Using Gradient on blown out skies

        I was on my way out to Willow Creek last weekend when I noticed this absolutely stunning sunset as we were coming over the mountains. We were in a hurry but a sunset like that is impossible to pass by without at least stopping for a second... I took a few pics but nothing serious as I really just wanted to capture the beauty & not take too long (it was getting chilly yo!!) I kicked myself in the ass when I got home & looked at the pics b/c every single image had hugely blown out skies but the grounds was dark as all get out- like this one:


original hwy 299

         So I opened handy dandy photoshop & went to work trying to bring up the light on the ground, & fixing the blown out areas while also making the clouds pop. Mainly I used the brightness/contrast adjustment layer, but found that while it made the clouds pop it made the blown out areas 10x worse:

FIRST EDIT- not too happy with the sky/clouds area, not enough pop but very blown out...
Adjusted levels on the sky/clouds only; Selective Coloring on entire image- yellows, reds, & greens; Added hexagon layers (@ 12% Opacity) in pink, orange & green (getting smaller as they go) to imitate lens flare... 

HWY 299

        I still wasn't super happy with the way it turned out so I did what every flickr lovr does & posted the original and edited image in a group "Photography Critique" and got some great feedback from one user recommending I use a gradient layer- get this- with DETAILED instructions!! Thank God!!! 
I have been so scared to use the gradient tool- I think because whenever I pull it up all I see is crazy colors... But I gave it a try & love the new image:

SECOND EDIT- Love it!! adjusting the blown out sky while making clouds pop with Gradient layer
Adjusted Levels of sky/clouds only; Selective Color over entire image adjusting the reds, yellows and greens; Hexagon layers in pink, orange & green (getting smaller closer to viewer) to imitate lens flare; Gradient Fill Layer set to linear, black & reversed, med. opacity (used a layer mask to reveal the mountains that the gradient layer was over and keep them bright)...

HWY 299 Gradient

     Which edit is your favorite & why? Or is something you would have done differently to this image? Feel free to download and edit- show me what you can do!!

Location: Vista Point off HWY 299 between Blue Lake & Willow Creek, CA
Date/Time: Wed. 4/27/11 @ 7:30pm
Subject(s): Sunset, Rolling Hills, Clouds, Sun rays
Notes: used polarizing filter & edited in photoshop


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