Landscapes: creating dramatic skies / 44 comments + post
online tutorials

In this tutorial we will work through a range of examples, using four layered Photoshop files, to explore a variety of post-production techniques and tools that you can use to produce images with a dramatic sky. This will include a discussion of the Selective Color tool, using Curves and gradient masks, blending two exposures, and the use of a variety of tools to tone an otherwise dull sky.

Topics covered in this tutorial include:

• Luminosity: the discrepancy between the ground and the sky
• An optical solution: graduated neutral density filters
• Digital noise: a quick word
• A Photoshop solution: the Selective Color tool
• Using Curves and masks
• Blending two masked Curves
• Merging two exposures of the same image
• Working with precise masks
• Toning a dull, grey sky


oldest comments first
comment by Jamey at 02:49 PM on 13 August, 2007

Lovely tutorial Dave. Very well laid out, explained and presented. Having just read the last page a few minutes ago, I'm predicting a barrage of questions about how you make precise masks and whether it's meant to take an hour and a half... And that's just from me ;)

comment by paul at 03:03 PM on 13 August, 2007

Very very good read Dave, very helpful for all those times when I look at images I have took and wish the sky was more defined and interesting, hard to get when the weather / light doesnt allow. Yes I would love to stay on location all day to get the right moment, but as with most people this isnt possible.

This tutorial gives the reader the insight into planning and deciding how an image sky can be enhanced / corrected when they get back home and find the only shot they are happy with has a great foreground and a pretty flat sky.


comment by Eric at 04:14 PM on 13 August, 2007

Wow, I'll need several hours to fully digest everything. Thanks for your hard work. I just signed up for a lifetime of tutorials!!


PS: I've always wondered what you sounded like :)

comment by Mackan at 06:48 PM on 13 August, 2007

I just signed up for life membership! :-)

I haven't had the time yet to study your tutorials, just had a quick look. Looks very promising!

Thank you for sharing your knowledge, I wish you the best!

comment by mal at 08:29 PM on 13 August, 2007

very valuable stuff covered here Dave, the layout is simple to follow and a great insight to improving images, very much worth the subscription. All the best. mal

comment by m at 10:20 PM on 13 August, 2007

I've been waiting for the next instalment to the curves tutorial. It was well worth the wait. We'll be seeing more sites to rival Chromasia after a few more tutorials.

comment by Tony at 11:57 PM on 13 August, 2007

After my first experience with your free tutorial, I signed up today for the coming series. Thrilling to get these insights presented in such a clear and clarifying way. Applause!

comment by Skippy at 12:37 AM on 14 August, 2007

Great job on the tutorial! Very well laid out, very informative while still being easy to digest, thanks.

comment by Fred at 01:12 AM on 14 August, 2007

Awesome tutorial Dave. My lifetime subscription is already looking like pretty good value!

comment by Roger at 10:52 AM on 15 August, 2007

Absolutely superb tutorial David, well set out and very easy to follow. I've learnt such a tremendous amount already and really looking forward to the others.



comment by duncmc at 08:19 PM on 15 August, 2007

Very well presented. I consider myself an advanced Photoshop user, and there is information here I will find useful. The ability to download and view the layered files is crucial – the difference between the original and end result in Image 4 is staggering.

comment by chris at 08:46 AM on 16 August, 2007

Stupid $ to Pound exchange rate!

comment by Fred-Eric at 04:46 PM on 16 August, 2007

Would like to know if there is possible to have tutorials in pdf format for printing.

comment by ninu at 01:42 AM on 20 August, 2007

Hey David/Libby, I will surely recommend everyone I know who is serious about photography to join this tutorial section of yours. Great job and it's worth every penny. Thanks for all the hard work in coming up with these tutorials, I will surely do my best to put them to good use. All the best in the new company. Cheers~!

comment by giupas at 01:16 PM on 20 August, 2007

PDF (for members only and protected) will be a great enhancement!

comment by Jason Dale at 02:33 PM on 21 August, 2007

A Very well written and professionally presented tutorial. The video explanations guide you through the tools of photoshop and your quickly on the way to being able to apply these techniques to some of your own photos wether they are new or out of the archive! I'm lookinf forward to applying some of what I have learnt to some of my older shots ;-)
Well worth the £5 but even better value if you take one of the other options available!

comment by ti-deddi at 08:54 PM on 22 August, 2007

Hi Fred,

I was just about to ask the same question.
Dave, if you could make them printable - I like to read in bed before I go to sleep.

This would be very nice indeed - Is it possible?

PS. I also enrolled for life-time updates - thanks for brill material

comment by Will at 12:20 AM on 26 August, 2007

Ha, I agree Chris. We Americans are paying dearly for our thirst for knowledge from across the pond!

Nice work on these tutorials, Dave. They are beautifully laid-out, feature your stunning photos well, and are meticulously crafted and written. A pleasure to read.

I do hope that we get into a little more advanced meat in future ones. Which is to say, let's lay down these basics, and then keep going! I think there's so much potential for the series, and as a lifetime member now, I hope they really grow along with me.

Keep up the great work.


comment by Simon at 04:29 PM on 3 September, 2007

I have a fairly large collection of tutorials scavenged from all points of the internet compass and there are none which apply to everyday situations so accurately or which cover them so well.

Thanks Dave.

comment by Matt Bingham at 10:35 PM on 5 September, 2007

Hi, excellent tutorial but I agree, any chance of a PDF download of it?



comment by J.P. at 05:40 AM on 7 September, 2007

I signed up for lifetime membership. :-) Thank you for your excellent tutorial.

comment by J.P. at 06:44 AM on 7 September, 2007

No! Please do not make PDF files. We can read your tutorials via web. PDF, unnecessary files. I want your tutorial update for my lifetime. save your contents, keep your incoming and update your contents.

comment by Brian Connolly at 05:21 PM on 11 September, 2007

Excellent, well laid out and straightforward to follow. Thanks for this, just signed up for a life membership and look forward to greatly improving some otherwise "lost" shots from the past.

comment by Giuseppe at 11:32 AM on 12 September, 2007

I signed up for lifetime membership too! I like your style, your photos and the tutorials!

comment by Kevin H. Stecyk at 05:47 PM on 13 September, 2007


I am just working my way through your tutorial Landscapes. I'd like to comment on your set of instructions on page three.

To create a mask you first need to select the adjustment layer in the Layers palette. In the example above, the layer mask labeled ‘Curves (sky)’ is selected. After selecting the mask you can proceed in a variety of ways:

1. By using the Paint Bucket tool to entirely fill the mask with black (this will cancel its effect entirely). Alternatively, if you use 50% grey to fill the mask, it will block 50% of the layer.

The method that I use instead of the paint bucket is as follows:

a) Keystroke d -> sets the default color to white
b) Keystroke x -> set the new color to black
c) Alt Backspace -> fills the mask with black

While it might seem that three separate steps are longer, it is extremely fast for me. Using the paint bucket, you need to set the color to black anyway. That is my first two steps. Then, it is just alt backspace.

If this helps others, then great. :-)

Best regards,

comment by Lex at 08:47 AM on 22 September, 2007


I was an early Chromasia fan and qualified for your special lifetime membership, which was an incredible deal, thank you. These tutorials are way ahead of the competition for clarity, applicability, attention to detail and quality of writing; a first class tutorial in every way.

You asked for constructive criticism; I can think of only two minor things:
1) When you provide links to previous tutorials as a reference, I would personally prefer the link to pop up in a new (smaller) window, that way I can reference both at the same time and also I don't need to bother with backwards buttons to return to where I was.
2) The Quicktime movies are very good; simple, clear and not too long. However the microphone seems to be particularly sensitive to s's and ch's, there is no difficulty in understanding every word you say but (as a perfectionist) maybe you could iron this out in the future.

On another note, I am interested to know how long it took you to construct the mask for your famous kite on the beach shot? More or less than an hour? Is it just a case of selecting as much as possible with the magic wand (or even lasso) and then painstakingly selecting any outstanding part with a fine paintbrush - and is that done at the individual pixel level on full magnification? I seems to be a painstaking process but one that yields wonderful results; are there any tips you can share for creating complicated masks, such as the kite?

Many thanks, your hard work is very much appreciated.


comment by Patty Adams at 01:32 PM on 2 October, 2007

This is a fantastic tutorial and as already stated by others its great having the layered files to see the effects as they are developed. My stumbling point in the past has been creativity and this has given me something to chew on. Can't wait to get the next ones! Fantastic work. Other tutorials I've found have been too easy or too hard and this takes me through the transition to the next level up and some really fantastic potential.

Patty Adams Perth Australia

comment by Stephen at 04:20 PM on 15 November, 2007

Lex: hold down command or control when clicking on a link to open it in a new window/tab.

comment by Tim Vailoces at 04:56 PM on 6 September, 2008

I just reread the tutorial, they are really of such a great value!!!

comment by Dave Cheatham at 08:31 PM on 4 October, 2008

I really cant read staring at a screen..I need a this stuff. Awesome...I like to read on the plane or study over and over...

comment by Lee at 03:07 AM on 10 October, 2008

Another good tutorial!

One suggestion I have for the poor English photographers coping with grey skies - move to sunny climes and the skies will improve dramatically (don't take it to heart too much just immigrate to Australia and see the difference). But Hey!...Grey can look good sometimes.


comment by djn1 at 07:46 AM on 10 October, 2008

Lee: we do get the occasional sunny day in the UK, they're just few and far between :-)

comment by simonGman at 11:05 PM on 9 March, 2009

Love it, clear and simple!


comment by klaus at 06:20 PM on 23 December, 2009

just signed up for an annual subscription and read through this tutorial. Very good stuff and good value for money. Looking forwards to working my way through the other and upcoming tutorials. I agree with the above, pdf versions in addition to the online version would be great for quick consultations and so forth

comment by ShutterRunner at 05:02 PM on 8 June, 2010

One question... In the PSD there is a vignette layer. This seems pretty straight forward, it is a curves adjustment layer with the midtones darkened. However, the layer mask is a rectangle gradient. I have tried a few different ways to reproduce this but I can't! How do you make a rectangle gradient like that?

comment by djn1 at 10:39 AM on 9 June, 2010

ShutterRunner: Take a look at the following section of the Masking: part one tutorial ...

comment by Kevin M, Roddy at 10:46 PM on 18 November, 2010

I found this tutorial very helpful though there is still a lot to digest (especially the latter part). I did experiment with some of the masking techniques to turn this:

Into this:

After going through the tutorial I found I was comfortable taking risks with masking specific areas and adjusting others. I still have to work on improving the sky. I think my mild form of color blindness makes me cautious, but hey, if it looks good to me, I guess that's all that really counts.

comment by djn1 at 10:49 AM on 19 November, 2010

Hi Kevin,

I think your image looks good, but I'd be tempted to try and retain a bit of the detail in the building, i.e. it's quite textured in the original but almost blown out in your final version. Other than that though, I think it looks good :)

comment by Kevin M. Roddy at 08:27 PM on 21 November, 2010

Thanks Dave. I agree with your analysis of my final version. It is sometimes easier to create more dramatic results that lose some of the subtleties that are possible. If you are so inclined, you are welcome to play with the original to show me what is possible (and to make me realize how much I've yet to learn).

comment by Kevin M. Roddy at 03:39 AM on 22 November, 2010

I continue to learn from this tutorial. Before your tutorial I would not have known how to fix this:

Your tutorial helped me to improve it:


comment by djn1 at 08:13 AM on 22 November, 2010

Kevin: other than the very bright area of sky (top-left) that looks great, and it's a massive improvement on the original.

comment by Kevin M. Roddy at 12:38 PM on 22 November, 2010

Dave: Thanks. Would there have been a way to get back the details in the blown out part of the sky? I'm guessing that data is completely lost, but perhaps you think differently.

comment by djn1 at 01:09 PM on 22 November, 2010

Without seeing the original RAW file it's difficult to be certain, but I suspect that it's probably too overexposed to recover the detail. When one of two channels are clipped the Recovery slider in Camera Raw can do a good job of reconstructing the highlight detail. In this case though it looks like all three channels are probably clipped so while you could probably recover quite a bit of detail I doubt you'd be able to recover all of it. Try it though. Open your RAW file and drag the Recovery slider all the way to the right. Oh, and let me know how you get on.

comment by Kevin M. Roddy at 04:11 PM on 22 November, 2010

Thanks for the suggested Recovery method. The original was a jpeg (I'm now shooting mostly in RAW), but I could still see a difference using Recovery on it:

While it can't recover every detail I can see a difference that makes a difference.

Thank you for taking the time to respond and the recommendation.