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Bringing Out Color on a Cloudy Day – Photoshop Tutorial (Part 1)

Sometimes you take a great shot of the sky, but the lighting wasn’t quite right and the image is not what you’d like it to be. But don’t worry, we can correct that. It’s kind of a long process to explain, but not too complicated, so I’ve broken it into two parts. Let’s get started with our tutorial.

Aim: In this tutorial we will be lighting up the sky and the ground to bring out some color and to give your photo a brighter look whilst keeping it looking realistic. See below for the original and the after photos.

This tutorial has been broken up into two parts to better understand how the tools work without being overloaded with too many at once.

What You Need: Use the image provided here [1]or find your own image with similar thundery clouds and a nice patch of ground.

Tools: The main tools we will be using in this tutorial are:

You can download a copy of the image we are working with HERE [1].

GRADIENT TOOL INTRO (Skip if you understand how to use the Gradient Tool and Layer Masks)

Before moving ahead, it is probably best we get the gradient tool settings ready for this tutorial as we will be using it on almost every layer. Basically, we want to set the Gradient Tool so that it goes from a solid black color (Opacity of 100%) to a fully transparent color (Opacity of 0%).

We will be using the Gradient Tool on our Layer Masks. Why? The reason for this is that when we apply a solid color on a Layer Mask, it COMPLETELY takes away what was done on the actual layer. For example, if I were to apply a Blur Effect on a layer and then draw a solid circle on the layer mask, the image would be blurred everywhere EXCEPT for where I drew the circle, which would all be clear (in focus) and it would be quite obvious as there would be sharp edge between the blurred and clear areas. But what if I wanted to gradually change from the blurred effect to the clear (in focus) image? This is where the gradient tool comes in, as it gradually goes from a solid color to no color at all.


First of all, open up your image in Photoshop.

Select your Gradient Tool, located among the tools to the left of the screen.

Toward the top left of the screen you will see the following gradient configuration button:

Double click it on it and configure it as follows:

The two squares highlighted in yellow define your Color (which should both be black).

The two squares highlighted in purple define the Opacity (the left value should be 100% and the right value should be 0%)

As I explained earlier, we want the gradient to gradually go from a solid color to nothing at all.

Ok, now our Gradient Tool is ready to use. Click on “OK” and we’re back onto the main Photoshop screen.

Firstly your desktop should look something like this:


Let’s now work on brightening up the image a little by using some Adjustment Layers and changing the Curve and Exposure.



Click on the “New Adjustment Layer” (Down in the bottom right hand corner):


Then Click on “Curves”:

Now you want to bend the Curve down a little to darken the image and bring out the stormy detail.

You may be asking, why are we darkening the image when this section is about brightening it? Dropping the curve on a cloudy sky really helps to bring out the detail of clouds, however we will only be applying this for the clouds.

Bend the Curve down as in the image below:

Now, we only want this effect to apply to the clouds, so we want to remove the Curve from the bottom part of the image. To do this, we are going to use the Gradient Tool to wipe over the bottom area on the Layer Mask.

As mentioned earlier, if were to use a solid colour to remove the Curve Effect from the ground, there would be a sharp contrast between the Curve Effect on the clouds and the ground, so we want to use the Gradient Tool to allow them to blend together.

Make sure you have the Layer Mask is selected on your new Adjustment Layer:

Now, with the Gradient Tool, draw a small line starting where the ground almost finishes to just above the ground as shown in the image below:

You should now notice that the sky is little darker than the original but the ground remains the same.


Next we want to lighten up the ground a little using the same method as we did with the Curve for the cloud.

Go ahead and click on “New Adjustment Layer”:

Then click on “Curves”:

But this time move the Curve UP as can be seen in the image below:

We will use the Gradient Tool again, but this time to remove the effect from the clouds. To do this, we will draw the same line as we did on the previous gradient application, however this time going from the top down, instead of going from the ground up.

Your image should now look a little like this:

You’ve now staged you image just perfectly for bringing out the color in the next part of this tutorial. But to leave you with something to play around with until part 2, try doing the following.

  1. Create a “New Adjustment Layer” for “Exposure”
  2. Play around with your exposure levels, in particular the following settings
    1. Move the Exposure level up.
    2. Move the Gamma Correction up.

Focus mainly on how the exposure effects and lights up the ground. The sky is best kept dark, so ignore how the exposure effects the sky because you can remove this using the gradient tool on the layer mask……..give it a go like we did for the previous effects and see how you go!

I’ll have part 2 of this tutorial for you next week.