Dark Processing in Photoshop

A Complete Video Tutorial on the Art of Dark Processing

Would you like to know how photographers create that dark, moody atmosphere in their landscape images?

Or perhaps you’re searching for something new, exciting, and different to learn in Photoshop…especially with most of us spending more time at home.

If so, then I think you’ll love this new tutorial I put together.

And for the next few weeks, this tutorial will be only $7.00…which is a VERY steep discount from the $50 – $70 range you typically see for a workflow tutorial. 

Considering the state of the world right now with COVID-19, I wanted to price it at a level so that anyone can learn something new during our time at home.

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.

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.

Here’s how this tutorial is laid out…

I’ve packed a lot in this 1.5 hour tutorial, walking you through over a dozen of my best processing techniques that I use to enhance colors, tone, and detail.

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.
  3. Next, 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. 

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.

Next, we’ll work on color grading…but in a way that compliments the content of the image. 

Bright and vibrant colors are not going to be a good match here. Instead, we’ll use techniques that strengthen color quality and separation but in a muted way….which will enhance the dark atmosphere, not distract from it. 

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. 

The result? A more harmonious balance and painterly atmosphere.

Now, 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. 

The overall goal of my processing workflow is to create a visual relationship between the elements in my frame…and enhance how they transition into each other to create “the atmosphere”. 

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. 

If you don’t know me, I value quality over tricks and gimmicks…so you won’t find me using any creative presets, actions, or overlays here. Instead, you’ll actually learn step-by-step each tool I use, and why I use it.

I’m also including access to foundation tutorials on layers, masks, smart objects, and luminosity masks…a helpful series for those who are new to Photoshop, or the seasoned pros who need a few reminders.

Immediately after purchase, you will be emailed a link to download and/or stream:

  • Five comprehensive lessons on dark processing
  • Three bonus courses on layers, masks, smart objects, and luminosity masks.
  • The practice files so you can follow along step-by-step.

For any questions, please email me at chris [at] creativeraw [dot] com!