Photoshop Dark Processing

Photoshop Dark Processing

Photoshop Dark Processing


Learn how photographers create a dark, moody atmosphere in their landscapes! If you’re searching for something new, exciting, and advanced to learn in Photoshop…then I think you’ll really enjoy this fun and dynamic course on dark processing.



What is “Dark Processing”?

“Dark processing” is the art of sculpting shadow around light…where you first darken the environment and then gently (and purposefully) build up the highlights back into the image.

The result? An ethereal, mysterious environment that is exploding depth and interest by creating around the absence of light.

In the top image below, you can see that the original raw file is rather boring. The composition is strong, but the light is uninteresting and the atmosphere is not very compelling. There is no story, or soul, behind the image….although the feeling in the field was quite powerful.

What is Dark Processing? - CreativeRAW

However, with some dramatic shifts to the light and shadow, rebalancing the composition, as well as adding some complimentary colors…I was able to add much depth and interest to an image that I probably would have discarded.

More importantly, I was able to infuse the image with the emotion I felt in the field….the heavy, foreboding, and dramatic atmosphere that just didn’t come through with the camera alone.

If you’re feeling like your workflow is a bit stagnant and are searching for a new source of creative inspiration…then I think you’ll really enjoy this fun and dynamic technique.

Lessons SVG


1 Hours 30 Minutes
Lessons SVG


Lessons SVG


Adobe Photoshop

Here's What You'll Learn...


Building the Base Image

First, we’ll “identify” the creative direction for the image…discussing why this photo makes a strong candidate for dark processing and the particular challenges we’re going to work on. Then we’ll properly prep the raw file by performing some perspective warping to correct for wide-angle distortion, as well as rebalancing the composition for a more effective frame. Then, we’ll pull out as much detail as possible by “stretching the histogram”…adding more detail to the deeper shadows and brighter highlights, as well as minimizing any distractions.


Dodging and Burning for Ethereal Tones

Once our base image is primed and ready, we can then start to carve out the flow and balance of the composition…how you can lead the eyes through the frame and tell a story through processing. We’ll dodge and burn by using a combination of curves adjustment layers, exposure blending, and color fill layers. This will locally increase the contrast to make the highlights stand out more from the shadows…which is a fantastic way to subconsciously draw more attention to your focal points.


Color Grading for Dark Processing

Bright and vibrant colors are not a good match for dark processing. Instead, we’ll use techniques that strengthen color quality and separation, but in a muted way….which will enhance the dark atmosphere. You’ll learn how to build up an image deliberately and gradually through small, but meaningful shifts in light, texture, and color in a 100% non-destructive environment…as opposed to the usual brute-force adjustments that tend to destroy the detail.

Dark Processing: before and after - CreativeRAW

The "Why" and the "How"

The creative choices you make in the darkroom will depend entirely on (1) the content of your image and (2) your imagination and vision. So during the entire tutorial, I’m also explaining the “WHY” behind every change I make as we go along. This will help you better understand my creative reasoning in real-time, putting the pieces of the puzzle together as my vision develops organically.

We’ll explore how the color, contrast, and luminosity all interact with one another to enhance certain parts of my frame….and the different tools and techniques to manipulate those relationships into an image that is visually pleasing, and creatively fulfilling.

Photoshop Dark Processing


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