A few days ago while flying from Seattle to Salt Lake City, 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 my 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 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.