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How to Fix a Hazy Photograph in Under 10 Minutes

Mike Hagen (Mike_Hagen)

Keywords: guides, tips


A few days ago while flying from Seattle, WA to Salt Lake City, UT our airplane passed over the Cascade Mountains. I took about ten photographs of the mountain range, but knew that they weren’t going to amount to much because of the hazy sky. After returning from the trip, I decided to take a swing at creating a usable image from my original RAW file using Adobe Lightroom 5 and Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.

The reason hazy photographs look drab is that they lack contrast. In other words, the image doesn’t have significant separation between the shadows and the highlights. This low contrast scenario is readily apparent if you look at the histogram. Notice in Image 2 how in the original picture, the histogram is bunched up in the middle of the graph. This means that the shadows are not black and the highlights aren’t white.

The solution to giving your image more contrast is to spread out the histogram so the shadows are darker and the highlights are brighter. There are a few ways to do this, but the quickest and easiest is to simply adjust the contrast slider in your editing program. The contrast tool is a fairly blunt tool and I rarely recommend using it because it doesn’t have much finesse. However, in a situation like this photograph, I recommend it. Increasing the contrast effectively spreads out the histogram so the highlights are brighter and the shadows are darker.



The next step is to add some micro-contrast so features like mountain ridges have more definition. Do this by increasing the Clarity slider or by adjusting Structure in plugins like the Nik Collection.

Finally, to really make a hazy photograph look good, my suggestion is to convert it to black and white. I’ve found that color photographs tend not to look great when they started as very hazy images. Converting the image to B&W allows you to add even more contrast without messing with the saturation or color balance of the image.

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User on October 17, 2013

Sorry, of course I meant Capture NX2! Thanks,

User on October 16, 2013

Living close to the southern Alps in France, I often encounter problems with haze. As Mike describes, I often increase contrast or/and micro contrast, but many times it is worth trying to add more or less polarization. If I didn't use a filter on the camera, I use the polarization filter in the Nik collection, either in Photoshop or in ViewNX2. Sometimes also an ND filter can be useful. But whatever we do, we have to be careful, because it all makes noise more visible!

Richard Luse (DaddySS) on October 15, 2013

Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded for  his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2017 Ribbon awarded for his generous contribution to the 2019 Fundraising campaign

Thanks Mike. Good insight and much appreciated.

Dr. Patrick Buick (profpb) on October 14, 2013

Mike, it was a treat for me to see you last week. I was in extreme norhern California and the haze at Patrick's Point needed work. I fixed it with your procedure. Thank you for the umteenth time. "Doc"

Ronnie Scaggs (RS425) on October 13, 2013

Thanks for the insight. I have several images that need this treatment. Getting up early to shoot in better light is sometimes hampered by city smog or haze.

User on October 11, 2013

I really found this informative, thank you. I actually dug out some hazy images and followed your routine through Lightroom and then finished off in Nik Silver Efex. I was delighted with the results as the image I chose I had abandoned as a non keeper. I have posted the process in the "Digital and post processing" forum if anyone is interested. Richard

Frederic Hore (voyageurfred) on October 9, 2013

I agree with Mike about using the Clarity tool in Adobe Camera RAW, by moving the slider to the right to add snap to the image. However, I have found to make my aerial images stand out, the Levels toll in Photoshop Elements 11 or Photoshop CS6 works great to add black, mid-tones and to brighten up the image. For others reading this who are not familiar with Levels (found under "Enhance" in Elements; "Image-|Image Adjustments-|"Levels" in PS CS 3 to 6) you can adjust the Black point by moving the black triangle to the right (left corner under the Histogram), the mid-tone contrast with the Gray triangle, and the whites with the white triangle on the right side. This will vastly improve a bland, flat image. The I will add some saturation to the image, to pump up the colours muted by the atmospheric haze. I agree with Mike, that converting to B&W cam produce better results where there is not too much colour in the image, as viewed in his gorgeous sample image of the Cascade Mountains. Cheers, Frederic in Montreal

Joe Zamudio (cocavaak) on October 8, 2013

from a remote sensing perspective, haze contributes to scattered light. In remote sensing we correct for increased signal due to scattered light by subtracting a certain amount of DN for each band - typically we subtract more from the blue band than the green and more from green than red. I would be interested to see how we could remove a certain DN level for each band (R,G,B). Does Aperture or Lightroom allow you to do that? If so, I would then try increasing the contrast as the next step.

Tony Zaiden (Totex) on October 8, 2013

Thanks Mike, very timely advise!!!

dave hunter (thauma) on October 7, 2013

great post - very useful

Chapman Solomon (CorVette98) on October 7, 2013

Thanks Mike Since I have a Mac, I use the Aperture application, so I was wondering about your reference to the clarify tool in nik. I am thinking that the highlight bar (Aperture) is the equivalent. Please advise me. Thanks, Chap