From Start to Finish: Creating Sharper Landscape and Architecture Photos

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony A99 Aquarium photos and landscapes edited (9 of 15)ISO 100

Landscape photos traditionally have lots of depth of field and much of the scene well in focus. Creative vision, composition, and finding a balance between the negative and positive space is what helps artistically; but technically speaking creating landscape and architecture images that are sharp for both a great print and online viewing can be tough for many. No, the secret isn’t to raise the sharpness slider in Adobe Lightroom all the way up; but instead it’s a mixture of many the right processes tweaked just enough.

Stop The Lens Down

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Aurora HDR review photos images williamsburg waterfront Aurora (1 of 1)ISO 2002.5 sec at f - 16

Before we even get to editing the photo; a good image begins in camera. Start off by stopping the lens down to around the maximum sharpness point. For 35mm sized sensors, it’s f11. For smaller sensors, it all depends. Stopping the lens down gets more of the scene in focus and also makes the scene sharper in general. However, as most folks know, you don’t need to stop down all the way. The reason for this is that is creates diffraction problems with the lens and sensor.

Oh right–and shoot RAW!

Focus Near the Middle Are of the Depth in the Frame

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Canon 35mm f1.4 L II review samples (20 of 28)ISO 1001-250 sec at f - 5.0

Most photographers will focus out to infinity and call it a day when it comes to shooting landscapes. For really wide angles lenses, that can work. However, you’ll get the best results when focusing near the middle but more toward the farther distance of the image. Combine this with stopping the lens down and you’ll see how that works.

Part of this has to do with the zone focusing system–it’s something that photographers have been using for years.

Camera Color Profile Application

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Fujifilm 16mm f1.4 review sample images (3 of 32)ISO 2001-2400 sec at f - 2.8

If you’re very satisfied with the way that the JPEG preview looked on the back of the camera, know that you can get something close to that with your RAW file. Under the camera profile setting, you can select whatever profile your camera gave the JPEG like Vivid, Landscape, Velvia, etc. This is the start to getting the image to be closer to the way that you want it to be.

Of course, if none of them match what you ultimately want, then move on without it. However, never underestimate how powerful this feature is.

Sharpening and Lens Correction

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sigma 20mm f1.4 Review sample photos (42 of 51)ISO 4001-250 sec at f - 2.8

After you’ve made your camera profile selection, apply the lens corrections. With Adobe Lightroom, it’s easy to do with with a click of a button. But if the camera didn’t detect what lens was used, then you just need to go through the lens profiles and manually select one.

Be sure to also sharpen the image by amount and detail. With modern lenses, a little bit goes a long way.

If you’re using older lenses, you may also want to try Adobe’s new Dehaze feature.

White Balance Adjustments

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sigma 20mm f1.4 Review sample photos (15 of 51)ISO 1001-640 sec at f - 2.8

When you’re done with the sharpening and tweaking, then move onto the white balance adjustments. The camera profile that you applied earlier will probably have changed the white balance; and you may not want that. But if you change it now, then you’re also cumulatively reaching the point where we need to be with your image.

Exposure Adjustments

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sigma 24-35mm f2 with Metabones on Sony a7r Mk II (9 of 14)ISO 4001-50 sec at f - 4.0

At this point, you’ll adjust the overall exposure to the best and closest that you can possibly get it to. Adjust the exposure to a level where you know that you get enough detail from the shadows and highlights individually but that you know you can pull the details.


Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Tokina 24-70mm f2.8 review images (11 of 12)ISO 1001-250 sec at f - 2.8

The Clarity slider in Adobe Lightroom adjusts the midtones. Typically, you’ll boost it just a bit and you’ll find extra details coming from both the shadows and the highlights. Each individual image varies because of quite literally what your own creative vision is but it also depends on whether you’ve calibrated your monitor or not and just how much of the color gamut is covered by your screen. Again, that one really varies.

Selective Adjustment of Color Channels

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Tokina 12-28mm f4 review images others (11 of 23)ISO 2001-2000 sec at f - 4.0

Take a look at the scene and identify the dominant colors. Then go to the color adjustment panel and tweak the luminance and the saturation. The saturation is how vivid or wet the color looks in the scene and the luminance is how bright it appears. Each of these can be tweaked individually to deliver the results that you really want to have in the end.

Highlights, Shadows, Blacks, Whites

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss 50mm f2 Loxia review images (4 of 32)ISO 1001-200 sec at f - 16

Finally, we’re at the last step. Start off by tweaking the white and black levels. The deeper your blacks are, the sharper the image will be perceived by people looking at it. Adobe Lightroom also has multiple controls for highlights and shadows. Those in the basic panel are more universal and should be tweaked conservatively. In the Tonal Curve panel, you can make fine tuned adjustments.

  • David Bleeker
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

    All pictures have a definite underexposed look, Too much contrast I don’t know but they don’t look good! And Yes I have a calibrated Eizo screen…

    • ChrisGampat
      Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

      When you calibrate your screen it’s supposed to be at its brightest.

      As I scrolled through on my phone the only one that looks dark is the seascape one with the buildings. The rest are fine.

      • David Bleeker
        Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

        ?????? You really want to compare a phone to a Desktop and Eizo screen? On a phone these might look good, the whites cannot be blown out more anyway and what looks good or bad is subjective, but on a properly calibrated desktop they do not look good in my opinion.

        • ChrisGampat
          Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

          On both of mine they do. And considering 80% of this site’s traffic comes from iPhones and iPads, that’s what counts the most.

          It’s just a reality.

      • David Price
        Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

        “When you calibrate your screen it’s supposed to be at its brightest.”

        That’s probably why your images are underexposed and contrasty. Your monitor brightness is so high you can’t make edit decisions properly. Monitor brightness is different for everyone because some people are viewing in a bright room and others in a dim room. Hardware calibrators can measure the ambient viewing conditions and compensate contrast etc. One setting does not fit all.

        Plus, as David Bleeker says, you really can’t compare a phone/ipad screen with a desktop calibrated monitor for viewing.

    • David Price
      Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

      Agreed, the pictures here are underexposed and contrasty.

  • athomasimage
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

    Chris Gampat or someone, help me out here. I understand the post deals with the topic of sharpness for landscape and architectural photography, But is it just me or do all of the examples used in the post seem flat and contrasty? The skies appear over exposed and the majority of the scenes are in shadow and thus underexposed. Someone help me out here. I’d love to have my observations confirmed or disputed. Comments/explanations?

    • ChrisGampat
      Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

      Sounds like a monitor problem. Is it calibrated? On both of mine they’re not flat at all. Even on the mobile edition they’re not.

      • athomasimage
        Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

        Chris: I use Color Munki to calibrate my “display”. I have a MacBook Pro NOT Retina. I know I have to watch the viewing angle. Even so – just wondering???

  • whispy_snippet
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

    Is there a way to automatically apply a camera colour profile to a batch of photos on import? I know you can apply filters this way but it seems like colour profiles are not an option in a LR import.

    • ChrisGampat
      Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

      Not sure to be honest with you…

  • Khila Khani
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

    Although I already employ most, if not all of the recommendations herein, it’s always helpful to be reminded. Thank you for taking the time to write this down and share it with the world!!

    • ChrisGampat
      Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

      Sure thing! Thanks for reading

  • nuknodis
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

    “Camera Color Profile Application” I recently switched to Capture One, does it have a similar feature?

    • ChrisGampat
      Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

      I barely use Capture One but I’m reviewing the new one, so hopefully it’s there