Feb 16, 2017

How to Create a Dramatic Sky in Photoshop

How to Create a Dramatic Sky in Photoshop

Learn how to enhance any sky by making it more dramatic in Photoshop!

Download the Sample Images

How to Create a Selection from the Sky

The first step in creating a dramatic sky in Photoshop is to create a selection out of the sky, so only the sky is altered, not the rest of the image.

Use the Magic Wand Tool to select the sky. If the Magic Wand Tool doesn’t select enough area, bring the Tolerance higher, if it is selecting too much, lower the Tolerance. In this episode, we use a tolerance of about 30.

Chances are, your entire sky will not be selected with one click of the Magic Wand Tool. To add to an active selection, hold down the SHIFT Key and click another area. You will see a ‘+’ icon next to the Magic Wand Tool Cursor.

To remove an area from a selection, hold the ALT/OPTN key and click on a selected area. You will see a ‘-‘ icon next to the Magic Wand Tool Cursor.

The goal here is to select the entire sky without selecting areas like trees, people, or buildings.

Load the Selection in a Group Layer Mask

After creating a selection of the sky with the Magic Wand Tool, create a new layer and group the layer with itself by pressing CTRL/CMD+G. Then select the group and click on the layer mask icon. The active selection will be translated into a layer mask, revealing only the area that was once the selection.

The reason for making this Group Layer Mask is to restrict any layers inside the group to only show up over the sky. Any layer you place inside this group is defined by the layer mask of the group.

How to Add Dramatic Highlights and Shadows

They key to making skies more dramatic in Photoshop is to enhance the detail that is already present in the photo.

The techniques used in this tutorial will apply to any sky!

Let’s start by enhancing the dark areas of the sky. Create a new layer inside the group with the sky layer mask. Select black as the foreground color and use a large soft-edged brush to paint over the dark areas in the sky.

Next, open the Blending Options for the Layer by going to ‘Layer – Layer Style – Blending Options.’ Change the blending mode to either ‘Multiply,’ ‘Soft Light’ or ‘Overlay’.

At the bottom of the Blending Options Panel, there are two sliders labeled ‘Blend If,’ we are going to use the ‘Underlying Layer’ Slider. Hold ALT/OPTN and click on the white arrow on the right-hand side of the slider and drag to the left. This will separate out the two end points and allow for a smoother transition. By sliding the arrows from the right side, you are telling Photoshop to make this layer invisible where the underlying layer is lighter.

To put it all together, the black you painted on the layer is now only visible in the darker areas of the sky, and it is making those areas even darker.

When it comes to adding highlights, simply do the exact opposite.

Paint white over the light areas in the sky, change the blending mode to Soft Light, Overlay, or Screen and click on the black arrows on the left-hand side of the Underlying Layer slider in the Blend If the screen and drag the arrow to the right.

To add some color to the sky, simply do the same thing, only paint with color instead of black and white!

Download the Sample Images


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  • Rocadero

    Great tutorial (as usual), which opens the door for many possibilities. I love the idea of creating a group for the sky effects. I added a couple of Gradient Adjustment layers to the group and used the Blend-If sliders to get some interesting color shifts in the darks and lights of the sky.
    As a way to merge the foreground with the sky, I added more dust from the bike using the Fog brush (that you gave us from a few tutorials ago) on a new layer (sampling the dust color). Thanks for this great technique Aaron!

    Photoshop Tutorials: How to Create a Dramatic Sky in Photoshop

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    Korhan Çamurdan

    what do u think about this retouch sir?Your thinks is importent for me.couse that u are a master.!

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    Jerome Hart


    Thank you for this tutorial. These are effects that I have been working with for years cluging around with various filters etc. This makes it so strait forward and simple. I love it!

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    Paul Grossman

    How do you ensure a natural looking line between the sky and the grass? How do ensure that all the grass is on one side of the selection and all the sky on the other? Couldn’t most of what you achieved with the “as if” blending have been quickly achieved by selecting the sky and then adjusting the contrast and exposure?

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      Hi Paul,

      I had the same question…i think youcan use the gaussian blur filter?

  • user image

    Aaron; trying to learn what some call, complex selections, removing background from transparent objects, glass, water etc. Can you do a video showing how to do this?

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    Peter Wydmuch

    As usual great tutorial, entertaining, your zeal regarding photoshop is infectious. Your tutorials give a feeling that they are 1 on 1

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    Brian Springett

    As usual, a fantastic video. I only have Elements 14 but some things I can adapt. You teach in an easy relaxed manner, with not to much tech or jargon. Keep up the excellent work.

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    Deb Stratmann

    Help!!! When I add layer 4 and use the radial gradient tool it turns my picture black and applies it to black and I can’t see the picture to place it correctly. Any ideas what I am doing wrong?