How to Replace a Sky in Photoshop - Digital Photography School
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How to Replace a Sky in Photoshop

One of the most disappointing things that can happen to you as a photographer is to have a once in lifetime chance to take a photograph of something and to have the weather let you down. So, instead of luscious blue skies you’ll get grey or dull skies in your image.

You can replace the sky in an image in a number of ways. One method I like to use involves the Blend If tool because it avoids the need to make a detailed selection around the area of sky to replace. This is particularly handy if the skyline has trees or other wispy elements along it. The principle of this tool is you blend two layers together conditional on the overall lightness or darkness of the top or bottom layer or you can do it conditional on the lightness or darkness of a color on the top or bottom layer.

For this purpose I keep a file of skies. Anytime I’m photographing, I’ll swing the camera upwards and shoot a few new sky images for my collection. Then, when I need a sky, I have plenty to choose from.

Here’s how to seamlessly blend a new sky into an image in Photoshop:

Step 1

sky_1.jpg

Open both the image which needs a new sky and an image of some sky.

Step 2

sky_2.jpg

Drag the background layer from the sky image into the main image. It will appear at the top of the layer stack.

Step 3

sky_3.jpg

Move and size the sky layer so it overlaps the problem area.

If the sky is too dark or light for the image, use a tool like the Curves tool to lighten it so it blends in better with the target image.

Step 4

sky_4.jpg

Click the sky layer so it is selected in the layers palette and click the Add a Layer Style icon at the foot of the Layers palette. Click Blending Options to open the Layer Style dialog.

Locate the Blend If area at the foot of the dialog. You will use Blend If to blend this layer with the layer below. To do this, drag the slider at the far left of the Underlying Layer panel in to the right – almost all the way to the right edge of the slider.

As you do this, you reveal the underlying layer in all areas except the lightest – the areas which contain the blown out sky.

Step 5

sky_5.jpg

To smooth the transition between the sky and the remainder of the image, hold the Alt key and drag away one half of the small slider to split it in two. Drag the two pieces apart. The area to the left of the markers delineates where the effect is applied 100% and between the two pieces is where the effect transitions from 100% through to 0%. Click Ok when you’re done.

Step 6

sky_6.jpg

To fix any problems where the sky has blended into the original image in an inappropriate place, either move the sky further up the image so it doesn’t overlap that area of the image or, if this can’t be done, use a layer mask. With the sky layer selected, click the Add a Layer Mask icon at the foot of the Layer palette. Paint on the mask in black to reveal the original image underneath.

Step 7

sky_7.jpg

Now is the time to look at the image and determine what it needs to finish it. You might need to tweak the sky color and lightness using a Curves adjustment on the sky layer now that the sky is actually in place in the image.

In some cases you may see a halo effect around the tree branches and leaves or along the edges of buildings where the two images are blended. You can remove these using the Burn tool by painting over these areas with a low Exposure brush and with the Range set to Midtones or Shadows as necessary.

Note:

The Blend If tool can also be made to work on a single channel which can give better results in some situations. Select Blue, for example, from the Channel list in the Blend If area (rather than the default Grey) and adjust using that.

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Helen Bradley is a Lifestyle journalist who divides her time between the real and digital worlds, picking the best from both. She writes and produces video instruction for Photoshop and digital photography for magazines and online providers world wide. She has also written four books on photo crafts and blogs at Projectwoman.com.

  • Tomek D.

    Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge! You helped me a lot with my current work. :-) It’s a great thing to show your skills to other people, so that they can develop their own. Thanks again!

  • Todd

    This is one of the coolest tutorials i’ve seen for photoshop! Thanks!

  • Dudley

    Let down by the complete lack of info at the end of stage 6: “Paint on the mask in black to reveal the original image underneath.” Eh? Please eluciadte…

  • Luiz Mello

    A couple of questions:
    Do the shots of skies need to be from the same angle as the ones you want to replace them with? For example, if I take a shot up a facade of a building or a horizon, could I use the same sky image?

    Also, do you perhaps have a place where you share some sky images you take? =)

    Thanks for the tutorial, will try it out today.

    Cheers

    Luiz

  • Jack Jones

    Thanks for a great tutorial, before tday i knew nothing about the blend if tool.
    BTW it worked even better when i changed the blend if colour from gray (automatic) to blue.
    Thanks again

  • http://mersad-newz.mihanblog.com Lee

    This is so useful techniques. There are tone of instances where one need to change the background and replace it with something else. Thanks Helen.

  • http://goprosale.net/ gopro sale

    Hi love your site thanks for sharing some really good ideas which fits in great with a simple online strategy. Over the months that have gone by, my partner has been working very smart adapting many of the steps outlined by you. Gopro Cameras

  • http://www.photoshop-pro.com/ Chris Swift

    Very nice technique – the “Blend if” sliders are amazingly powerful – even for LAB color spaces. I use a similar technique but make a sandwich of layers with the “good” sky in the middle. After that, I make the topmost, “bad” sky layer active and use the “This layer” white slider. Please have a look at: http://www.photoshop-pro.com/tutorials/tuts_ps/cswift/replace-sky.html and let me know what you think.

  • http://www.TeamCaines.com Christine

    this tutorial was a HUGE help for me! I needed to sub in some pretty blue sky for a real estate photo – worked great!

  • Dory

    Thanks for this; by far the easiest, most well-explained and effective method I found. Brilliant!

  • airdenmark

    Nice tutorial and nice outcome. Thanks…

  • Morten Woldstad

    Hi
    This was the most easiest way to put on blue sky I have tried.
    But two things: It seems that light parts of for example buildings and trees picks up from the sky-picture.
    How can I fix that?

  • Ese

    Wow. Thank you for this!

  • Janet Lingel Aldrich

    It helps to fix a light source and lighten the sides of buildings (or darken others) to create the illusion of some sunlight. Otherwise, it still looks like an overcast day …

  • Mark

    Where the sky colour and your building colour is similar, it cannot differentiate between them. To protect the buildings, use the lasso tool to go around the edge of the buildings, where the top of the building meets the sky, you will need to be very tight, but areas such as trees you can be very loose with. SO in short, protect the bottom half of your picture from alteration. That way, only the areas outside of the selection will be altered. I use this method for marketing houses and works very well.
    Hope that makes sense?

Some older comments

  • Dory

    March 26, 2013 06:22 am

    Thanks for this; by far the easiest, most well-explained and effective method I found. Brilliant!

  • Christine

    January 19, 2013 08:31 am

    this tutorial was a HUGE help for me! I needed to sub in some pretty blue sky for a real estate photo - worked great!

  • Chris Swift

    July 27, 2012 02:19 pm

    Very nice technique - the "Blend if" sliders are amazingly powerful - even for LAB color spaces. I use a similar technique but make a sandwich of layers with the "good" sky in the middle. After that, I make the topmost, "bad" sky layer active and use the "This layer" white slider. Please have a look at: http://www.photoshop-pro.com/tutorials/tuts_ps/cswift/replace-sky.html and let me know what you think.

  • gopro sale

    May 27, 2012 02:10 pm

    Hi love your site thanks for sharing some really good ideas which fits in great with a simple online strategy. Over the months that have gone by, my partner has been working very smart adapting many of the steps outlined by you. Gopro Cameras

  • Lee

    March 28, 2012 06:33 am

    This is so useful techniques. There are tone of instances where one need to change the background and replace it with something else. Thanks Helen.

  • Jack Jones

    March 9, 2012 07:36 pm

    Thanks for a great tutorial, before tday i knew nothing about the blend if tool.
    BTW it worked even better when i changed the blend if colour from gray (automatic) to blue.
    Thanks again

  • Luiz Mello

    August 7, 2011 08:29 am

    A couple of questions:
    Do the shots of skies need to be from the same angle as the ones you want to replace them with? For example, if I take a shot up a facade of a building or a horizon, could I use the same sky image?

    Also, do you perhaps have a place where you share some sky images you take? =)

    Thanks for the tutorial, will try it out today.

    Cheers

    Luiz

  • Dudley

    August 3, 2011 09:40 pm

    Let down by the complete lack of info at the end of stage 6: "Paint on the mask in black to reveal the original image underneath." Eh? Please eluciadte...

  • Todd

    July 13, 2011 04:43 am

    This is one of the coolest tutorials i've seen for photoshop! Thanks!

  • Tomek D.

    May 29, 2011 08:29 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge! You helped me a lot with my current work. :-) It's a great thing to show your skills to other people, so that they can develop their own. Thanks again!

  • Helen Bradley

    November 2, 2010 02:42 am

    @Helen I am assuming you have the layer mask on the sky layer as shown in the bottom right of the Step 6 image.

    Select a brush, make black your foreground color, click the Layer mask thumbnail in the layers palette so the thumbnail has a border around it indicating it is selected and now paint on the image where you want to reveal the layer below - you don't paint on the layer mask thumbnail in the layers palette - you paint on the image and because you have targeted the layer mask in the Layers palette you are "technically" painting on the mask.

    Hope this helps.

    Helen

  • Helen

    November 1, 2010 02:21 am

    I'm struggling with step 6, the Layer Mask. I can't seem to paint on the mask in black to reveal the original image underneath.

    Can anyone help?

  • Rajen Makharia

    May 17, 2010 02:23 pm

    Fantastic. Just what I was looking for. Thanks

  • Karen

    May 11, 2010 07:18 am

    I am blown away on just how simple, yet so effective, this technique is. I have tried other ways but usually end up with obvious blending issues. Thanks for this wonderful tutorial.

  • Tanya

    February 11, 2010 05:05 pm

    Thanks a lot for this tutorial. It helped a novice like me a lot.

  • Matt

    January 26, 2010 09:36 am

    BLEND IF rocks! Thank you for this tutorial. I cannot believe that I have ignored this feature for years - such a time saver and more effective than other methods I have been using!

  • audrey-g

    January 18, 2010 06:49 pm

    great tutorial. i am always confused about the best ways to replace skies. i watch lots of tutorials but i have never tried this out. i was actually trying to replace a sky on one image last week but was not satisfied with the results. i will try your method now. i too have a collection of skies to choose from. thanks

  • Marian

    January 17, 2010 06:14 pm

    awesome ... much quicker than previous method I have used and better end result ... :love: this site

  • shari

    January 16, 2010 04:58 pm

    how can i make this work in elements 7

    thanks
    Shari

  • Roshan

    January 15, 2010 04:19 pm

    Thanks alot for this tutorial!! . Its so very useful.

  • Michelle

    January 15, 2010 07:40 am

    I always love your articles Helen, thanks so much, some other contributors do a wedding then write an article on it, I always know when I read your stuff that you know what you are talking about.

  • Sara L

    January 15, 2010 06:57 am

    Wow, this is sooo cool! Perfect when I need a little extra help with the sky.

  • Karen Skelly

    January 15, 2010 04:20 am

    I can't wait to try this tutorial. It would be really nice if you can add a "printer friendly" option so we could print just the tutorial part. Thanks

  • George

    November 22, 2009 11:13 pm

    I've seen a number of sky replacement tutorials on the web but this one is the best! It is not only simple to do but it also looks better than all of the others I've seen.

    Thanks for the tip!!!

  • Ramesh Meda

    November 12, 2009 05:53 pm

    Simple, Pure and Easy... excellent results. Thank you

  • ArkyMark

    November 7, 2009 11:40 pm

    Just what the doctor ordered! I've seen lots of these "replace the sky" tutorials, and this one is the easiest and most straight-forward! It worked like a charm for me right off the bat and I've already shared it with a few others.

    To reiterate what another comment said : The sky you choose should match the overall light on the ground! If you had "white-cotton" skies, then there were probably no shadows on the ground - and if you drop a bright blue sky full of fluffy clouds (or worse, a sunset) behind this, those with a more critical eye will notice the two different qualities of light. However, a "textured gray sky" that looks a little gloomy and stormy may match the ground light much better - and can even add to the mood of the shot.

    Here's the result of my first attempt. While the sky in this shot was not technically "blown-out", it was just a pure, featureless white that looked blown-out. The cold-looking clouds came from a hi-res public domain file I found with Google Image search.

    [img]http://www.flickr.com/photos/34249425@N03/4079151014/[/img]

  • horia

    November 1, 2009 12:48 am

    Excellent tutorial, but I also had problems on how to "paint on the mask in black". Could you be more specific on how to do this?

    Thank you!

  • Jen

    July 11, 2009 08:44 pm

    Most of this article is great,with lots of detailed explanations - click here, you'll find it there etc - but then it's spoiled for me as an almost complete novice by the abrupt change in Steps 6 and 7 which seem to assume more knowledge of PS than the rest.

    Shame really, because the rest is excellent. I just cannot figure how to "Paint on the mask in black" or "remove these using the Burn tool". I've got the settings, but nothing's happening. So I'm off to try somewhere else instead.

  • Rusty Sterling

    May 22, 2009 02:49 am

    Perfect. I've actually been shooting a lot of clouds to have available for backgrounds and I was wondering how to substitute them for a dull sky in a photo. Thanks for this.

  • Joan

    May 17, 2009 09:12 am

    Helen thank you so much for sharing this technique!
    It is by far the best and easiest way of replacing a
    drab sky. I'll certainly look forward to seeing your name here again.

  • Jarn Godfrey

    May 16, 2009 01:25 pm

    Great tutorial, so easy to follow. Thank you so much for sharing!

  • David Brown

    April 2, 2009 09:54 am

    Thanks! Using the blend if command, rather than a gradient really makes this simple.

  • Dawn Attewell

    February 13, 2009 06:31 am

    Excellent .......quick and easy to use.
    Thanks

  • Shandy

    February 6, 2009 02:50 pm

    As a new learner on photoshop this is a usefull brief for me..
    thanks for your knowledge share.

  • Mike Hallock

    February 5, 2009 10:40 am

    Don't forget about the shadows in the clouds, They should match the shadows in the rest of the photograph you are blending together.

  • Tunde

    February 3, 2009 05:33 pm

    Thnx for a time put into this tuto I find it easy to follow. I can not get rid of a halloes around a trees and wall edges with a burn tool thou. Perhaps not every sky suitable?

    T

  • Jason

    February 1, 2009 03:01 pm

    Fantastic tutorial and just what I was after, many thanks.

  • Boston Digital Imaging

    January 31, 2009 07:20 am

    Great tutorial...I recently downloaded Photoshop to my computer and I'm excited to start experimenting with new techniques. It's amazing just how far photography has come.

    Thanks for the useful information.

    -Timothy

  • Gert Salvet

    January 30, 2009 10:42 pm

    Very good advice. I didn't know that before. Thanks!

  • Musik320

    January 30, 2009 03:50 pm

    Fantastic tutorial! I have other tutorials that show how to change the sky in a picture and this is the easies and simplies way yet. I have viewed other tutorials of Helen and they are great....go to her web site and have fun learning. Thanks so much in simplifing.

  • Eva

    January 30, 2009 10:46 am

    What a useful tutorial, thanks - I didn't know anything about this kind of Blend. Works well even on stitched equirectangular panoramas by pinching the sky from another equi.

  • tsoueid

    January 30, 2009 08:49 am

    This is definitely what I was looking for to fix some old photos I had taken. This is by far the easiest way to do it I know of. Keep up the good work please :)

  • Richard

    January 30, 2009 08:05 am

    This is great! I have no idea about the Blend If tool until now, I always though that should be a easier way to replace skies without a detailed selection and this is it!.

    Thank you!

  • Dwight Folts

    January 30, 2009 07:43 am

    Helen,

    I was really hoping to use your techniques on sky replacement but I have Elements 5 and not any of the CS series.... is your method doable using elements???

    Thanks!!!

  • Sibtain Naqvi

    January 29, 2009 10:16 pm

    Thanks a lot Helen Bradley.
    After this my dream come true.

    Thanks alot.
    Sibtain Naqvi

  • Felicia

    January 29, 2009 03:42 am

    OMG...I really needed this. My friend and I shot a wedding this fall and it was a overcast icky day but the bride really wanted outdoor pictures on the golf course. Below is the before and after.

    http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3435/3234604152_3bc66be408_o.jpg

    http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3440/3233753871_5dae0f77ed_o.jpg

    I could have salvaged a lot of shots if I had known how to do this, I think I'll do it for some portfolio shots.

    THANKS!!!

  • Smitty

    January 29, 2009 12:38 am

    What a fantastic article!

    I've been working a lot recently to boost my landscape photography skills (I work in the wind turbine industry so I find myself out in the country a lot), but far too often I'm faced with dull gray winter skies. I'm looking forward to trying some of these techniques!

  • Mohamed Ghuloom

    January 28, 2009 11:24 pm

    No matter what I did to make this work I couldn't.. I'm better fine with other sky changing techniques.. But with this one.. It just wasn't possible.. I have a small peace of sky in my photo, add the sky as a layer, blended it like u said, still a lot of my building in the forground was getting blue.. Masked it and deleted some, but still the edge of the building looked so harsh.. And in the end it would give u the same result as if you just add the sky, add a layer mask and delete the unwanted parts. Why the blending if?

  • Graphire

    January 28, 2009 12:34 am

    Great post. And yes, that blend if tool is very useful. Saves a lot of time.

  • alison

    January 27, 2009 11:18 pm

    Thank you SOOO MUCH for this tip!! What a easy fix!

  • nandhagopal

    January 27, 2009 04:37 pm

    Great, such a great shortcut way.
    Thak you for sharing.
    Reg.,
    Nandhagopal, India.

  • scott webb

    January 27, 2009 10:51 am

    This is a really awesome tutorial. I've wondered about this and tried it a few times other ways with little success. I'll have to try it out soon.

  • Timothy

    January 27, 2009 04:04 am

    That's really useful. Thanks!

  • Train Photos

    January 27, 2009 03:57 am

    Really cool tutorial. I can now get my skies looking good, they never used to before.

  • Angela

    January 27, 2009 03:41 am

    This is such a wonderful tutorial. It really helps with my type of photography.
    Thanks for posting this and sharing with us!!

  • Dale J

    January 27, 2009 03:33 am

    In doing this in Photoshop Elements, I found that I get my best results when both photos have the same resolution (ppi). Otherwise the mismatch in ppi can be noticeable and distracting.

  • rhermans

    January 27, 2009 03:11 am

    To my shame I must confess that I didn't even know about Blend If.
    Thanks for the tutorial,
    Ronny

  • sil

    January 27, 2009 03:00 am

    Very useful tutorial. This reminds me I need to take more photos of skies :)

  • Tanya Plonka

    January 27, 2009 02:52 am

    Thanks for the tutorial! Blend If is something I forget about all too often.
    I love this technique because you can shoot on wonderful diffuse/cloudy days and still throw amazing skies into your photos. I just need to work on taking photos of plain, inconspicuous skies instead of wild sunsets ;)

  • Smash & Peas Photography Blog

    January 27, 2009 01:04 am

    This is definitely one of the most important skills to have, especiall for landscape photographers!

    One thing you can never predict is the weather so being able to change that is a godsend!

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