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This is a very common challenge for any photographer. When you shoot wide open and well lit landscapes, the sky is always a few stops lighter than the foreground elements of the composition. As a photographer, you have to learn how to deal with it.
There are few well known and effective ways to reduce the dynamic range of your photo to ensure that darker elements (grass, trees, beach, etc.) and the light sky are well exposed.
- Graduated Neutral Density Filters are the most common ways to achieve balanced exposure by placing them in front of the lens before taking the shot.
- HDR photography is the second option in which you shoot multiple exposures and tone map the images in HDR software.
- Exposure blending is the third option and occurs when you take two shots with different exposures and blend them later in Photoshop by using the sky from the darker photo and the foreground from the lighter photo.
All of these solutions are viable options but they all require awareness and preparation before actually taking the photos.
What if you did not realize that the sky was much lighter than the rest of the scene or you simply forgot to take multiple exposures?
This is exactly what happened to me when I bought my first DSLR (Canon Digital Rebel) and took it with me to Cuba. I had no idea about the existence of Graduated Neutral Density Filters or HDR processing or even exposure blending. It was only when I returned home and opened the photos in Photoshop (Lightroom did not exist at that time) that I realized that all of my beach photos had overexposed, boring skies.
Luckily, at that time, I worked as a graphic designer and had a few Photoshop tricks up my sleeve that easily fixed the boring skies.
In less than 1 minute and in 4 easy steps, you too can fix boring skies.
Creating a Dark Blue Sky in Photoshop
At the end of the post, you can find a short video that demonstrates the entire process in less than 1 minute.
STEP 1 – Duplicate Layer
Select the background layer and duplicate it by selecting from the top menu
Layer > Duplicate Layer …
STEP 2 – Set Blending Mode
Set blending mode to the newly created layer to Multiply.
STEP 3 – Apply Gradient Masking
Keep the top layer selected and create a layer mask by clicking the MASK icon at the bottom of the Layer Palette.
Hit D on your keyboard to make sure the background and foreground colors are set to black and white.
Use the Gradient Tool to create a gradient mask with the color white on top of the layer mask and black at the bottom.
STEP 4 – Change Opacity
Adjust the Opacity of the top layer to achieve the desired effect.
Please watch the short video below to learn all the processing steps. The best way to watch the video is in FULL SCREEN mode.