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.
The two Lightroom adjustments (also available in Adobe Camera Raw 3.7) that make this possible are the HSL panel and the Regional Target in the Curves panel. In the Library, just select the image(s) you want to “polarize” and then click on the Develop module button. If you need to make exposure adjustments, do that first. Now you’ll concentrate on the sky (or any other prominent color, such as green vegetation) that you want to “flatter.”
First, go to the HSL panel. Go to the Blue sliders and drag the Luminance slider to the left until the sky is either as dark as you like, or as dark as you can get it. You’ll then adjust the Hue and Saturation to your liking. If the sky is really blue, you’ll get a more intense and “bluer” sky by increasing Saturation and move the Hue slider to the right to make the Blue even darker. You can see the Blue sliders for the HSL panel below.
Now move up to the Tone Curve panel and click the Target icon at upper left. Place the cursor in the area where you’d like to darken and intensify the contrast in the clouds and drag down until you get the desired effect. You’re all done.