Skies are often under-rated. The vast majority of the times, the skies are only “good” during the sunrise or the sunset. The problem is that the vast majority of the photos are not taken at sunrise or sunset. That’s why in the 1980s, the color polarizing filters were popular, just like HDR is today.

In Lightroom, the common recommendation is to use the graduated filter to darken the skies. The problem with the graduated filter is that making the skies darker, doesn’t make them any more interesting. It only makes the photo more balanced.

Lightroom: Make Your Skies Pop

Lightroom: Make your skies pop with the luminance

Instead of using the graduated filter in the Develop module, go to the HSL / Color / B & W section of the right panel. Go to the HSL > Luminance, click on the sampler tool (red circle) then move to your skies and lower the luminance. Lightroom will read the actual colors (in my case mostly yellow, some orange, and absolutely no blue) and reduce its luminance for you.

This photo is from Amsterdam. It was taken around 11am on a grey and cloudy day at the end of September. The skies look like a “grey mush.” No processing at all, no exposure, recovery fill, blacks or any sharpening… I just imported it in Lightroom and only reduced the sky’s luminance. Lightroom analyzed the portion of the sky that I picked and decided that it contained enough yellow. On a bright sunny day, it would be mostly blue. This photo went from a straight snapshot to “Now, it merits a second look.” It’s worth trying to do a “real” post-processing on this photo.

Lightroom: Make Your Skies Pop

Lightroom: Make your skies pop with the luminance before and after