustment you choose — Low, Medium, or High. That also means that Low may set the slider to 50 for one photo, and it might set it to 2 for another photo. If Low isn’t enough, try Medium. You can always move the slider yourself after you let it get started with the intelligent auto.

Depth

Hold on! I know that when you turn on the Exposure slider your photo probably looks a little bit washed out or flat. That’s because you need to activate the Depth slider, too. Depth brings the contrast back into your picture. There’s a button for High Contrast or High Definition. Click on both and choose the one you like, there’s no formula for which to use when. Then go back and adjust the Exposure again. Be sure to use the before/after slider to see the effect.

One of my favorite things about using Perfectly Clear Complete is that the Tone section protects your photo from getting blown out and from becoming too noisy as you brighten it. Things that are already bright won’t be ruined as you slide the exposure slider up. When you brighten the picture a lot, the dark areas don’t develop too much color noise as they do when you use other apps to finish your photo. This safe control over the tones is one reason PCC is my first stop when finishing landscapes.

Here’ how I ended up after using the Tone settings in PCC, compared with trying to get something similar in Lightroom, alone; it’s just not as good in Lightroom.

Black Point

The Black Point slider makes the blacks blacker. If you move it to the right, the darkest areas of your picture will get darker, even to the point of clipping. Since PCC is only my first stop in finishing, I usually don’t use the Black Point slider very much so that I’ve got a wider range of tones when I get to other apps.

Light Diffusion

Light Diffusion can be really useful. It eases the transition between light and dark areas. It reduces the overall contrast, but it does it realistically. It’s not for every picture, but I think you’ll find it useful for things like close-ups of leaves or pictures of waterfalls. Give it a click and see if you like the results.

There’s also the Skin and Depth Bias slider, which is normally reserved for portraits. It adds more of the Depth contrast and also desaturates skin tones.

Mess around

When you use PCC, you’ll end up messing around with the Black Point and Light Diffusion, but you’ll always use the Exposure and Depth sliders. They bring better-looking contrast than any other app I’ve used, and they do it without ruining the highlights or adding noise to the shadows. Now that you’ve got the tones looking great, you may be ready to head to another app, like Luminar, which is where I finished off this black and white version.

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