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There are many things that you can control when shooting a photograph, but the weather is not one of them! If you have a great landscape or architecture photo but the sky is too dull it will bring down the entire image, so just keep reading to learn how to replace the sky with Photoshop.
“Give the clouds an assignment.” said photographer Werner Mantz.
He was right, sometimes you can have the best weather and end up with a flat blue sky. Even worse if you have a horribly cold day that gives you a dull grey sky. Either way it can be the win or lose element of the image. No need to panic though, you can composite two photos into one perfect shot and replace the sky with a better one.
Most importantly you need an image from a cloudy sky that matches the mood of the image onto which you’re going to paste it. I’m going to work with a vertical shot so it’s better if the one from the sky has the same format. The subject is a ship aground in iced waters so my sky should be ideally from a stormy day.
With the image of the subject open, make a selection of the sky that needs to be covered by the new one. For this you can use any tool with which you feel comfortable. I usually start with a broad selection using the Magic Wand and then get closer with the different types of Lasso tools. You’ll see a dotted line (marching ants) around the area that is being selected.
I find it’s also useful to go into Menu > Selection > Edit in Quick Mask. This will show the parts that are not selected in a red mask, so you can paint with the Brush tool what you want out and use the Erase tool to include in the selection.
Now open the sky image and select it all (Cmd/Ctrl + A), then go to Menu > Edit > Copy. Turn back into the first image and go to Menu > Edit > Paste Into. Notice that it becomes a new Layer and it has a Layer Mask with the shape of the selection you made, therefore you can now scale it and move it around and your subject won’t be affected, you’ll see the new sky directly as it would be fit in the image.
Once you’re happy with the montage, you can add some adjustment layers so that the two parts have the matching brightness, tone, etc., and the result seems as natural as possible.
When your landscape has a diffused horizon line like one with trees, for example, especially if you just need the sky to have a few more clouds instead of completely replacing the original sky then this technique is much more efficient because you don’t have to do the precise selection needed in the previous method. So go ahead and open both images on Photoshop.
In the image of the sky go to Menu > Selection > Edit in Quick Mask Mode and then choosing the Gradient tool draw a line from bottom to top, this will make the image appear with a red mask, faded gradually from one edge to the other.
Now go back to Menu > Selection > Edit in Quick Mask Mode and click again, this will turn the Quick Mask off, and you’ll see a rectangular selection on your image without noticing the gradient. But don’t worry, it’s still there.
Now pull the tab of the image to the side so that you can access the two images simultaneously, then drag the sky selection and drop it on top of the first image.
Now pick the Eraser tool and with a soft brush start erasing the part of the new layer that is covering the subject. You can also decrease the opacity of the layer so that it blends in a bit more smoothly.
There you go, you can do the final touches with adjustment layers so that levels and colors match.
So there you have two methods to replace the sky using Photoshop.
Have you tried this technique before? Please share your questions and comments about it below.