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Landscapes: creating dramatic skies (further information)

Landscapes: creating dramatic skies

In one sense, creating a dramatic sky, assuming that the sky in your photograph isn’t entirely flat and lifeless to begin with, is relatively straightforward: you just need to expand its tonal range, boost the saturation, and so on. A relatively simple job for the Curves tool. Typically though, any shot that includes the sky will also include some other feature – the ground, a person, a tree, and so on – and invariably, the sky will be considerably brighter than this feature. If we simply adjust the image to make the sky more dramatic we will probably fail to produce a good image, and fail quite miserably. In this sense then, creating a dramatic sky must be seen as part of a larger task; i.e. creating an image with a dramatic sky, where both the sky the ground, or any other features, combine to create a well-crafted and compelling image.

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 using the Curves tool to both alter the colour balance of a sky and tone an image.

The 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

This tutorial contains 7115 words and 90 illustrative images and screen grabs, and has received 44 comments.

Photoshop files included with this tutorial

Each of our tutorials is based around a series of Photoshop files, at the resolution originally posted on chromasia, and each contains all the original adjustment layers I used to create the final image. The ones that are included in this tutorial, and a brief description of how each one will be used, are listed below – the ‘before’ version on the left, the ‘after’ version on the right. Each of these files can be downloaded after you subscribe.

How to get from this … to this
Image 1
In this example I will show you how to use the Selective Color tool to darken a sky.
Image 2
In this example I will show you how to use the Curves tool and gradient masks to ‘balance’ the luminosity between the foreground and the sky.
Image 3
In this example we will blend two different exposures of the same image. We will also use the Curves tool to adjust the contrast of both the foreground and the sky, the Channel Mixer to desaturate the image, and the Curves tool to tone the final result.
Image 4
The final image in this tutorial demonstrates how you can creatively colourise an otherwise dull and grey sky using a very precise mask and both the Curves tool and the Hue/Saturation tool. The version shown here was toned using the Curves tool.
What our subscribers have said about this tutorial

"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."


"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."


"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."


"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."


Content overview (the rollover graphics and embedded videos are not illustrated)
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HomeOnline tutorials44 comments 
Landscapes: creating dramatic skies (further information)