I once thought blown out clouds were a deal breaker… not anymore!
There have been many landscape photos that have found their way to my trash can on my computer because I pushed the histogram a bit too far to the highlights and ruined the picture. It can be challenging sometimes to balance a good histogram when the scene offers a full gamut of dynamic range. You want to expose for the highlights, but run the risk of introducing noise in the shadows when you recover the exposure. On the flip side, you want nice clean shadows with sufficient detail, but then you risk blowing out cloud detail.
You may be thinking that those challenges are a thing of the past with our high-end sensors and HDR processing, but the struggle is still real! The problem with blown out clouds is that the viewer is going to go straight to the areas that are the lightest. Big blotchy white spots on our photo, ironically, are a black hole for the viewer’s attention. We want to avoid those paper white monoliths at all costs, but how do we recover detail where there is none?
You don’t, is the answer. You cannot recover detail in a photograph if the detail is not there, to begin with. However, you can add structure with a little bit of creative problem solving.
In today’s free tutorial I am going to show you a new method I developed by accident when trying to create an artistic effect Action. Ever wonder why I harp on experimentation so much?
The basic concept is to render some clouds in Photoshop and blend them in with Blend If. Say goodbye to blown out clouds! Here is the list, or skip to the bottom of the page and watch the tutorial and download the Action!
- Before you begin, reset your brush swatches to the default colors by pressing ‘D’
- Create a New Layer
- Fill the new layer with 50% gray; it needs some data there to render the clouds, 50% gray is arbitrary really.
- With the new layer selected, go to Filter > Render > Clouds
- Your image should be all clouds now.
- Double click next to the new layers text to go into the layer options.
- Change the blend if settings so that the shadows through the mid tones are protected, then press all to split and feather the Blend If settings.
- Lower the Opacity of the layer to around 15 – 25%
- Add a mask to the layer and paint out the areas you do not want to be affected by the cloud detail.
- Lastly, experiment with Blurs and Blending Options. Also, try clipping a Curves adjustment layer above the cloud layer to modify the contrast.