It’s Cloudy…..But Is It Cloudy Enough?Leif

Leif Petersen has been a member of the Oshawa Camera Club since moving to Oshawa, from London, in 2008.  He has served on the club’s Executive Committee as Community Liaison, Vice President, President and is currently the Past President.  Leif is a member of Durham College’s Digital Photography and Video Advisory Committee and the Treasurer of the GTCCC.  He often leads workshops on various photography subjects and provides printing, matting and framing services for OCC and other club members

How to Get More Life and Mood Into Dull Clouds

I’d venture to guess that, after returning from a shoot on one of those days when, although there are clouds, they aren’t quite as dramatic as you’d like them.  In fact, when you start going through your shots, the sky is just marginally better than bald.  Of course, you can bring Lightroom’s ‘Highlights’ slider down to the left to try to recover some detail, but it doesn’t work really well if there’s very little detail there to start with.  Have you ever heard of the ‘Cloud’ filter in Photoshop?

I’ve chosen a shot I captured in front of Halgrimskjirka, the Lutheran cathedral, and the statue of my namesake, Leif Eriksson, in Reykjavik, Iceland to demonstrate this tip/trick.  I used the ‘Highlights’ slider to bring back some cloud detail, but it didn’t do much for it.

Clouds - 1


Here’s the process:

  • Open the image in Photoshop
  • Shrink it down: press the letter Z and then hold the Alt/Option key & click
  • Create a duplicate layer: Ctl/Cmd-J 

          Duplicate Layer


  • In the Menu bar, go to Filter>Render>Clouds, which puts an ugly mask over your image and ‘Layer 1’ becomes the clouds

Cloud Layer


  • Double click on ‘Layer 1’ and rename it ‘Clouds’

Cloud Layer 2

  • Stretch the ‘Clouds’ layer out: Ctl/Cmd-T, grab the handles and stretch the clouds out; you can also rotate it a bit if you like, then press Enter
  • In the Menu bar, go to Image>Calculations and make the following settings:
    • Merged > Gray
    • Blending > Screen
    • Result > Selection

Clouds Selection

  • Press Ctl/Cmd-D to unselect
  • Reduce the Opacity of the ‘Clouds’ layer to about 40% so that you can see what’s going on

Cloud Layer 3 Opacity

  •  Press the letter V and move the clouds around to the desired location
  • Apply a mask to the ‘Clouds’ layer

Cloud Layer 4 Mask'

  • Make sure that the Mask is selected by clicking on it and then brush the clouds out of the areas you don’t want them
    1. Before brushing clouds out, you can stretch them out more, move them around or rotate them more by pressing Ctl/Cdm-T
    2. Do the work you want them press Enter to lock it in
    3. Note that if you make those adjustments after you brush the clouds out, you’ll see the areas where they’ve been removed
  • Adjust the opacity to the desired level, likely in the 15% to 20% range
  • I’ve also added some Midtone Contrast & a Vignette
    • You’ll see that I added the mask to the Midtone Contrast layer. You add the mask to another layer by clicking on the mask in the ‘Clouds’ layer, holding down the Alt key and dragging the mask to another layer.

          Final Layers Panel


And here’s the final image


Clouds - 2



There’s Another Option, You Ask?  Certainly, This is Photoshop!


As with many things in Photoshop, there’s more than one way to do it.  In this case, Option 2 is:

  • Create a selection of the sky using the Quick Selection tool
  • Save the selection: Select > Save Selection and then press Ctl/Cmd-D to unselect
  • After moving the clouds to the desired location, load the selection: Select > Load Selection
  • Add a mask to apply the clouds to the sky only
  • Adjust the opacity to suit your taste

The disadvantage of this method is that you can’t move the clouds around after.  Try it to see what I mean.

Now it’s time to go back through your photos looking for dull, cloudy days that you can add some life to.  Have fun!