As a landscape and travel photographer, I’ve never really used presets before as part of my workflow. I like to be in control from start to finish and my normal workflow is very natural. I’m usually striving to replicate what I saw. I do everything I can to get the image right in camera, quite often using neutral density graduated filters to balance sky and foreground or make good use of my camera’s high dynamic range knowing that I can pull back detail in my highlights during processing. I rarely edit in bulk and processing my images is part of the fun for me so it’s definitely not about speed. I enjoy seeing a landscape photo come to life from the RAW file. It completes the journey with the images that I had first imagined in my mind’s eye and planned for. I open my images through Adobe Camera RAW and do the bulk of my editing there before fine tuning in Photoshop.
So when I was approached by the folks over at Sleekens to review their Landscape Adventure Collection for Photoshop, I was initially sceptical. The collection features 56 actions specifically put together for landscape editing. On first glance the sample images seemed a little over edited for my taste and the video tutorial showed some quite extreme adjustments which were then toned down. That said, I was curious.
Using my own workflow
I picked an image that I had taken recently and had chosen not to process or include in my portfolio. I didn’t think there was a lot of scope here without making the sky look over saturated. I started as normal, opening the image through Photoshop into Camera Raw.
I applied my lens correction profile to correct the barrel distortion and removed a touch of chromatic aberration. I shot this image handheld at ISO 1000 so a little noise reduction was needed. I shifted the white balance slightly and added a touch of clarity and vibrance. In Photoshop I added a curves adjustment layer which I applied to the sky only. My workflow was very simple and only took about 5 minutes.
Using the Sleeklens actions
I opened in Camera RAW and applied lens corrections, noise reduction and adjusted white balance as before and opened in Photoshop. I then set about trying out each action in turn to see what the effect was. The actions are split into 8 sections:
- All In One
- Web File Preparation
Some of the actions require manual intervention before they are applied, for example to increase opacity or paint out areas with a brush. Some just run through and you can then spend some time going back in and making fine adjustments.
The images below show the original untouched RAW on the left. My normal processing in the middle and the adjustments applied using the actions from Sleeklens on the right.
I liked the TONE – Cinematic action, although the initial effect was too strong, it was simple enough to reduce the opacity to around 45%. The ALLINONE – Intense Sunset dialled down to 25% also worked well. In the end, I opted for this, along with EXPOSURE – Contrast at 10%. Again, pretty simple adjustments. I’m genuinely not sure which I prefer.
Re-working an old image
I had a photograph in my archives which I had taken back in 2015 and was really disappointed with. The sky that evening had been quite dramatic albeit mostly grey. I had messed about with composition for a while and just wasn’t feeling it at all. I’d decided on stitching a panorama and wasn’t really happy with the scene once I’d had a chance to put it all together in Photoshop. The composition just didn’t work. It needed a lot more foreground and would have benefited from a higher elevation. Although the sunset had been nice to watch, it had lacked punch and the colour on the rocks and islands had been too subtle.
The top image is from my workflow and the one underneath is with the Sleeklens actions.
There’s quite a shift here as I approached the image completely differently when using the Sleeklens actions. The top image followed my normal workflow with a few tweaks in post. I had used a 0.6 ND grad filter while shooting but as I said above, the sunset didn’t really come to much with the colour on the landscape being too subtle to really add any impact. My workflow reflects what I saw that evening.
With the Sleeklens actions, I took the time to enhance the image without worrying too much about replicating what I saw. I started with BASE – Morning Light, mostly applied to the lower half of the image at 50%. I applied the TONE – Cinematic to 35% over the whole image and then added EXPOSURE – Darken to the sky only at 45%. I finished off with the ALLINONE – Intense Sunset again at 35%.
With reference to the second image mainly, the presets brought out parts of the image that i wouldn’t have using my normal workflow. This made me experiment a bit more than I normally would and created an effect that I would generally shy away from for my landscape photography. I don’t really feel that the presets would add anything to my own workflow as I do think that they lean towards creating a more enhanced and unrealistic image than I personally want. I do however see them being used to create some truly fantastic images if you’re a photographer who really enjoys just making great images and isn’t concerned at all about replicating what they saw. The scope is certainly there to spend hours just playing and tweaking. You can see all the Sleeklens Photoshop Actions available over on their website.