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How To Replace A So-So Sky With A Standout Sky

How To Replace A So-So Sky With A Standout Sky

There’s no getting around it. Landscape photography is hard. Not only do you have to get out there at the right time of day, you’ve also got to make sure the sky is doing something interesting too. Oftentimes, we get one but not the other. So if you’ve ever wondered how to replace a dull looking sky with something more interesting, this is the Photoshop Elements tutorial for you.

[Note: I've asked a friend of mine to put together this week's video. Let me know what you think!]

Step 1: Find a landscape photo

For this tutorial, I picked a nice landscape that’s good enough on its own but could use a more interesting sky. I love the bright greens and browns, so lets see what it looks like with a bit more panache.


Can you imagine this image with a better sky?
Photo By Flickr User: katsrcool

Step 2: Get a replacement sky

This is the tricky part. To find a sky that truly fits your image will take some effort on your part. It needs to look like the light source is roughly the same as the light source on the ground, and that can be tricky. For this image, I picked a mostly bright set of clouds with a single dark cloud in the corner.


Photo By Flickr User anee.baba

If you’re having a hard time finding new skies, you can always search for them in the Flickr Creative Commons (that’s where I found this one), or you can even purchase them from stock photography sites. Note that if you’re using your edited images commercially, make sure you choose photos that allow commercial use. Don’t just steal them.

The other option is to slowly grow your portfolio of dramatic sky photos. Every time the sky starts to look interesting, I turn on my camera (or smartphone), look upward, and get snap happy. The more my collection of sky photos grows, the better my landscape photos look.

Step 3. Open the original photo in Photoshop Elements and select the sky

We’ll start with the quick selection tool. It’s the one on the left toolbar, just underneath the magic wand and polygonal lasso tools. You can see it on the bottom in the image on the right.

You’re going to love the quick selection tool. It makes short work of selecting the entire sky. It’s not 100% accurate, but we can easily fix that later on once we see how our landscape photo looks with the new clouds.

To use the quick selection tool, you simply click and drag on the sky all the way across the image, from left to right. When you are finished, your image should look like this.

Step 4. Press “delete” to get rid of the sky

This will replace the sky with checkerboard marks, indicating that the sky is now transparent.

Step 5. Copy and paste the new sky on top of the original image

At first, the new sky will cover up the original image, but if you go to the layers panel (right toolbar), click on it, and drag it underneath the layer for the original image (likely to be called Layer 1), it will move behind the landscape.


Click and drag layer 2 underneath Layer 1.

Step 6. Play around with the positioning of the sky until you find something suitable

I chose to move the darker cloud upward to make the scene more ominous looking.

Step 7: Remove incorrectly colored edges where your new sky meets the original photo

If you look at the dark cloud on the left, you’ll notice that something is a bit off. There’s a little blue halo left over because the quick selection tool didn’t grab all of the sky there. We can fix that problem by going back and deleting the edges using the polygonal selection tool.

a.) Click on the eyeball next to Layer 2 to make it invisible.

b.) Click on the polygonal selection tool.

c.) Zoom in, select the bluish part of the photo on the edge, and press delete to get rid of it.

This is a somewhat fine-tuned process, so you’ll want to keep going back and checking your photo to see if you did it right. Once you are finished, you shouldn’t be able to notice the seam between the landscape and the new sky.

Here’s what the finished product looks like:

With the new sky, it’s got a totally new lease on life. Give this technique a try, and I think you’ll like what you see.

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About the Author ()

David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.

Comments (13)

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  1. Diane says:

    I don’t yet own Photoshop Elements and after watching your video have decided I definitely want to purchase it, however a search on Amazon has shown many, many different copies. Which one would you recommend I purchase? Also, I don’t know if it matters or if they are compatible, but I do own LR 3. Thank you in advance for your help.

  2. Belinda Herring says:

    Hi David
    With regard to the video on replacing the sky, I have a quick and easy tip for avoiding the dividing line that shows between the land and the sky. After using the Quick Selection Tool to select the sky, click on the “Select” tab, choose “Modify” and click on “Expand”. You will then have the choice of how many pixels to expand the selection by. Experiment until you get the right amount (I guess two or three pixels) so that the selection extends into the land just enough to avoid the slight dividing line between the two sections. Then delete the sky and carry on as described in the video but (hopefully) without having to go on to the last step of selecting and deleting the fine dividing line. I’d be interested to hear if this works for you.
    Thanks for all the tips David. I’m learning heaps.
    Belinda

  3. Diane says:

    Could not get the replacement sky to reposition at all. Could you give a little more instruction on which tool to use for repositioning?
    I am using Photoshop Elements 8. Thank you!

  4. willie geyser says:

    Hi David

    Just to let you know I enjoy your video tips very much. It makes a change to learn from someone who uses photoshop elements (for us poor people) as opposed to CS4,5 or 6.
    I copy the included text for future reference so I have the best of both worlds.
    Keep up the good work.
    many thanks

  5. les says:

    love your videos. very good

  6. Mike says:

    Hi David

    Just read & watched your replace Sky video & saved it, very helpful.

    Thanks Mike

  7. @Richard,

    Yes, Photoshop Elements can load jpg files created by your camera.

    David.

  8. Nalinigouri says:

    Reading was much clearer than watching the video at times a beginner it was helpful and made very clear thank you

  9. Richard says:

    Hi David

    Have been wondering if photoshop elements can be used with photos taken in jpeg, as that’s only what my camera uses. It’s a Canon S5-IS.

  10. Kenneth says:

    This was a big help understanding details and cleanup of the change of the sky

  11. Dave says:

    Wonderful! The video was like having you here with me. I have “sort of” known how to do this, but your help made all the difference. Keep up the good work.

  12. William Brown says:

    Hi David

    Just to let you know I enjoy your video tips very much. It makes a change to learn from someone who uses photoshop elements (for us poor people) as opposed to CS4,5 or 6.
    I copy the included text for future reference so I have the best of both worlds.
    Keep up the good work.
    many thanks
    William

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