Shoot for the Sky

In the post Composition and Images, I discussed replacing the sky in a picture where the sky is boring. Today, I want to discuss what to do if the sky is good, but not great or not like it looked when it was shot. Here is the problem; our eyes are more sensitive to subtle color than a camera is. Don’t believe me? Try taking a picture of a rainbow some time and see what you get! What I am often (but not always) after is to get what I saw on a page or computer monitor, even if I have to drag it out of the raw camera data kicking and screaming.

I am going to discuss some techniques I learned or stumbled upon as I have worked with Photoshop. There are three things I have been doing to enhance detail, alter contrast, and punch up color. They are:

  1. Bracket you shots and use HDR.
  2. Use curves on selected parts of your image
  3. Take a spin through the Lab Color Space

HDR is a great technique for dealing with scenes with too much contrast, but also for bringing out some detail in low contrast areas of a photograph. Under most circumstances, the sky is about two stops brighter than the earth. Bracketing your shots will allow you to get the detail in the bright sky as well as the shadows on the ground. What is the downside of using HDR? First, it looks like HDR. That is not bad per se, but HDR is not a look everyone likes and it does tend to be overused these days. Secondly, HDR can make colors more intense, but often the colors can get unreal looking or not true to how they looked when you shot them, but that can be interesting too.

This image was created from three bracketed images and run through an HDR process. Notice that the image looks like an HDR image.

Next, we have using curves on selected parts of the image. This involves using mask in Photoshop. Isolates part of the image and use curves to enhance the specific part of the image by altering contrast or exposure. While you are at it, you can combine different exposures of the same image if you use the bracketing technique described in the HDR section. For best results, you will want to use a tripod to simplify the process. You can use the same mask for all the bracketed images. Masks can be complicated to build create, and you don’t want to have to do it more times than required.

Drama in the Sky - Before

This is the image straight out of the camera.

Drama in the Sky - After

For this image, a mask was created that included only the sky. Then a curves adjustment lays was created using the mask and the Auto Adjust feature was selected.

And then there is Lab color space. If intensifying color is what you are looking to do, and you don’t want any funky color shifts, this is the technique for you. This book “Photoshop LAB Color: The Canyon Conundrum and Other Adventures in the Most Powerful Colorspace” by Dan Margulis describes the technique and much more! Don’t try this with saturate!

Rainbow - Before Lab Adjustment

This is the image as captured in camera

Rainbow - After Lab Adjustment

This is the image after a minor adjustment in Lab Colorspace. There is another image with more correction in Flickr

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