Polarizing Skies in Lightroom

by Ken Milburn

I'm always leaving my polarizing filter in the wrong camera bag. Yet I live in West Marin County...one of the nicest places on Earth for taking nature pictures. Given all the lovely sunny days we've been having lately, however, with no polarizing filter it's way too likely I'm going to get boring, washed-out skies. Well, if you've got Lightroom, that no longer need be the case. It only takes about two seconds to darken most any sky. The process is totally non-destructive, so you can change the color and tone of the sky any time you want.

BA polarize.jpg


2007-03-22 11:52:55
Your figure shows the color panel not the HSL panel. I use the HSL panel with the target adjustment tool and adjust under the Luminance control for the most part.
2007-03-22 13:02:02
Nice trick! However, how do you polarize the sky if, for example, there is a blue car or a person with a blue shirt in your picture! Do you have a trick for that?
An LR newbie
Ken Milburn
2007-03-22 13:38:51
You cheat. First, use Lightroom to adjust the portions of the image that you *don't* want to "polarize." Then, right-click to Edit in Photoshop. Duplicate the image, then close it. Go back to Lightroom and polarize the sky and then open that adjustment in Photoshop. Duplicate that image, too and then close the original. Now just Cut, Save, and Paste the "polarized" version onto the non-polarized version and use a large, soft-edged Eraser to reveal the portions of the image you don't want polarized. Do this with a reduced-opacity eraser so that you can blend the two images by stroking. Then save the result under a new name, Import it into LR, and put it into a stack with the other images.
Ken Milburn
2007-03-22 13:41:06
The sliders, controls, and results are still exactly the same. I just used the Color panel because it makes it easier to concentrate on the one color aspect you want to change. Sorry if I caused any confusion.
2007-03-23 02:24:44
I used to concentrate on saturation to polarize skies.
It is better to use the thre sliders as you've shown.
Thanks for the tip !
David Medina
2007-03-23 08:50:12

To your question... that is why you have Photoshop. This technique is a quick way to saturate the sky in most shots. That is a great step forward to having to go to Photoshop to do just that.

How would I do it? I would adjust the image, create a new version and adjust the skys on that one. Open both images in Photoshop, place the saturated sky as a top layer of the normal, create a mask for the saturated one and paint with black on the mask to let the normal one show up.