There are several Lightroom sky fixes you can use to enhance the appearance of your photos. Lightroom is a pro at recovering the blues in not-quite-completely blown out skies. It can also fake a blue sky where no blue existed before. It can be hard to know, at first, whether the sky is nearly blown out or completely white, so use these tips until you’re able to recognize each situation for yourself.
The image below is a perfect example of a sky that has enough blue for Lightroom to recover easily.
How do I know Lightroom can recover the blues in the sky?
- The photo is Raw. Raw photos have more leeway for repairing blown out skies.
- Some blue is visible in the sky. It’s very pale, but it’s there. Can you see it?
- The RGB numbers tell us this sky isn’t completely overexposed. You can see them under the histogram in the screenshot above. My measurement point was in one of the brightest areas of the sky, just under the arrow.
Let’s talk about those numbers some. They currently read:
- Red: 91.8%
- Green: 92.6%
- Blue: 95.1%
For printing purposes, anything that measures over 94% is blown out and needs to be fixed if possible. However, if you rely on Lightroom’s Highlights Clipping Warning, 94% isn’t high enough to trigger that red overlay.
According to those numbers, the blue channel might be blowing out. More importantly, the blue number is higher than red & green. That means that blue is the predominant color and there is some blue to be recovered. That’s good news!
Given that we have recoverable blue, this is a simple fix. Using the HSL panel, I went to the Luminance sub-panel and grabbed the target tool. Placing the cursor over the sky, I clicked and dragged down to darken the colors that LR detected under my cursor. For this image, it was mostly Blue with some Aqua thrown in.
I repeated this procedure on the Saturation tab, dragging up instead of down to increase Saturation.
The thing to know about this edit is that the target tool identifies the colors under it and adjusts them globally. Since the target tool identified blue in the sky, it darkened and saturated all blues in the image. This global adjustment can be a problem depending on the clothing of your subject or other items in the foreground.
For this photo, there weren’t any blues other than the sky that made it into my final image, so the HSL panel was a quick & easy solution. I brightened the Shadows and darkened the grass using Lightroom, then took the image to Elements to remove the building. This is my final edit:
Non-Global Lightroom Sky Fixes
To avoid the global blue darkening that happens when using the HSL panel, you can use one of the local tools in Lightroom.
The Graduated Filter allows you to apply a top to bottom gradient of darkening. Reducing Exposure and Highlights will bring out any blue that can be recovered.
And, if you have LR 6 or LR CC, you can use the brush to erase the filter from certain parts of the photo. I removed the filter from my daughter and the building in this image.
Here is the edit without the mask overlay:
Or, rather than the graduated filter, you can use the local adjustment brush to paint on darkened exposure exactly where you want it. You’d use the same settings as pictured above for the graduated filter, but your would paint on the adjustment exactly where you want it.
As long as Lightroom is able to detect some blue in the image, you only need to darken Exposure & Highlights to bring it out. Increase Saturation to give it an extra pop.
Lightroom Sky Replacement
Compare the image above to the next one.
In the image above, Red, Green & Blue measure within .2% of each other. They are essentially equivalent, and when Red, Green & Blue are equal, you have Gray. And the sky probably was gray when we took this photo due to a storm building up. That means that the the image contains no blue highlights to be recovered. Also, these numbers are higher than the measurements in the prior photo – that means that this sky is “more blown.”
But we can still use Lightroom to fake a blue sky!
To enhance this sky in Lightroom, I used the Local Adjustment Brush. Darkening both Exposure & Highlights brought out some clouds that weren’t visible in the original. The sky is still gray, and that’s realistic.
However, after you darken the pixels, you can add a color overlay using the color box on Lightroom’s adjustment brush. This color overlay doesn’t work if the pixels are blown. In other words, if I hadn’t darkened Highlights & Exposure, the sky in this image wouldn’t have changed much.
In addition to or in place of the color box, if you have a later version of Lightroom you can use the Temp slider to add blue.
My final edit is here:
To summarize, your Lightroom sky fixes are:
- Darken the blues in the image globally using the HSL panel.
- Use the graduated filter or local adjustment brush to darken Exposure & Highlights. Increase Saturation for an extra pop.
- If the sky is completely blown out or gray, add blue using the Color Box or the Temp slider.