How to Quickly Even Out the Sky in Post-Processing

by Venancio Guerra

If you have previously photographed outdoor scenes, you have probably come across images that have an uneven sky. It can happen when photographing landscapes with wide-angle lenses, and it can be particularly visible when using a polarizing filter. The latter cases can be quite difficult to deal with in post-processing, often resulting in failed attempts to save those images. Thankfully, there are some great post-processing tools available that can help. Today, we will take a look at how you can use Lightroom and Nik Software’s Viveza (now part of DxO) to quickly fix uneven skies in your images.

We will go through two case scenarios – one that has a relatively easy sky to fix, and one that is very difficult to fix due to the use of a polarizer. For the first case scenario, I will use Lightroom’s built-in Graduated Filter tool to take care of the problem. For the second case scenario, I will use Nik Software Viveza as a plugin to Photoshop (but you can launch the tool via Lightroom as a plugin, or you can also run it directly without any other software).

Please note that while Nik Software can still be downloaded and used for free (you can find the previous free distribution by Google on the Internet), DxO bought the software from Google and now actively maintains it. If you would like to get the latest version of Nik Collection that is fully compatible with all Lightroom and Photoshop versions, you can get it from DxO.

Fixing Uneven Sky with Lightroom

The first step in fixing an uneven sky is to check and see if it can be easily fixed in Lightroom by using the Graduated Filter. Whenever the sky has a gradual transition that makes only one part of it look darker than the other one, you should be able to easily take care of the problem without resorting to any other software. Let’s take a look at the first photograph and figure out what needs to be done:

As you can see, the left side of the image appears noticeably darker when compared to the right side. Sometimes this can happen when using a polarizing filter, or sometimes the sky is simply brighter on one side due to its proximity to the sun. Fixing such issues is quite easy with the help of the Graduated Filter in Lightroom. All you have to do, is pick the tool, then slide it from one corner until the end of the transition line, then increase the exposure, as shown below:

As you can see, dialing +0.7 exposure took care of the problem in the sky. However, it did introduce an issue – using the graduated filter also impacted the brightness of the left side of the building, which is not good. To make sure that only the sky gets touched with this exposure adjustment, we can use the Brush tool and erase the parts of the mask that are applied to the building. To do this, press the “O” button on your keyboard (which reveals the mask), then navigate to “Tools -> Adjustment Mask Overlay” and set the mask color to something that stands out from the sky and the objects you want to exclude. In my case, I set it to Red.

From there, click on “Brush” to the right of “Mask” in the Graduated Filter panel, click “Erase” and make sure to select “Auto Mask”, so that your brush strokes do not end up touching the sky. Erase everything that needs to be excluded and change the brush size as needed. For those areas that are not close to the sky, unchecking “Auto Mask” and brushing out the areas will be much faster. Here is the final mask of my image in Lightroom, which shows that I was able to completely eliminate the structure:

And here is the final image, which shows a fairly even sky:

Fixing Uneven Sky with Viveza

What if you are working on a much more complicated image, where the sky does not have a gradual transition, or worst yet, if the use of a circular polarizer made parts of the sky look very dark while the other parts are bright? In such situations, I find it incredibly difficult to fix the sky using Lightroom’s built-in tools. That’s where Photoshop or third party tools come to the rescue. Let’s take a look at the second case scenario:

In this particular situation, I intentionally used a polarizing filter to reduce the haze of the distant mountains. It worked out for the mountains, but as you can see, the filter messed up the sky by darkening the middle part of it. In addition, it changed the color of the sky, which is not good! Trying to fix these problems with Photoshop’s built-in tools would take a lot of effort and it would be impossible to fix in Lightroom. For such situations, Nik Software’s Viveza can come in really handy, which is what I will use to try to fix the sky.

The great thing about Nik Software is the U Point Technology, which allows one to add a control point to a part of the image, size it, then adjust settings like Brightness, Contrast, Saturation, Structure, as well as specific color adjustments, all without affecting other parts and colors of the image. For this image, my goal was to make the sky look as even as possible, which involves brightening up the middle of the sky, as well as potentially changing its color. Here is how Viveza looks with a control point already added to the middle of the sky and some settings already applied:

I had to dial +40% Brightness to make the sky look more or less even, but the middle part still had a very different shade of blue. To reduce color differences, I also added -15 Hue, which made the sky in the middle of the frame look more or less even. Take a look at the result of this quick effort:

The image is already looking a lot better, but we still have the color problem – the sky has a different shade of blue on the left compared to the right. In such situations, instead of adding another control point to the same image, I find it best to click “OK”, then relaunch the tool and address the next specific problem. Using multiple control points in such cases might make the results look worse due to the way control points overlap, so you might need to apply settings and relaunch Viveza several times.

After relaunching Viveza, I added another control point to the left side of the image, then dialed -5% for Brightness to slightly reduce the brightness of the left side and -20 for Warmth to make the left side look a bit cooler. This helped a lot, but the color was still a bit off, so I added +10% of Blue to make it look much more even:

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