Shooting directly into the sun whether it is sunrise or sunset often results in that some areas around the sun are clipped and we get these rather harsh edges in our sky. Even when shooting bracketed or underexposing for the highlights we may not achieve a pleasing result around the strongest light in a scene.
This is the image we will use as an example:
Some frost smoke and clouds diffused the light from the setting sun. When closer examining the area around the sun we will find a few areas which can be improved upon. The image isn’t a worst case scenario, but it will nevertheless serve our purpose when it comes to showing the principles behind how we can fix hard edges and blown out areas around the sun.
After exporting the image to Photoshop I add a new blank layer before I pick the Elliptical Marquee tool. I place the cursor in the center of the sun and by pressing down Shift and Alt (Windows) it is possible drag a perfect circle.
The next step is to blur the selection so that we avoid hard edges. Hit ‘q’ for the Quick Selection tool:
Then go to ‘Filters’ and Gaussian Blur. I find that a blur around 5–10 px works fine. If we would like even softer edges we can of course increase the blur radius.
Hit ‘q’ again to leave the Quick Selection tool. The selection we just have created is for the inside of the circle so everything we do from now on will only affect that part of the circle, and that is not what we want. In other words, we need to invert the selection. The Windows short-cut is Shift-Ctrl-i.
At 100% opacity and around 10% flow I use the clone stamp tool to fill in around the sun by sampling from all around our selection.
The final step is to add yet another blank layer which I set to ‘Screen’. With a soft brush I sample a color from outside the sun and then at 100% opacity I click once with the brush to add the effect. I place the center of the brush approximately in the center of the sun, but the brush size is a tad larger than the sun. Next I adjust the opacity of the layer until I have something that works in my eyes. The ‘Screen’ layer adds light and further softens what we just did with the clone stamp tool.
Below is the improved image. From here I will continue my editing in Photoshop.
About the Author
Ole Henrik Skjelstad is a Norwegian math teacher and photographer, whose love for photography began after receiving his first camera as a birthday present in January 2013. You can follow his work on Instagram, Flickr, and 500px. This article was also published here and shared with permission.