How to Boost Blue Skies in Photoshop


Image by Rosan Harmens

If you’ve ever wondered how pro shooters get those deep, dark skies in their shots, this tutorial is for you. We’re going to show you how to get rich skies full of contrast, using the Luminosity Blending Mode.

When you shoot a landscape shot, you often find that the land is well exposed, the sky is overexposed. The image you’ve captured doesn’t do justice the rich, blue sky that you saw when you looked at the scene.

The reason for this is that the human eye, with a little help from the brain, is able to see a larger dynamic range than a camera can capture. Your camera can often expose for the land, or the sky, but usually not both at once. However, as long as there’s a trace of blue remaining in the sky, the shot can be salvaged.

Read on to find out how it’s done in three quick steps.

Image by Annie Spratt

Step 1

Open your shot in Photoshop and then click on the Create new fill or adjustment layer icon, which is the half-dark, half-light circle at the bottom of the Layers Panel. From the dropdown menu, select Black & White.

Open a shot with some blues in the sky that can be boosted

A Black & White Adjustment Layer will appear in the Layers Panel, above the Background Layer. Change the Blending Mode of this new Layer by clicking on where it says Normal in the Layers Panel. From the dropdown menu, select Luminosity. This will ensure that the black and white adjustment Layer will affect the luminosity (which is like brightness) of the image.

Create a Black & White Adjustment Layer set to the Luminosity Blending Mode

Step 2

In the Properties Panel, you’ll see RedsYellowsGreensCyansBlues and Magentas sliders. To darken the sky, drag the Cyans and Blues sliders to the left. For this image, the values were -83 and -172, respectively.

To boost any foliage in your shot, drag the Yellows and Greens sliders to the right. To boost any red roses or pink cherry blossom petals, drag the Reds and Magentas sliders to the right. Tweak the sliders until you have the sky and land in balance.

Replace the lost Vibrance and Saturation

Step 3

The more you alter the luminosity of a colour group, the more it loses saturation. You can restore this lost colour, by going back to the Create new fill or adjustment layer icon. This time, select Vibrance from the dropdown menu.

In the Adjustment Layer’s Properties, you’ll see two sliders. Vibrance is designed to increase perceived saturation without causing colours to distort. It also protects skin tones. You can use this slider fairly liberally. Saturation is a stronger effect that can result in distortion and unnatural colours, so you should use this one with some caution.

For our example image, we pushed the luminosity a long way, so we restored +67 Vibrance and +53 Saturation. However, these are very high values and you’ll usually be able to restore your colours without pushing the sliders this far.

Image by Karsten Wurth

Image by Thomas Somme