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By Jan Kabili |

6 steps for creating dramatic skies in Lightroom

Creating dramatic skies with Adobe Lightroom

A dramatic sky can make a photograph look great. Lightroom’s Graduated Filter tool offers a quick way to enhance a sky without affecting the rest of the photo.

1. Select the Graduated Filter tool in the tool strip in the Develop module, or press M on your keyboard. In the dropdown Graduated Filter panel, double click Effect to set all the controls to their defaults.

2. Drag the Exposure slider in the panel to the left. This step is optional, but it’s a good way to see where a graduated filter is going to affect your photo.


3. Create a graduated filter by clicking in the sky where it needs the strongest correction, holding the shift key to keep the gradient straight, and dragging down. This draws a dark to light gradient in the sky.

The filter is represented by a black pin and three white lines. The effects you apply with this filter will be full-strength above the top white line, gradually fade out between the top and bottom lines, and disappear below the bottom line. The darkest parts of this gradient show you where the filter’s effects will be strongest.

4. You can change the position, size, and rotation of the graduated filter on your sky.

• To reposition the gradient, click the black pin and drag up or down. • To resize the gradient, click the top or bottom white line and drag up or down. Tip: To adjust the top and bottom lines together without affecting the middle line, hold the Option (Win: Alt) key and drag the top or bottom line. • To rotate the filter to match your horizon line, hover over the middle line until the cursor changes to a double-pointed, curved arrow; then click and drag. Tip: You’ll have the most control over rotation if you click away from the pin.

5. Set the graduated filter sliders to enhance your sky. There is no single recipe that will fix every sky, so experiment with these ideas in the Graduated Filter panel, after setting Exposure back to 0:


• If the foreground is correctly exposed, often the sky will look too pale. To darken the sky, drag the Exposure slider to the left. To make color in the sky more intense, drag Saturation to the right. • To bring out dramatic details in clouds, drag Highlights to the left, Clarity to the right, and Contrast slightly to the right. • A bright blue sky often displays digital noise. Zoom in to 100 percent to evaluate the noise in the sky. Drag the Noise slider to the right to reduce that noise. • Add a color tint to a sky with the Temperature or Tint sliders, or by choosing a color from the Color field. • Even out the lighting in a sky by clicking New in the Graduated Filter panel to add another Graduated Filter, and dragging its sliders.

6. Toggle the switch at the bottom of the Graduated Filter panel for a before and after view of all your graduated filters.

To see the Graduated Filter tool in action, watch my lynda.com courses Enhancing a Landscape Photo with Lightroom, and Up and Running with Lightroom 4.

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