Post Processing The Martian Rocks

15 12 2007

I had a number of people send thank you emails regarding some of my earlier tutorials on how I processed my images. The funny thing is that when I created this blog, to be honest I didn’t even think anybody else would find it or be interested in it, it was more of an online diary of how my own techniques have evolved over time. However I am glad that others find some of these tutorials useful.

I thought I would do another end-to-end tutorial showing in detial how I produced my Martian Rocks image Below (click on any of the thumbnails below to see the full sized originals).

Spoon Bay Martian Rocks

This image was not a composite, but produced from one RAW capture. Here’s the original RAW capture (my starting point).

While doing the original RAW conversion I was focusing on the foreground only, trying to get as much detail and quality out of the rocks. When I looked at the image above, while happy with the foreground, the sky was nowhere near as overcast or foreboding as I remember it, so I did a second RAW conversion of the same image where I focused on the sky and tried to re-create what it felt like when I shot the image.

Here’s the second conversion of the original capture.

After bringing both of these images into Photoshop, I applied RAW pre-sharpening (using Nik Sharpener… the reason I use Nik Sharpener is because I don’t want to muck about with Unsharp mask and learn the arcane art of sharpening, in my opinion Nik does a fantastic job of input sharpening and a kick-arse job of output sharpening).

I blended these images together using a simple mask that I created with my wacom tablet in about 20sec (if you don’t use a tablet… get one now if you are doing ANY selective processing work at all).

Once I had my blended image, I made a composite layer which was essentially my new background layer (to do this, click the “new layer” icon in the bottom right of the layers pallete, and then press CTRL+SHIFT+ALT+E (don’t know the Mac equivalent)

The image above shows the two original layers at the bottom, and then the new compositie layer sitting on top of the stack. Next step I run one of my favorite plug ins Called Alien Skin Exposure. If you haven’t played with this plug in, I suggest you check it out and download the 30 day evaluation. It saves me so much time in playing with levels, curves etc.

The image below shows the Alien Skin interface, On the left I have selected the Provia film stock that I like to emulate with my seascape shots. In the main pane you can see my original in the bottom left and the subtle processing that has occured on the image in the top right (I suggest you click on the thumbnail below to view the image large).

The processing that Alien Skin does is pretty subtle, but none-the-less quite nice. The image below shows my image so far (after the Alien Skin processing). You can see that Alien Skin generates a new layer in my layers stack… If I want to tone it down a bit I can simply reduce the opacity of that layer.

Next I did a bit of selective processing to intensify the water. One of the things that really struck me when I was standing at Spoon Bay looking at this scene was the fury and intensity of the water in this little cove. It wasn’t coming through in the image, so I used the technique that I described earlier in my blog to make the water a bit more intense. Basically I duplicated the colour film layer (by dragging to the layer icon in the bottom right of the pallette), and then I changed the blend mode of this layer to “multiply”. This will impact the entire image, so then added a layer mask (click on the “add layer mask” icon at the bottom of the pallette menu. Once the layer mask has been added it will be all white and you won’t see a difference, so I invert the mask (cntrl+ I) now it goes totally black and you lose all the effect. From here just grab a paintbrush (B) and paint on the mask with white wherever you want to intensify the ocean.

I then did a very minor levels tweak because the histogram showed my whites were down a bit.

I also did a slight curves adjustment to brighten my mid-tones slightly

The final effect is to put some vignetting on the image. I will use one of two methods for this depending on the image, either a curve that darkens the image, or in this case I used levels.

I added a levels adjustment layer and then pulled the mid-tone slider to value of about 50. This makes your image look awful, so I applied a layer mask and inverted it in exactly the same manner as when I intensified the water and then used my tablet to lightly paint white around the edges to create the vignetting.

Final step to output is to duplicate, flatten, convert to sRGB profile, re-size where necessary and then I use Nik Sharpener for my output sharpening.

I hope you found this useful. Here again is the finished image.

Spoon Bay Martian Rocks



6 responses

16 12 2007

Hi Brent,

I’ve just started reading your blog this last week and am finding it both extremely interesting and inspiring. There are a few thing I have been wondering about your work…

I’d love to know what body and lenses you are using and why you chose these.

I’ve seen several references by you about performing “burn and dodge” on images, but I don’t know which parts of the image you are doing this to and why.

I’d really like to know how many prints you have been selling through Red Bubble. Perhaps this is a little intrusive, so you may just like to say “not many” or “enough to make it worth it” or “I am currently planning my retirement for next week.”

Thanks for your willingness to share your methods. Your images really are fantastic.



19 12 2007
Brent Pearson

Hey Graham

Unfortunately you have not included your email address so I can’t reply to your questions.

Your blogger profile is not public.

If you email me your details at I’ll happily answer your questions.


24 12 2007

Just phenomenal stuff, Graham. Thanks so much for taking the time to put together these tutorials. I really feel that my lack of post-processing skills has really been hindering the quality of my work, and your tutorials are helping immensely, teaching me several new subtleties that appear to make a huge difference. I’m going to go right now and dual-process a RAW image or two for both sky and foreground. Thanks so much, and I hope to see more such tutorials (should you find the time) in the near future!

25 12 2007
Brent Pearson

Hey CJ

Glad that you find the tutorials useful. I will be continuing to add to the blog from time to time as I discover new techniques etc.


28 12 2007


Heh, apologies on the last comment. I directed it at Graham when I, of course, intended it for yourself. (Hangs head sheepishly.) Thanks again.

28 12 2007

Hi Brent
I too would like to thank you for your efforts on your blog. I find the tutorials very helpful for an old dog that sees everything in terms of film and darkroom chemicals! Every day on Flicker I am both amazed and a little disheartened with my own efforts. Thanks to you, I am becoming inspired once again! Time, I suppose to give up the old Pentax 67 and take up my K10D.!! Regards and the best for ’08! Dave

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