Finishing Photos For Feeling

Perfectly Clear is not only my favorite tool for finishing portraits, it’s also excellent for finishing landscapes so they look the way I felt when I was making the photograph, and the new Perfectly Clear Essentials has everything I need. Let me show why I chose these settings to make my picture look its best.

The Feel

I was hiking before sunrise looking for wildlife when I came up over a ridge just as the sun was coming over the mountain to my right. The canyons below me were filled with fog and as the sun rose, the wind picked up and it was blowing these clouds of fog around in the canyons like a stormy sea. Then the sun illuminated this little island of trees and I felt lucky to see it. Forest fires nearby had put lots of particles in the air, which made the sun rise more orange than usual, which contrasted nicely with the shady side of the clouds glowing blue from the light of the blue sky. It felt like the kind of thing you see in a BBC Nature movie, and that’s the kind of feeling I wanted to see in my picture on the computer.

Instead, I saw this bland picture of trees in a cloud on my monitor.

It turns out that cameras aren’t very good at recording feelings.

Just Get Started

In order to look like the feeling I had when I shot, this picture needed a lot more punch, but not in a gritty way like clarity or structure tools are likely to do. It needed contrast in both tone and color, and the best way to get that is with Perfectly Clear.

Now, I’m saying it needed tone and color contrast to look better, but I usually don’t go into Perfectly Clear with that kind of specificity in mind. The more I use it, the more I know what I can draw out of a picture file, but it’s absolutely normal for me to go into Perfectly Clear and just start messing around with the sliders, and that’s a good way to become more and more familiar with its capabilities. If you don’t know exactly what your picture needs, the most important thing is to simply get started and mess around.

Start with Tone

Tone is a great place to start. The Exposure slider here is marvelous. It brightens the dark areas, but it’ll never over brighten the light areas. I knew this when I shot the picture, so I purposefully made sure that the clouds were not too bright to begin with. Perfectly Clear does an exceptional job of brightening dark areas in pictures, and it does it without desaturating the colors. Protecting and enhancing the available colors was essential to get the color contrast that I needed here.

Every time I make an exposure adjustment, I also make a Depth adjustment. Sometimes the Exposure adjustment on its own doesn’t look good–it’ll make the picture look flat because it’s only brightening the dark areas. Depth brings the contrast back into the picture but keeps the detail and color looking great. I just toggle between the High Contrast and High Definition settings to see which one looks best in each case.

Color Makes the Magic

You shouldn’t think that your picture needs to look significantly different than when you started. Many times, the Tone section is all I need to get the right look on my picture and my wife can barely tell the difference (of course, I can see a huge improvement, but I’m more critical of my work). But this one definitely benefitted from the Color section, too.

I pretty much work it top to bottom and then go back to the top to tweak things again, and I constantly click the check boxes on and off so I can see what effect an individual slider is having.

Fidelity is great for bringing back the real tones of blues and purples and greens. In this case, it helped keep the range of blues in the clouds, as well as brought back a little brown into the trees instead of a homogenous and unnatural green that the cameras make of most foliage.

Tint correction helped maintain the warmth from the sunrise. While using these, I simply move the slider until it’s clearly too much, then back it off to where it looks pretty good.

Sky and Foliage Enhance are some of the best new features in Perfectly Complete Version 3. The Enhance sliders alter the colors in your photos, lending them a slightly different hue. In this case, the Sky slider helped the clouds stay blue like I remembered while experiencing the moment, and the Foliage gave a warmer hue to the trees as well to help with the contrast between the sunlit areas and the sky-lit areas.

And with that, my picture is looking really good and it looks the way I remember it felt to be there. I shoot in the mountains a lot at sunrise, so I’m going to save this as a preset that I can use again to get started with my finishing in the future.

Take a Break and Come Back

The most important step when finishing landscape photos is to leave them alone for a while–the longer the better–and then come back and look again. You’ll often find that the colors are a little strange or that you’ve just gone a little too far in the finishing. It’s ok to get excited and move every slider in every plugin and go crazy, but it’s good to come back with fresh eyes and make sure you didn’t go overboard.


Whether you’re using Perfectly Clear Complete or Essentials, the color and tone tools will help every picture look its best and help rescue your work from the blandness of reality and allow you to present it with the feeling you had when you made the picture.