Do your sunrise and sunset images often look flat and dull? Try these simple photo editing tips to make them more dramatic!
The main problem when shooting sunrises or sunsets is getting detail in both the sky and foreground. Even if you use a graduated neutral density filter, it’s often impossible to get the balance exactly right.
Shoot in Raw, though, and you’ll find that the tools in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) in Photoshop will allow you to get much more detail out of both the highlights and the shadows.
However, bear in mind that ACR has limits! You should always make sure that you keep as much highlight detail in the sky as possible when you’re shooting your sunrise and sunset images.
How to give a dull sunset photo more impact
1 Set the white balance
With your image open in Adobe Camera Raw, you should start by adjusting the white balance to suit the sky. For a natural-looking sunset, start with a daylight white balance setting of around 5,500K. Dragging the Temperature slider up to around 6,000K will add a little extra warmth to your image.
2 Add some saturation
With your white balance set, you need to use the Saturation slider to boost the colours in the sunset. Start with a setting of around +15, but be careful not to oversaturate the colour of the sun. Also, you should check that there’s still highlight detail in the sky.
3 Add a graduated filter
Click the Graduated filter icon on the toolbar above the preview image, and then position the cursor at the bottom of the image. Then click and drag the graduated filter graphic to the top. This applies the filter from the bottom of the image.
4 Adjust the settings
Now you can use the Graduated filter to lighten the foreground by dragging the Exposure slider to the right. Use a value that brightens the foreground, and also increases the Contrast slightly. To warm up the foreground, click the box next to the Color setting and select a light orange colour.
5 Alter the Adjustment Brush settings
You can now adjust selected areas of your image using the Adjustment Brush. Click its icon at the top of the ACR window, and in the settings drag the Exposure slider to around +0.3. Then set the Size to 30, the Feather to 35, the Flow to 25 and the Density to 50.
6 Lighten the sky with the Adjustment Brush
With these settings you can lighten the top of the sky, which can often be too dark due to the effect of the ND grad filter, and any other areas that are too dark. Simply paint the adjustment onto the image until you are happy with the effect.
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