Photoshop Before and After: Hidden Color in Cinderella’s Castle

before and after

Last week we took the kids to Disney World for the very first time.  They are 3 and almost 5, so needless to say, they LOVED it!  I thought I’d be able to get all these neat shots of the park and the fairy-tale-like buildings, but… I didn’t.  :(  We were too busy running from ride to ride and really just having a great time!  :) 

I stopped to snap this photo on our way out one night while we were all being herded out of the park!  The sun was setting and there was a blue glow on the bottom of the castle.  It was really beautiful.

Building-against-sky shots are tricky because if the sky is bright, our cameras cannot expose properly for the sky and the building.  If we expose for the building, the sky is blown out (a.k.a. – all white with NO detail whatsoever).  Since the sky was so pretty, I wanted to retain some of the detail in it without losing everything in the building either.  The SOOC shot is below – notice neither the sky nor the building look great!  But there is lots of hidden color as you’ll see by the end!



I obviously wanted to pull the color out of the sky.  So I made a duplicate copy of the image in Photoshop (Image –> Duplicate).  I will call these two images ‘Castle’ and ‘Sky.’ (sidenote: you can obviously do your ‘Sky’ edit in Lightroom instead of Photoshop – I used Photoshop for this example)

In the ‘Sky’ image, I made adjustments for the sky, not paying attention to the castle.  First I created a Curves layer and pulled down the curve like so…

after curves for sky


Look at all that detail in there!  Had I blown out the sky, we wouldn’t be able to pull any of that out.  Next I created a Vibrance adjustment layer and increased the vibrance and saturation a bit:

after vibrance


Increasing the depth and color makes a wire and some artifacts much more visible in the sky, so I cleaned those up with the Healing Brush Tool.  This is more how I remember the sky!

sky after


Now I’m going to concentrate back on the building, so I’m going back to the ‘Castle’ image.  I am going to brighten up the castle with a Curves layer

after brightening castle


The bottom of the castle had blue lights glowing on it, but the top of the castle is a little cool.  I wanted to warm it up a bit with levels.  I ran my free Warm It Up action twice and masked out the bottom of the building on the second layer to retain some of the blue.

after warming


Next I combined the edited sky with the edited castle.  To do this, I laid the images on top of one another and used layer masking.

Although this process has several steps, it’s not difficult:

  1. On the ‘Castle Layer,’ make a composite layer of all the layers by highlighting the top layer and then pressing Alt+Cmd/Ctrl +Shift + E.  This merges all layers into a new one at the top of your layers stack. (I renamed it ‘Composite Layer’ for demonstrative purposes)

compostie layer


2.  On your new Composite Layer, we are going to select the sky.  The method I used in this photo was to go to Select –> Color Range.

select - color range


3.  Use your dropper to select the sky.  You can add to or subtract from your selection by using the corresponding droppers or by holding down the Shift (add to) or Alt (subtract from) keys.  You’ll need to play with the fuzziness slider to get the selection right.  It took me a couple of tries to retain the right amount of detail around the tops of the building.

select sky


After you hit ‘OK,’ there will be marching ants around your selection.

marching ants


4.  We want to save this selection.  There are a few ways to do this, so here is what I did.  Go to your Channels palette and click ‘Save Selection.’  Photoshop will create a new Alpha channel with your selection.

save selection


5.  The selection is now saved, so go back to your Layers palette. 

6.  Now open your ‘Sky’ image back up.  We are going to copy this entire image to paste on top of our ‘Castle’ image.  Select all (Cmd/Ctrl + A) and go to Edit –> Copy Merged (Shift + Cmd/Ctrl + C) to copy everything.  Now go back to your ‘Castle’ image and Edit –> Paste (Cmd/Ctrl + V).  The ‘Sky’ image is now pasted on top of the ‘Castle’ image.

7.  Now we are going to load the sky selection (that we saved in step 4) so we can use it for masking purposes.  Go back to your channels palette and highlight the Alpha channel we created in step 4.  Then click the Load Selection button.

load selection


7.  Now click back on the RGB channel.  (It will automatically highlight the red, green, and blue channels.)

rgb channel


8.  Back to your Layers palette!  Here is how things are looking:

before masking


Now we simply add a layer mask to mask out the dark castle, revealing the bright castle in the layer below.  Because we have a selection loaded, when we add the layer mask, it will automatically create the mask of the castle.  Voila!

castle mask and after


To finish up, I ran Noiseware to remove the noise caused by the high ISO.  Then I ran a defog layer (I will do a tutorial on this, for now you can easily find it on Google) and High Pass Sharpening to bring out more detail in the building.

Here is the after!!  Cinderella’s Castle in all her glory.  :)



I hope you enjoyed this tutorial!  Thanks for reading, and let me know if you have questions or suggestions on doing this better!

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4 Responses to Photoshop Before and After: Hidden Color in Cinderella’s Castle

  1. Katie Petreski says:

    Wow, who knew so much color can come out of the images! Great tutorial! Great new look, too :)

  2. Rochelle says:

    Great tutorial and great pictures :) Very helpful and seems super easy, thanks for sharing.

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