Sometimes  you have a once in a life time shot but it is on a grey and dreary day.  Or you have to get a building photographed and the deadline is fast approaching so you can’t wait for the perfect sky to appear.  Or in order to get the scene perfectly exposed you sacrificed the sky.  In all of these situations you may feel like you photograph is sub-par because the sky distracts from what would otherwise be a great photograph.  But fear not.  There is a quick and easy way to replace your bad sky with something that does the image more justice through Photoshop.  And you don’t have to be a Photoshop wiz to accomplish this.  Here is a step-by-step guide to replacing the sky in your digital images using Photoshop.

1) Open your image in Photoshop.  We are going to replace the sky before resizing, cropping or making other adjustments.  As you can see in this image taken at Taliesin West in Scottsdale, AZ the exposure was optimized for the building itself which left the sky a bit washed out.

A photo of taliesin West before replacing the sky in Photoshop

2) Now you need to find your perfect sky image.  It should be one that  you exposed for the sky.  The rest of the image doesn’t matter.  You also want an image that has a good portion of sky in it, 1/3rd or more if possible.  You may want to keep a few “prefect sky” images in your files to use when a sky replacement becomes necessary.  For this example we will use another photograph take on this same visit to Taliesin.  Go ahead and open this image as well in Photoshop.

Photo of Taliesin with the sky we will use to replace a bad sky in another image

3) Now that you have both images open you want to select all on the replacement sky image and copy it.

4) Now go to the image you want to replace the sky in and do and Edit>Paste.  This will create a new layer containing the image with the replacement sky.

5) Next you will create a duplicate copy of the original background layer by right clicking on it and selecting Duplicate Layer. This is just a good practice so that you are not making changes on the original should you need to go back.

6) Click on the Background copy and drag it to the top of the layer list so that it will also now be the image you see on top of the main screen.

7) Using the magic wand tool you will now select the sky in the original image.  Depending how rough the edges are in your image you may want to refine the edge by a couple of pixels to make sure you get everything.

8) Select the eraser tool and change the brush size to something rather large and the opacity to about 30-40%.  Starting at the top of the image run the eraser over the selected area removing the sky in the one image a revealing the replacement sky form underneath.  You may want to repeat the erasing a few times to reveal darker sky at the top and then fade it down.

9) Last thing to do is to deselect the sky and merge your two layers into one.

And there you have it, a perfectly exposed main subject and a beautiful sky as well.

A photo of taliesin West before replacing the sky in Photoshop After image once the sky has been replaced with Photoshop


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