Sunset Seascape Photoshop Tutorial

A step-by-step tutorial on how to transform a snapshot into a great shot!

This image of what remains of the West Pier off the coast of Brighton is a fine example of making something out of nothing. My youngest daughter decided that she'd like to go to the beach and photograph the sunset with her new Panasonic TZ7.

By the time we'd driven the 10 miles from home to the coast the conditions had totally changed and the above image is the straight and unprocessed chosen frame.

I decided that I would like to smooth out the sea with a relatively long exposure so selected a low ISO of 100. This still didn't give me a suitably long exposure so I fitted a 0.9 ND filter into my Cokin P Series filter holder. A 0.9 ND filter is grey and does not alter the colour of the image and reduces the amount of light reaching the camera sensor by 3 stops. This increased the time the shutter was open to 4 seconds which was just enough to smooth out the movement of the waves giving the smooth look. Had I exposed more frames as the ambient light decreased the time the shutter was open would have increased and resulted in the sea looking like glass.

I think you'll agree with me that the shot is pretty unexciting and needs a bit of a lift - this is where Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) enters the equation. There are very few cases where I do not shoot RAW files these days - RAW Rules! A RAW file is the unprocessed data from the camera sensor without any data lost as part of the conversion to JPEG. To me a JPEG file is a compromise - the way the image looks is dictated by your camera's manufacturer.

I can't say that this is the shot I previsualised, but it is the one I like after a lot of tinkering in ACR. The joy of ACR is that any adjustments you make to your images are totally non-destructive, with the adjustment data being stored in a separate .xml file.

What follows are a series of screen grabs of some of the stages I took to achieve the above result - I omitted Sharpening of 95:

Step 1 - Basic Corrections

  • Colour Temperature or White Balance was warmed up to 4850K
  • Exposure reduced by -0.30 or roughly 1/3rd of a stop
  • Fill Light +30
  • Blacks +8
  • Contrast +44
  • Clarity +30
  • Vibrance +30
Step 2 - Tone Curve
  • Highlights +60
  • Lights +8
  • Darks -28
  • Shadows -34
Step 3 - HSL or Hue Saturation Lightness

This is where we start to make the radical colour adjustments!
  • Reds +22
  • Oranges +76
  • Yellow +8
  • Purples +65
  • Magentas -100
Had I increased the Greens, Aquas & Blues the resulting image would be much cooler looking.

Step 4 - Split Toning
Here I added some warmth to the darker tones. I could have totally dropped this step and used just the HSL dialogue. The point is you can experiment. This article is just a guide. Don't be intimidated by the apparent complexity of your imaging software - practice, practice, practice. I've be using Adobe Photoshop since version 2.5 in the early 1990s and still learn something new or a different way to do something most days!

Step - Spotting of Dust Spot Removal
The dark spot with the lighter halo surrounding it is the shadow of a dust spot on the camera sensor. Even with in-built sensor cleaning you'll get a grubby sensor, especially pollen which tends to be sticky.

Removing these marks is easy in post-production; sensor cleaning is another issue all together. Once you've saved your image in ACR as a native Photoshop or PSD file, open it in Photoshop and duplicate the background layer CTRL or CMD J. Then select the Spot Healing Brush - J on the keyboard and using the [ ] keys make the brush slightly larger than the blemish and away you go.

You'll find most of these marks in the corners of the frame, close to the edges or in places in the frame that are so bloody inconvenient to be untrue! Make sure that you view the image on your screen at 100% CTRL or CMD 1 and move around the screen using the Hand Tool - space bar.

On the left an also-ran; on the right an image worthy of printing and framing!

This looks like a lot of effort, but with practice you can achieve good results in minutes.

Good luck and happy snapping.



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