How to Fix Blown Out Skies in Photoshop

Getting back details from blown out highlights is something that we photographers battle with sometimes. The technique is often an exercise of trial and error. But photographer Blake Rudis explains one method he uses to successfully fix blown out skies:

  1. Ensure that the swatch colors are set to default.
  2. Create a new layer and fill it up with 50% gray. You need something in the layer to be able to work with it.
  3. Go to Filter > Render > Clouds.

how to add details to blown out clouds

  1. Go to Layer Style to change the blending option of the cloud layer. You have to make sure the new cloud layer does not affect anything that is middle gray and or dark in the image. This is done by dragging the ‘Underlying Layer’ slider back and forth and setting a threshold. Hold the Alt key to set the other point of the threshold.
retrieve add details to cloud

Add a blending option to the cloud layer.

  1. This step depends on the specific image. The image Rudis was working on had some hard edges around the highlights after Step 4, so he adjusted the opacity of the layer to blend it in.
  2. Go back to the blending options and make a color overlay for the adjustment layer. Choose a color that sticks out: magenta or green. This is so that you can see the changes that you’ll make next.
color overlay adjustment layer

Color overlay for the adjustment layer

  1. Once you have the magenta overlay and know the areas where the changes are being affected, you can paint over the areas that you don’t want to be affected. Then, simply turn off the color overlay effect.
color overlay adjustment layer

Paint over the areas that don’t need changes.

The advantage of the cloud effect being a stand-alone layer is that you can pretty much do anything that you want with it. For example, you can add the Gaussian Blur filter to make the cloud details a bit obscured. Alternatively, you can create a new curves adjustment layer to add or reduce details.

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