Photography and Art

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Improving Blown-out Skies with Lightroom

I read a recent article by Mark Segal on Luminous Landscape entitled You'd Be Surprised What Those Files May Contain. In the article, he makes the good point that raw files with blown-out skies may actually contain much more information than you might think. He offers up a rather complex method involving editing two versions of the image in Photoshop. In the original image, he adjusts the tone curve to favor the sky and manages to recapture quite a bit of interest in the sky. He then adjusts the tone curve in a virtual copy of the image to favor the rest of the image. He edits both versions of the image in Photoshop and copies the good sky from one image into the other that was optimized for the rest of the photo.

While there is no doubt that this technique works, there is a tool in Lightroom that often works very well without having to do the round trip into Photoshop. It's called the gradient tool and it is very easy to use. For a good tutorial, click here.

Here is a quick example of how you can restore lost parts of the sky. The first image is exactly the way it came out of the camera, sensor dust and all:

In the second image, I've created a gradient from the top left of the image down to the roofline of the building and I've decreased the brightness of the sky. The result is a sky with lots more contrast:

There is a lot of tweaking that ought to be done - the saturation could be increased and the exposure of the sky could also be adjusted.

However, this is a quick and dirty example of a very powerful tool that often makes the round trip to Photoshop unecessary.

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