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Even when I was capturing this image, although the key subject is the abandoned farm house, I was paying a lot of attention to the sky. The nice puffy clouds were really quite dramatic and a wonderful sight to see. And even as I started processing the image, I really focused on the clouds, perhaps to some extent even more than the farm house. And now as I've continued optimizing my image, I really feel that that sky could use a little bit more of a boost. I think that we need a little bit more contrast in the sky in order to help those clouds really stand out to add some drama to that sky. Before that I'll apply a Curves Adjustment, but I need a Curves Adjustment that will only effect the sky.
In this case I think I can simply paint the adjustment into the sky. Because the adjustment will be relatively subtle and I can paint with a soft edge brush, so that the adjustment blends in to the rest of the photo. Let's start off by creating a Curves Adjustment layer I'll click on the Add Adjustment Layer button at the bottom of the Layers panel and from the Pop-up menu I'll choose curves. I'll start off by applying an exaggerated adjustment. Note that I'm adding a much stronger adjustment then I really would apply. But I need an adjustment that's very clearly visible so that it will be easier to paint the effect into the photo. I can then come back and refine my adjustment.
But also notice that the adjustment is affecting the entire image. And that's because Adjustment layers may come with a Layer mask by default but that Layer mask is filled with white which means by default, any Adjustment layer in Photoshop is going to affect the entire image. In this case, I want the adjustment to only effect the sky. In the context of a Layer mask, black blocks and white reveals. So, for my curves adjustment, white will reveal the adjustment, so I want white in the sky, and black will block the adjustment, and so I want the foreground areas to be black. I actually tend to prefer to paint the adjustment into the image rather than to paint the adjustment away from certain areas of the photo. So I'm gong to invert my Layer mask from white to black. With the Layer mask active, I'll simply choose Image > Adjustments, and then Invert.
That will invert the Layer mask so that it is now completely black, or blocking the curves adjustment from the entirety of the image. I'll then choose the Brush tool from the tool box and I'll make sure that I'm working with a Soft Edged brush, the hardness should be set to 0%. I'll use the normal blend mode and the opacity at 100%. I'll then move my mouse out over the image and I'll adjust the brush size as needed using the left square bracket key to reduce the brush size and the right square bracket key to increase the brush size.
I'll then press the letter D on the keyboard to make sure that the colors are their defaults in the case of working on a Layer mask the default colors are white for the foreground color and black for the background color. But I can alwasy press the letter X to exchange foreground and background colors. But now I have a Layer mask filled with black and I want to reveal the adjustment in the sky so I want to apint with white on the sky. When I do so you'll see that the adjustment becomes effective in the sky and only in the areas that I actually paint.
So I'm literally just painting the adjustment into the image. I'll continue painting into the sky, and I can also reduce the brush size and paint a little bit closer to the house and to the horizon line. But keep in mind that I'm using a Soft Edge brush so that painting will blend in to the surrrounding areas. I'll then check my mask just to make sure that my painting was accurate. I'll hold the Alt key on windows or the Option key on Macintosh. And then click on the Thumbnail for the Layer mask associated with my Curves Adjustment layer, and then I can paint on any areas that I might have missed. I see along the top edge and at the top left and right corners, for example, I missed a little bit of the image, and so I'll go ahead and paint white there. But otherwise I think the Layer mask is looking to be in good shape, so I'll Alt or Option click on that Layer mask once again.
And then I'll click on the Thumbnail for my Curves Adjustments layer and I can refine my overall adjustment. You'll notice that that adjustment is only effecting the sky and I can fine-tune, I think, in this case a little bit of drama will serve the image very very well. Mostly just adding some density, adding contrast by darkening up the overall midtones within the sky portion of the photo. So I think right about there will work nicely. I can turn off the visibility for that Curves Adjustment layer to see the before version, which as you can see, appears a little bit washed out.
And then I can turn that Adjustment Layer back on in order to see the after version, the effect with a bit more contrast in those clouds. And of course, as needed, I can also refine that Layer mask. I notice for example as I toggle the display on and off, that at the left side of the horizon line I've darkened up that hillside just a little bit. So, I'll click on the layer mask for my Curves Adjustment layer, and then I'll make sure that I'm using the Brush tool with the foreground color set to black, so pressing X as needed to switch those colors. And then I'll reduce the brush size and paint with black to block the adjustment.
Just in that hillside area over on the left side of the image. So, there's still the shadow from the clouds on the distant hills, but I'm not adding any fake shadows on to the hillside either. But I think at that point the image is looking significantly better. We have a targeted adjustment that is helping to add some contrast and drama to just the sky within the photo helping the balance out the overall tonality in the image.
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