Edit landscape photos with purpose

Do you use Lightroom, Photoshop or any other photo editing software? Any of them is a safe bet. Which software you use is not important. It’s like with a camera, which brand or how expensive it is, does not matter. What is important is to understand why you use the program and how to get the results you want. You must edit landscape photos with purpose.

If you're starting with editing or you’ve been doing it for a while, there is a possibility that you struggle to get results you're happy with.


The most common reason you struggle is you're overwhelmed. There are so many tools and sliders in most editing programs, so it's hard to figure out how to use them. The learning curve is steep.

No recipe, please

Another reason you struggle is you follow a recipe you have learned from someone else. You apply the same adjustments to all your photos without knowing why you do so. If you don't have a purpose when you edit your landscape photos, you're most likely going to fail. It’s like cooking, without understanding how the different ingredients or flavors fit together, you risk messing up the taste.

Real chefs don't need recipes, they know the basics and can adjust the dish to reflect them. This way they can be different from all the other.

No end result in mind

You’re stuck because you don’t know which changes you can do to an image to make it look good. Even worse, you have no clue how you want the final image to look.

The reasons all digital photos need post-processing

1. Shortcomings of the digital sensor

Digital sensors are not capable of capturing the same dynamic range, tone, and colors as your eyes. To make photos look like we saw the scene in real life some editing is necessary.

2. The creative side

As a photographer, the goal is to communicate what you felt at the time you took the photo. Which atmosphere did you experience at the scene? You can strengthen this in the editing process. If you can make the viewer feel what you felt, you've done a good job with your photo?

Learn how to edit landscape photos with purpose, for better results

You must edit your landscape photos with a purpose. If you don’t know how you want the final image to look, how can you get there? Not having a final result in mind while you edit is like an experiment. The result can be anything, but most likely not very pleasing.

One important step in the process is to understand what characterize a good photo and which elements are important to include.

Before you start the editing process, you should always analyze your photo and identify the strong and weak parts. The goal of the editing is to enhance the strong elements and if possible remove or make less prominent the weaker parts.

You must consider if you can improve the photo with editing? Does it have a potential? Sometimes you might find it's not worth spending time on editing. The image has to many problems from the time it was shot there is no way to save it. 

Other considerations to make:

Is the image technically suited for editing?

Editing is not a replacement for sloppy photography techniques. If you missed the focus and the photo is out of focus, no editing can save the image. A typical beginner error is to over sharpen areas that are out of focus, hoping this will save the photo.

Unfortunately, there is no post-processing fix for out of focus shots. However, if you slightly missed on the exposure, you have quite some room to work with this in the editing software. If you saved your file as RAW, you're in a good position to make substantial improvements to exposure. (LINK til artikkel) Being able to sort out images not suited for editing is critical.

This photo was taken with the sun at the horizon to the right. The exposure came out of the camera quite dark. The difference between bright and dark areas is high. This is a photo with high dynamic range. I knew I could recover highlights from the sky and the shadow area at the bottom right. After some tweaking in Lightroom the results from this "under-exposed" file came out very nice.

Main subject and story?

Is it obvious what the main subject is? Is there more than one point of interest? If so, do they compete for the viewer's attention?

These are some of the questions you must ask yourself before you start editing. If you cannot identify the main interest point in your photo, it will be difficult to edit. Conversely, when you have identified essential elements in the composition, you can use editing techniques to draw the viewer’s eyes to where you want. You can make these elements brighter.

Our eyes are more attracted to bright areas compared to darker areas. Another possibility to make the main subject stand out more is to saturate the colors.

Disturbing elements in the frame

Is there anything in the photo attracting the eyes unintentionally? Typically, this might be bright spots, sensor dust spots.

Photos with dust sports scream “beginner,” not because pros don’t get dust on their sensor, but because pros always remove dust spots before they show their photos to others.

Other common elements disturbing a photo is edge mergers. A tree branch sticking in from the side or a rock cut in two at the edge of the frame can be annoying and draw unwanted attention. You want to remove these when you post process if possible. You can clone away these or crop the whole frame.

How is the light?

Do you have interesting light in the photo? What type of light is it?

Understanding the properties of light is important. Light comes from all directions. Light creates highlights and shadow which both are critical in photography. Highlights and shadows create depth in the image. You can improve highlights and shadows when you edit. In landscape photography where you have less control over the light, this is even more important.

How the main subject is lit, is crucial. If the light was bad when you took the photo, it’s difficult to create realistic looking light by editing. You can to some extent improve less favorable light with the help of editing.

Which colors are there in the photo?

When you edit, you must pay attention to what are the dominant colors in the photo. What color tones do you have? Are the colors warm or cold?

Colors lit by the sun takes up warm tones while areas in shadow have blue tones. Are the colors bright or dark? Colors change depending on how they are lit. Grass in shadow looks green/blue while grass lit by the sun tends to be more green/yellow colored.

The way colors play together is important, and some colors work better together than others. You can to some extent shift the colors in a photo to make a better harmony.

Overall mood

What do you want the viewer to feel when he sees your photo? What's the mood? Can the photo benefit from changing the mood? Photos of snow or photos where shadows are predominant often have a bluish color tone.

You can change the white balance to warmer tones if you like that better. Darker photos are often perceived as more dramatic and intimate while bright photos are happy and lively.

Compositional elements

Before you post-process, you must identify any composition elements in the photo.

The most common are lines. If done right when you took the image, lines are leading the eyes to important areas. You can make the effect of the leading lines stronger when you post-processes.

Lines don’t necessarily have to be real lines. Implied lines can also work nicely. You must identify them and make them work for you in the composition.

Other elements creating impact in a photo is texture. Texture draws attention, and you can enhance the effect further by increasing the contrast.

Creative possibilities

Photography is subjective, and the photographer has no limits when it comes to creative editing.

You can convert to Black and White. Some images are more suited than other for Black and White conversions. Photos with high contrast work better as B&W than low contrast photos. A color photo with a lot of details might not be well suited as B&W because the gray scale does not distinct well between colors.

Photos with graphical elements work better as B&W. In general, the simpler the photo is, the better it is in B&W.

Now, when you have gone through all these steps, you have a much better prerequisite to edit landscape photos with purpose.


As you can see post-processing part is where you can add your personal touch to your images. However, this requires a basic understanding of what makes a good photo. Next, you must understand how to get the result you want. Should you increase or decrease tones and contrast or maybe the colors. When you know what you want to achieve, it's much easier to pick the right tools in your editing software.

If you don’t edit your photos with purpose and you don't have the final result in mind, you’re going to fail. If you drag sliders randomly without purpose, the result is likely to be mediocre. Poor editing can ruin an otherwise good photo, but you cannot save a poorly executed shot in Lightroom or Photoshop.

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  • Joel Lantz says:

    More helpful thoughts, Kim! Thanks.

    Regarding your following statement, “A tree branch sticking in from the side or a rock cut in two at the edge of the frame can be annoying and draw unwanted attention”, I sometimes *deliberately* capture such objects in my photos for framing purposes and to create a sense of depth for a more distant main subject. Am I alone in considering such elements desirable in certain cases? Or is the key factor here ‘not distracting’ vs. ‘not present’?

    • I often do the same thing. I have taken the same picture with and without the closer object and it does make a difference because sometimes the picture with the close up object tells more of a story than without.

      • I believe you’re referring to a foreground object which is essential in landscape photography to create depth in the photo. We often think of a foreground object as something on the ground in front of the camera. A foreground can also be a tree or tree branches at the top of the composition framing the main subject.

    • You’re absolutely right. Using tree branches as framing elements are totally fine and a very useful composition technique in many situations. See this post https://www.landscape2art.com/how-to-use-framing-in-photography.html
      When I’m referring to three branches that should be removed I mean (small) parts of a tree branch sticking into the frame unintentionally (because you didn’t notice when you composed the photo). Everything done with purpose is of course fine.

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