Replacing a boring sky in an outdoor photo by using software in post-production has gotten really popular lately, mostly because it’s gotten so easy. There are quite a few programs and apps out there that will do sky replacement in an image with the tap of key or the click of a mouse.
While these “quick fixes” might be fine if you’re just sharing an image on Instagram, if you are doing work for a client or intend to sell one of your landscape photos or hang it in a gallery, this type of sky replacement can look fake or cheesy. (Of course, there are also ethical reasons why a photographer might not want to replace a sky in an image, but we’ll save that discussion for another story.)
Photoshop has recently added tools to help you do a more professional-looking, realistic sky replacement in an image in a much easier way than in the past. Photographer Tyler Stalman explains how in the below tutorial.
“Sky replacement can kind of be a superpower when you’re editing photos,” Stalman says. “No matter how well you plan your shoot, if you show up and the weather’s not cooperating, a great photo can turn out to feeling kind of empty and flat. And to do it well for professional commercial photographers, it used to be technically really challenging. But now Photoshop has made it simple to do a very high-quality professional-level sky replacement and I’m going to show you how.”
Stalman explains that there are a few common reasons for wanting to replace a sky in an image. Sometimes, it’s completely overcast outside, and the white or gray sky looks boring. Other times, the sky is all blue and there are no clouds. In this case, you might want to add some texture back into your sky in the photo
The quick way to replace a sky in Photoshop is to simply go to Edit and scroll down to the Sky Replacement function, which gives you a gallery of pre-set skies that you can replace yours with. While those Photoshop replacement skies can look decent, there’s a fakeness to them.
Even better is to use a sky you’ve shot on your own for the swap rather than the pre-set skies in Photoshop. In particular, try to use skies you shot on the same day as the actual photo you are working on to make it more realistic, he explains.
There’s an Import Skies option in Sky Replacement in Photoshop that allows you to bring your own skies in easily. Then it’s a matter of choosing one of your skies to match with the final photo, including clouds, light and colors that might look similar.
Beginning at about the 6:30-minute mark in the video below, Stalman demonstrates the further tweaks to make in Photoshop to produce a realistic sky replacement using your own sky images. (It’s also worth noting that from 2-3:30 in the video, Stalman pitches a sponsored product, so move ahead if you want to skip over that.)