Punch Up the Sky, the Sky’s the Limit

For You Photo Editing Aficionados…. the Ones that said Yes to my Poll….

Ever wonder how these dramatic skies are edited in Photoshop?

So cool, you wonder if they are real. Mine has always been authentic, but here is a quick and easy tip if you want a little help and a little dramatic cheat. The original below… not bad, but I could adjust the exposure a bit. Just the sky mind you is what we are after. No HDR here, that is another tip and trick.

The sky can be sharpened, but not like you might expect. If you use any of the sharpening tools on the whole image, everything is sharpened equally. Say you are OK with that which is on the ground, but not with that in the sky. I do not think my image needs a better sky, but let’s give it a try.

Well, you start with finding a sky filled with clouds. If you already did not expose for the clouds only, taking the foreground to black, try this.

Not bad, but a little bland foreground, but we can still use a little punch. I could add saturation and contrast, but let’s try sharpening. This is a quick and simple technique.

Start by duplicating the layer. Then on the duplicate, we go to Filter>Other>High Pass. We move the slider up until you start seeing high-definition in the clouds. I was at 20 px. If you want eye-popping definition, raise the slider to the right. Click OK.

Don’t worry that the foreground gets too sharpened. In this case it does not matter.

The next step seems counter intuitive, but trust me, we get the color back. Still on the High Pass layer, click Command or Control U to bring up and pull out the Saturation. I moved the Saturation slider to the left all the way. Now I have what looks like a gray layer.

Change the blending mode (top left corner drop down of the Layers Palette), of the High Pass Layer to either Overlay, Vivid Light, or Hard Light. I chose Overlay in this case. Now your color returns.

 Hard Light


Next we need the foreground back to the original. So I add a mask (radio button at bottom of Layers Palette, see image to the right) to the High Pass layer. This allows me to mask out the trees and remove the sharpening on them. It is most useful if you really ramped up the High Pass to say 90 px or more. Here is 250 px for comparison. Wowser. I prefer a bit more restraint.

You select a large, soft paint brush. Make sure the color is set to black, and brush the areas you want to remove the sharpening, in this case the trees and the grass.

Here we have the before and after.  Not a great difference, but anymore on a highly defined image gets really unnatural.


Before and After

Then we can further tweak it with adjustment layers to further enhance those light rays coming in from the upper left.

One very cool thing about Photoshop is there are many ways to get a similar result. This is just one of a couple I can show you.

I did not change the image drastically since I already had a pretty noticeable sky, but this works in a pinch for punch. Try the Wowser version for fun… or like my lead in image, take it wild and wavy.

I joined Sky Watch Friday. Take a look and click the icon above.


9 thoughts on “Punch Up the Sky, the Sky’s the Limit

  1. fascinating how this can be done…when I get some time to explore more I may purchase the software….I do a bit of editing in iPhoto on the Mac or in Picnik on the web but nothing this sophisticated…sorry i have not been around for about a week but am catching up reading all the posts I have missed…

  2. thank you Donna, I often hear about masks but have no idea what they are, now I must try this if my early version of elements has the tricks, Frances

  3. Wow…thanks for the PS lesson. It is amazing how you can edit pics with this program. I have PSE and am just getting to know how to use it. I love to use textures. I am torn about editing photos…it kind of takes away the challenge of getting the shot right to begin with.

  4. I appreciate the knowledge you have been imparting to us, and i love the outcome of your work. However, i am not a very patient person when it comes to editing, so i normally post photos directly from camera or just crop, resize and sometimes use picasa for saturation or sharpening. I am sure it is not as sophisticated as Photoshop, but at least i can understand its language quickly, haha! I love your comment in my post yesterday, they came in twos: from GWGT and GA, both from Donna. Thanks.

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