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.
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.
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.
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.