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Tuesday, May 1, 2007

The Sky Solution


Using Photoshop to repair problem skies when the light is too contrasty for your film or sensor to record properly

The Sky Solution

One of the great challenges I find with photography is the inability to capture the full range of tones and colors I see in a scene. My camera just isn’t capable of doing that. This Photoshop technique allows you to repair an image that didn’t record the original scene correctly, turning a throwaway shot into a photo suitable for framing.

Machu Picchu is one of the world’s extraordinary photographic locations—the ruins of an Aztec village rest on top of very steep mountains in central Peru. The ruins were only discovered about 100 years ago, due to the fact that they’re located in a remote area and because the lush, almost jungle-like vegetation had covered them.

The Sky SolutionSunset is a magical time at Machu Picchu, though you never can predict the conditions. There was golden light coming from the sunset in the image shown here, but the contrast range was too great for my camera. I knew I could get either the bright sky or the ruins properly exposed, so I went for the ruins.

I’ve always liked this shot, but the bright sky at the upper left disappointed me. That certainly wasn’t what I saw at Machu Picchu. To repair an image that didn’t record the scene properly, follow these Photoshop steps.

1 Prep the image as best you can from the start. I set my blacks, did little to the whites (they were already blown out in the sky), adjusted midtones for the best detail, corrected color and so forth. The result is seen in the "before" photo (before the sky is fixed).

The Sky Solution2 Choose a color for the sky. Open the Color Picker by double-clicking the foreground color (the top color square at the bottom of the Toolbox bar), then move the dialog box so the active color is visually near something lit by the late sun—this is shown in the detail shot where the Color Picker sits near the llamas. I wanted the color I picked to make sense—that it could cast the light seen on the llamas. Pick the color needed by moving the sliders on the central color spectrum, then drag the circle in the large color area to the color you want.








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