Isle of Skye March 2016


In This Post 


The Importance of Skies 




Positioning The Horizon 


Graduated Filters or Not




Further Suggestions 

1 The Importance of Skies

A good sky in a picture is crucial to the emotional message passed to the viewer. The sky will either help or hinder the meaning of the picture. At the moment as I write the sky is bright blue with a few wispy white clouds of an early spring afternoon. Typically, Sunny f16 type lighting. This type of lighting and sky appeals to the beginner; however, it creates a strong contrast that somehow has to be dealt with. More of that later. Being much longer in the tooth, I prefer to shoot in the winter with better skies and less contrast.

A landscape picture is foremostly about the balance between the tonality of the sky and foreground. Tonality is made up of brightness and contrast.


What do I mean, a good sky?

As all things in photography are a personal preference here is my preference for a good sky. I define skies in the following ways


Poor – Pure Grey, No Texture, No Tonality, No interest

Better – Blue Clouds, some Texture provided clouds

Best – Lighting, Texture, Tonality, Interest and Drama

2 How-To

Here are a few hot hints on getting skies right in a landscape shot

      • Expose for the Highlights, Process for the Shadows.
      • Winter is a good time of year for dramatic clouds.
      • Patience and persistence will pay off.

3 Positioning the Horizon

If the picture is about a dramatic sky, give the sky room to dominate the picture space. Why not place the horizon in the lowermost quarter of the frame? There are no rules that say that the horizon must be on the upper or lower third. Use the composition that is the most effective way of seeing for your picture. Say what you want to say. It’s your picture no-one else’s.


Here are a few examples

Above – Clevedon Sea Pool

Left – The Isle of Skye 2016 

Below – IR somewhere a very long time ago

Approaching storm, Isle of Rum from Elgol on Skye 

4 Graduated Filters or Not

As a lazy photographer I have bought but never use hard or soft graduated filters on the front of the lens. My choice has always been to exercise more repeatable control in Lightroom. The selection tools in Lightroom have made controlling skies easy and precise.

5 Post-processing Adjustments 

As I mentioned earlier there will be a big difference in the brightness of the sky and land. This contrast needs to be dealt with in some way. I find it difficult to see the full potential of a picture until I have selectively lowered and balanced the brightness of the sky. This action is always one of the very first things I do to a picture with Graduated Filter in Lightroom. Your choice of post-processing software is of little consequence as I am sure all options have similar tools.

Before and After Examples



Left – Pilgrim – St Helen’s Church Lundy Island 2005

Above – Isle of Skye Marble Quarry 2016

14 – 18 February 2022
Here is my way of using the Lightroom Graduated Filter with the Range Mask

1 Start with all sliders set to zero when the tool is opened, this does away with pre-set ideas of what good looks like.

2 Hold down the Shift key as you drag down the pin towards the horizon to keep it level.

3 Hit the O key to turn on the red Graduated Filter Mask.

4 If necessary, change the colour of the Mask by going to Tools > Adjustment Mask Overlay.

5 Click on the Range Mask Tool (at the bottom).

6 Click on Luminance.

7 Move the left Range slider to remove the mask from tones you do not want to darken generally buildings, trees and mountains.

8 Adjust the Smoothness Slider to left for a harder Feather between the sky and landscape. Move it to the right to soften the Feather.

9 Hit O on the keyboard to turn off the mask.

10 Adjust the Brightness and Contrast of the sky.

11 Click OK when you are done.

12 Sometimes, a reposition of the Pin by dragging it helps improve the effect you are trying to achieve.

6 Further suggestions for the Graduated Filter Mask

If you cannot get the Range Mask Tool to make a perfect mask there is the option of adjusting what it creates with the Brush inside the Graduated Filter. Click on the word “Brush” at the top right.


      • To add to the Mask paint with the plus sign (+) in the centre of the brush.
      • To omit from the Mask, hold down the Alt key and the plus sign turns to a minus sign (-) in the centre of the brush.
      • You could try the Auto Mask option for the Brush by ticking the box – however, this is rather hit and miss in its effectiveness.
      • Zoom-in to 100% by hitting the Spacebar before beginning with Brush adjustments.
      • Don’t forget to review the Brush Properties of Flow and Density before you begin for a more subtle result.


There is a greater chance of creating a halo at the edge of the mask by significantly turning up the Contrast, Texture, Clarity or Dehaze controls.