Most landscape photographers will agree that post-production is essential to the art, but while the debate of how far you should go is left to individual preferences, the question is how far you can go while maintaining the image’s believability.
A raw image straight out of the camera isn’t necessarily believable because of the flat appearance, yet a stunning sunrise that remains true to the setting may appear fake to your audience. So what is the key to crafting an edit that maintains believability? One technique is to identify strong sources of neutral tones — like clouds, water, fog, and snow — in the landscape to anchor the rest of the image.
During post-production purgatory, these neutral tones will serve as a visual root: if you over-saturate the image or push the white balance too far, the neutral tones will fall apart. On the other hand, by leaving neutral tones untouched, you can enjoy almost unlimited creative liberty.
That might sound dishonest, but this liberty is most powerful when you are trying to produce an edit that is faithful to the setting. After all, camera sensors are not the final word on integrity: dawn and dusk shoots tend to produce dramatic colors and lighting that can take days of post-production to accurately reproduce.
On your next shoot, keep an eye open for a good neutral source to include as a subject in your composition. As you shoot more fantastic landscapes, the neutral tones will provide a visual anchor that helps true-to-life colors burst with realism.