Saturday, March 8, 2008

Fixing an Overexposed Sky Tutorial

A great way to realistically fill in the blown out skies in photos, caused by overexposure.

Ever compose a great landscape shot only to realize that when you expose for the land, the sky becomes a pure white? This is a a common limitation photographers have to deal with when shooting landscapes in sunny conditions. You can either expose for the sky or the land? There are ways to tackle the problem: shoot in RAW or shoot multiple exposures and combine them later. But sometimes you just can't plan for these things. We all have a few otherwise great photos that suffer from pure white skies. Here's your opportunity to get those shots out and get them repaired.

Step 1: Open your photo. The exposure of the landscape is perfect, but the sky is so overexposed there is no detail whatsoever. We can't bring back detail that is not there, so we will recreate it. You will need some realistic sky blue colors to continue. You may sample blues from another photo of a sky.
Step 2: With the Lasso Tool draw a rough boundary around the whole sky (1). It doesn't have to be perfect, but you should avoid enclosing anything else that is white, like the waterfall, and you should make sure the selection is flush against the edges of the photo. See the image below to see how I drew my selection.
Now create a new layer (2) and name it Sky.
Step 3: Now we will narrow the selection down to just the sky.
In the Select menu, choose Color Range... The Color Range dialog opens up and allows you to select just by a specific color. Since overexposed areas are usually white, we want to select just the white sky. I start with a Fuzziness of 100 (3), but it can vary from photo to photo. Sample the sky color by clicking on the sky of your photo (4). You will see the preview in the Color Range dialog change to white where the sky is (5).
Step 4: When you click OK, you will see the selection move to fit the sky a lot better than before. If it doesn't, Undo, and try again with a different fuzziness or try sampling a different area of the sky. Yeah you could have just used the Magic Wand tool to select the sky, but this method tends to grab the sky more accurately, especially around the edges.
Step 5: Next, you will need to set your foreground and background colors to a light and a medium shade of blue. Two different shades of blue spanning across a sky provides a more realistic affect than a solid color. It's best to choose one medium shade of blue and one light. Switch the colors so the light shade is the foreground color.
To set your colors, make sure you have the provided blue color swatch or another photo of a sky open. Double click one of the swatches on your toolbar. Instead of using the color picker, click the color on the screen you want to sample, then click OK. Repeat for the next color.
Step 6:Pick the Gradient Tool on the toolbar. Set the options so the gradient mode is Foreground to Background color (6) and the method is Radial (7). A linear method works too, but I prefer the radial technique.
Step 7: With the Sky layer active and the sky still selected with the marquee, use the gradient tool to fill in the sky. Draw a line from point A to point B. This will paint in the gradient across the sky.
Step 8:Now that the sky is painted in, we need to refine the edges where the sky meets the mountains, so it doesn't look as fake.
With the Sky layer selected, press Ctrl-T to transform the blue sky. You want to drag the bottom handle just a small amount to make sure the bottom edge of the sky overlaps the top of the mountains slightly (8). Hit Enter to accept. and press Ctrl-D to clear any remaining selections.
Step 9:By stretching the sky, we are now slightly covering the tips of the mountains. Set the Sky layer's blending mode to Darken and the missing portions will return and the transition between real mountains and fake sky will be smooth.
Try experimenting with different sky colors.

1 comment:

Matt said...

You stole this from my website verbatim. Take it down or I sue you into oblivion.