Autumn is a favorite season amongst many landscape photographers and it’s not hard to understand why when you see the abundance of vibrant colors surrounding us. Capturing these colors, however, isn’t necessarily as straight forward as one would like. The truth is that post-processing plays an important role in making your autumn photographs stand out.
The good news is that it doesn’t take much to make an average shot more interesting. By making a few targeted adjustments to color and contrast we’re already well on our way to make that photo pop. However, I do urge you to avoid the common Saturation, Vibrance and Contrast sliders… Instead, follow this easy-to-follow workflow in Luminar 4 that gives you a little more manual control, without being more difficult.
Note: Find the complete start-to-finish workflow as a video at the bottom of the article.
Step-by-Step Workflow to Edit Autumn Photographs
Editing autumn images is in many ways similar to processing regular landscape photos. One of the main differences is that we’re working on a file where there’s already vibrant colors.
The image we’re going to work on in this example already has nice colors in the trees and grass, as well as a beautiful soft light coming in from the side. Our goal is to enhance the colors, create a warmer atmosphere and add a soft, magical feel. However, we don’t want to enhance the colors much in the shadow areas.
This is why it’s important to have a workflow that allows for a more selective approach. In other words, you must be able to make targeted adjustments to only a specific part of the image.
Luckily this is very easy in Luminar 4 and you don’t need to spend months learning more advanced Photoshop techniques.
Step #1: Exposure Corrections
The first step to edit autumn photographs should be the same as for any other image: correct the exposure. There are several other steps in the workflow that also affects the image’s luminosity and contrast but having this as a first step helps us make sure that any color corrections are accurate.
Unless you’re starting with a heavily under- or overexposed image, I don’t recommend using the Exposure slider. The reason is that this slider increases or decreases the global exposure regardless of how bright or dark certain areas are.
Instead, you want to use Luminar 4’s Smart Contrast, Highlights and Shadows found in the Essentials Tab.
Since the sky was exposed well in the original file, I chose not to use the Highlights slider. If you find the sky in your image a little too bright or too dark, you can use this slider to correct it. Keep in mind that it also will affect other highlights in the image; you’ll need to make the adjustment on a separate layer and apply a mask if you want it to be visible only in the sky.
Step #2: Apply AI Enhancing
The second step is more subtle than the first but it’s one that adds a little extra crispiness to the final image. It also takes advantage of Luminar 4’s AI Tools.
Beneath the Light Tab in the Essentials Category, you find AI Enhance and AI Structure. It’s these two that we’re going to be using. I recommend that you avoid using high values for their sliders and instead stick to an amount of 10 or less. This will depend on your photo and the camera you shot it with but too high amounts may lead to unwanted noise. I also find that increasing the AI Enhance’s AI Accent too much leads to a HDR-look that looks overdone.
In this case I’ve increased AI Accent to +7 and the AI Structure’s Amount to +6.
Step #3: Essential Color Adjustments
Now that we’ve corrected the exposure and applied some slight sharpening it’s time to move on and focus on the colors.
A common mistake that many make is to simply increase the Saturation or Vibrance and move on. In this workflow we won’t touch those two sliders! In fact, I rarely recommend using them at all.
The reason is that using the Saturation or Vibrance sliders affects the entire image. That means also the less saturated colors (in this case the cold colors) also get increased.
When editing autumn photographs I prefer to only increase the saturation of the warmer colors. This is easily done by opening the Advanced Settings in the Colors Tab where you can adjust the Hue, Saturation and Luminance of the individual colors.
The main focus will in this case be the Green, Yellow and Orange colors as we only want to adjust the warmer tones. You can also use the Blue slider to desaturate and cool down the shadows but I don’t mind the blues in this photo so we’ll leave it alone for now.
I’ve decreased the Green Hue to -33 as this adds a yellow cast to the few greens that are in the photo – I’m not a big fan of green in my images and since this is a vibrant autumn scene, it’s better to lean it towards yellow. The other values are as follows:
- Yellow Hue: -5
- Orange Saturation + 15 & Luminance +21
As you can see, these 4 subtle adjustments made a significant difference in the colors that are now beginning to pop.
Note that I used a Mask to remove the adjustment from the top of the hill on the left side. I found the colors to be too strong in this area and it took attention away from the center and more interesting areas of the image.
Step #4: Landscape Enhancer Tool
In the 4th step, we take advantage of the Landscape Enhancer Tool (which is perfect to edit autumn photographs) and the Vignette tool. These are the last two adjustments made within the Essentials Category.
Again we’re going to avoid high amounts as we get better results by applying several subtle adjustments instead of a single overdone one. This gives us better control over the final output and we don’t need to hope that one specific adjustment works well with each particular shot.
First, we’re going to use the Golden Hour and Foliage Enhancer sliders in the Landscape Enhancer Tool. I generally avoid these two sliders as there are other tools that give similar results with more manual control but for editing autumn photographs, these work quite well.
The Golden Hour tool adds a nice golden glow in images that are captured during the actual Golden Hour. However, I don’t recommend using it if your image is captured during broad daylight.
After increasing the Golden Hour Tool to +17 and the Foliage Enhancer too +9, I used the Vignette Tool to add a slight darkening to the corners and emphasize the mountain and sidelight. The subject (the center point of the vignette) was set in the bright area on the right side and I’ve reduced the Amount to -40. The Feather was set to +16 and Inner Light to +7.
Step #5: Apply a Glow Effect
Applying an Orton Effect to photos such as this helps create a nice and atmospheric mood. In Luminar 4 you can achieve this effect by using the Mystical and Glow tools found in the Creative Category.
This is yet another adjustment that should be subtle. Adding a too strong glow effect makes the image too blurry and not very professional. If the adjustment is very visible, you’ve probably taken it too far.
In this case, I’ve increased the Mystical Amount with +2. In the Glow Tool I’ve used the Soft Glow type and increased its Amount to +15. The Warmth has also been increased to +8.
Step #6: Midtones Contrast
The Advanced Contrast Tool in the Professional Category is one of my favorite tools in Luminar 4. I always apply a similar adjustment in Photoshop but, in order to target only the midtones, you need to create a Luminosity Mask. This can be time-consuming and isn’t always easy for Photoshop beginners.
With Luminar 4 you can achieve almost the same by using one single slider. It doesn’t get much easier than that!
The reason why I like this adjustment is because you can increase the contrast without affecting the already bright or dark parts of the image (remember, increasing contrast means brightening the brights and darkening the darks). This means that you avoid potentially clipping the shadows or highlights.
For this image, I’ve used the relatively high Midtones Contrast amount of +35. Keep in mind that changes in contrast also affect the colors – if you like the contrast but find the colors too strong, you can go back to the Colors tab and reduce their saturation.
Step #7: Color Enhancing and Final Touches
We’re almost done! If you click the little eye on the top bar you can see that we’ve already come a long way since. There are only a couple more adjustments left until you’re ready to export and share your photo!
First, we’re going to slightly enhance the overall colors using the Color Enhancer Tool. This is a very powerful tool that can quickly become ‘too much’ so I’ve stuck with the shy values of +1 for Brilliance and +4 for Warmth. Anything more than this became distracting in my eyes.
Next, we move on to the Photo Filter Tool where I’ve increased the Saturation to +84, Hue set to 27 and Amount to 6. It’s ok to use a high value for the Saturation as the Amount (which controls the total strength of the adjustment) is so low.
This creates a nice warm color cast and helps enhance the autumn feel. Keep in mind that you might need to adjust the hue slightly depending on the colors in your photo.
Finally, we’re going to make the highlights a little warmer by using the Split Toning Tool. I’ve used the values of +19 on Hue and +10 on Saturation. Again, you may need to adjust the hue depending on your specific photo. In this case, it’s done a good job warming up the light coming in from the side.
Landscape photographers love autumn and it’s not hard to understand why. The vibrant colors make for great subjects and when we combine them with the soft Golden Hour light, a great photo isn’t far away. However, you need to apply some post-processing to make your images really stand.
Luckily, you don’t need to spend hours creating advanced techniques to make the images look good. Making adjustments to the color and contrast is often enough to make the colors pop, which is what you want for autumn photograps.
In just a few simple steps we’ve turned a quite standard autumn image into a warmer and more atmospheric photograph:
As always when it comes to post-processing, it’s important to make adjustments based on the specific images your working on. The workflow I’ve shared here is just an example of what’s possible. You’ll need to adjust the exact slider values based on the colors, brightness and contrast of your image.
But at the end of the day, it doesn’t take much to make your photo shine!