If the skies in your images need a boost, check out this video. We demonstrate how to improve washed-out daytime skies in photos. Learn how to recover highlights in clouds, balance adjustments between the sky and the foreground, and more.
Photos: Wil Moore
When shooting a subject outdoors, the camera tends to overexpose the sky, which can wash out all the rich details in the clouds. If only the sky is overexposed in the shot, it leads to the unique challenge where edits are only needed on some areas of the image.
How to enhance skies
To enhance skies, consider the order of which you adjust the sliders. The recommended workflow is to start making adjustments at the top of the Basic panel and work your way down. Some adjustments you make can affect other controls.
The histogram is useful for monitoring brightness levels during editing. It will update in real-time as you make adjustments. Clipping warnings indicate that you are losing detail. Toggle the highlight clipping warning on and off with F8 on the keyboard or by clicking the arrow in the top-right corner of the histogram.
Highlights & Whites
The Exposure slider controls the tones in the middle of the histogram. The Highlights and Whites sliders control the two adjacent segments toward the brighter end. Lowering both highlights and whites will reduce the contrast in the brighter areas of the image, resulting in an extremely flat look. To enhance detail, a balance between these sliders is needed.
Separating sky enhancements
Applying edits globally is a quick way to make adjustments. This simply means that editing changes affect the entire photo. In this image, the sky specifically needs adjustments that the rest of the image does not. Gradients are a simple way to separate adjustments to only affect the foreground or background, and they are fully-adjustable.
The Half-Planar gradient option has smooth fall off in one direction from the centerline. It’s perfect for images with strong linear components, like this horizon. Note the ‘On New Layer’ checkbox, which creates a new layer each time a new gradient type is selected. Once the gradient is placed into position, editing adjustments to reduce Exposure, or add Clarity or Vibrance made on this layer will only be applied to the sky.