Fixing An Overexposed Sky: Photography Friday, Week 9

If you'd like to get caught up on previous Photography Friday topics, you can do so by clicking here.

Photography is all about light.

The aperture, shutter speed, and ISO all combine to determine how light affects your photos.  In a perfect world, we, as photographers, would have all of our settings perfect for every photo we take.  In reality, this doesn't always happen.

I'd like to point out, this also doesn't happen when you shoot in Automatic and the camera does all the thinking for you.  I'm not going into all the reasons why today because I'd like to keep today's post at a reasonable length.

It's common with outdoor photography to discover the camera has exposed for the foreground in your photo, and left the sky overexposed as a result.

There are several solutions for this, but I'm only going to discuss one very simple, after-the-fact, remedy today.  Please remember there are several ways to avoid an overexposed sky in the first place, or to correct it later.  Today I'm just discussing what I consider to be the easiest, quick-fix once it has already happened.  This quick-fix might not be appropriate for every photo you take, but I think it will help you with many of your photos.

First of all, let's take a look at this photo:

This photo was taken by one of my readers, Di.

She took this photo after reading about leading lines during Photography Friday, Week 5.  Di posted it on her blog as an example of what she had learned about leading lines here on Twenty Four At Heart.  There are several things "right" about this photo.  However, as you can see the sky is overexposed and washed out.  This photo was taken on Automatic.  The camera exposed for the foreground, but that meant the sky turned out almost colorless. 

Di and I discussed this photo via email and she was kind enough to let me use it as an example here today.

If you enjoy digital photography, I hope you've purchased a version of Photoshop so you can make the most of your photos.  For most of you, Photoshop Elements is all you'll ever need.  It's available for under $100 which, when you consider the cost of your camera and lenses, is a reasonable investment.  I use Photoshop CS4, but for today's conversation I'm going to refer only to Elements.  (And by the way, iPhoto and Picnik do not come close to Elements for post-production work.  Please treat yourself to Elements, you won't be sorry!)  

All right then, the first thing I did was pull Di's photo into Elements.

The second thing I did, was open one of my photos with a properly exposed sky in Elements also.  Yes, you can have multiple photos open in Elements at the same time.

This is what my screen looked like with both photos open at once:


The next thing I did was take a look at those two little white boxes on the bottom left side of the screen.  


The box on top determines foreground color and I certainly did not want to use the color white to fix the sky in Di's photo.

To change the color of this box, I moved my cursor over the box and clicked on it.  As you do this, you will notice the cursor becomes shaped like a medicine dropper.


The medicine dropper can be used to pick up colors.  To do this, I moved the cursor over to the properly exposed sky in my photo and clicked on the blue sky.  I then clicked "ok" in the color box which opened on my screen to confirm the change.  Instantly, the top "white" box became the exact color of the sky in the properly exposed photo. 


[Ideally, you would create a new layer to fix your sky (Command J on a Mac), but if you don't know how to work with layers yet, you don't have to.]

Next, type the letter "G."  G stands for graduated filter.  When you type the letter G, you will see a box that looks like this in the upper right part of your screen:


If the box on your screen doesn't look like the one pictured above, use the arrows on either side of the box to arrow up and/or down until it does.   

Press and hold the shift key and then click at the top (and in the center) of the photo with the underexposed sky, dragging the cursor straight down to just above the horizon line as you do so.


(Sorry that last photo is a little crooked.  It's not easy to put together one of these "lessons" one-armed.  Also, I kept dragging the cursor down after taking this photo so the line came down closer to the horizon.)  

Di's photo with the overexposed sky now looks like this:


Let's do a side-by-side, before and after, comparison of this photo.


I think you'll agree that the "After" photo looks a lot better than the "Before" photo. 

If you've put your graduated filter on a separate layer, you can adjust its opacity which is very helpful.  In fact, there's a lot of tips and tricks you can learn using graduated filters as you become more comfortable with them.

I know this probably seems a bit overwhelming at first.  Once you've tried this a couple times you'll realize how very simple it actually is.  An overexposed sky can be corrected in just a matter of seconds once you get the hang of it.

Thank you again to Di for allowing me to use one of her photos as an example today.

I wish all of you an enjoyable weekend with your cameras.  I hope you'll take the time to share some of your photos with the rest of us by uploading them to our Flickr group.

© Twenty Four At Heart

5 Responses to “Fixing An Overexposed Sky: Photography Friday, Week 9”

  1. Linda

    Sweet tip! And in terms I can understand. Thanks 24 & Di, this will help me quite a bit!

  2. Ginger

    I can’t WAIT to get home from work and try this. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I haven’t got Photoshop (any version.) I do have but I’m uncertain if I can do this. I’ll let you know when I get home. I rarely do any touch up on my photos. In fact, about all I’ve learned to do is crop, and change them to black and white. So I’ve got MUCH to learn!

  3. John

    Doesn’t look like an overexposed sky, just looks like a grey overcast sky

  4. John P

    Why on earth are you taking photographs of your screen and not just doing screen dumps?


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