I'm new at photography and I have taken some pictures where the subjects in the foreground are exposed correctly but the sky is very overexposed. What is the best way to handle it in post production?

(I have pictures in RAW format.)

  • 2
    See photo.stackexchange.com/questions/1366/… for suggestions on how to deal with the problem in-camera rather than in post.
    – mattdm
    May 23, 2011 at 18:17
  • 1
    And a more technical question and answers: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/919/…
    – mattdm
    May 23, 2011 at 18:18
  • thanks,very nice. I'll take a look for future situations. but now i'm need help for a picture that I already taken;)
    – Kreker
    May 23, 2011 at 18:23
  • — yep. That's why I didn't mark this as a duplicate.
    – mattdm
    May 23, 2011 at 18:26
  • If it is a landscape photo, cry. If it is reportage, celebrate that you didn't underexpose your main subject :) Feb 10, 2019 at 10:31

8 Answers 8


I use Apple Aperture, and this is my normal way of dealing with an overexposed sky (or anything overexposed for that matter)

  1. Turn on overexposure highlights (option-shift-h), to show where detail is lost to overexposure
  2. Turn up the "Recovery" slider in the "Exposure" plug-in, until no overexposure is shown (or until the slider is at max). Recovery will bring down the exposure of overexposed bits of the photo.
  3. Turn up the "Highlights" slider in the "Highlights & Shadows" plug-in until the image is visually pleasing (you get the details you are looking for, e.g. interesting cloud formations)
  4. Adjust the the Levels.

If you shot that image in RAW, you can try to recover some detail using Photoshop, or better yet your camera's native RAW converter.

If the sky is suppoed to be pure blue, you can just do a color replace in photoshop and apply blue, or duplicated the layer, apply blue filter to it, and erase everything else but the sky to show the original image below.

If all else fails, convert the image to B/W.

  • 7
    +1 "If all else fails, convert the image to B/W."
    – kubi
    May 23, 2011 at 23:21

It depends on how badly the sky was overexposed. If it's "blown out" to pure white, the only real option to restore any sort of definition or texture is to bring the image into Photoshop or another editor and create a composite of multiple images - if you have an image with a properly-exposed sky, merge the two images together so that you use the sky from the good image along with the foreground from the image with the blown out sky.

If the sky isn't blown out to pure white but is just overexposed somewhat, you should be able to make some localized exposure adjustments.

  • 2
    When combining with a sky from another photo, make sure that sun is shining from the same direction.
    – Imre
    May 23, 2011 at 20:43
  • 1
    Keep in mind that the sky is, in general, much brighter than the rest of your scene. An overexposed sky may not fit in the HDR world's definition of "properly exposed" where your histogram is supposed to look like a normal distribution, but a white sky isn't necessarily a bad thing.
    – Evan Krall
    May 25, 2011 at 15:55

What software do you use for post-processing? The highlight recovery tool in Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw (for Photoshop) does exactly what you're after. (Other software such as Aperture will certainly have a similar feature.) It may be that the sky is so badly overexposed that you simply can't recover any detail, but you'll probably be pleasantly surprised.

Incidentally, this is exactly why you've done the right thing to shoot in RAW: in JPEG mode the camera has already discarded the additional detail in any blown highlights so recovery isn't an option.

  • I'm using Aperture. Tryed with the "burn" brush, but the sky is highly overexposed, like white cause the brush doesn't do anything :(
    – Kreker
    May 24, 2011 at 9:23
  • Aperture does indeed have a highlight tool. It is not the burn brush though :) May 24, 2011 at 11:56
  • 2
    @Kreker: in Aperture it's the Recovery slider: check this tutorial for more details. May 24, 2011 at 13:56
  • @BigDave so I have to use the highlight brush for overexposed skylight and not the burn one?
    – Kreker
    May 24, 2011 at 14:17

If subjects do not reach the sky, you could crop out the blown sky.


If you are using Lightroom, then select the photo, press 'D' to go into Develop Mode. Press 'M' and you will see the cursor over the image changes to a little cross like +.

Move the mouse cursor to the top of the screen, and pressing the left button, draw in from the edge of the photo, down towards the bottom and you will see the graduated filter applied. (It is generally brighter but don't worry we'll fix this). Release the mouse button when the area affected by your filter covers the sky region you wish to fix.

You will notice on the right, you have a series of Mask options. grab the Exposure Slider and slowly move it to the left to apply some negative exposure. You will see the effect in real time on the photo. Stop when you've darkened it enough that you are happy with the effect.

You have applied a graduated ND filter!

Also, you can play with the Recovery slider too, which will help to reduce blown out highlights. These can be made visible by clicking the 'up arrow' to the top RIGHT of the histogram (the up arrow on the top left displays the lost detail in shadows). You might want to play with the recovery slider prior to applying the mask, come to think of it ....


The best way to help with the over exposure is to think about what you are taking a photo of. Is it the sky or your subject? Determine this and also if you are using a DSLR, use a 18% grey card to get exposures. Here is a link that I believe will help you out with your exploration of Photography. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gray_card

  • If you decide the sky is your subject and you want to expose for the sky, what would be the benefit of basing exposure off an 18% grey card?
    – MikeW
    Feb 16, 2012 at 7:13

My preferred way to deal with such a situation is a software emulation of a graduated ND filter. I don't know if all post-processing software has it. It lets you underexspose part of the picture, and you can determine how much of the picture is covered, "rotate" the filter, decide how much you want to underexpose, and give it a tone different from neutral grey (I sometimes use it to give a cyan-ish sky a deeper blue shade). While it doesn't work as well as a real ND filter, it is a good option for when you have to save an already taken picture. Of course, it presumes a largely even horizon - if you have foreground objects protruding into the sky, their protruding parts will be underexposed too, so it doesn't work with all compositions.

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